Takeover Ad
Takeover Ad

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.

Archived news and reviews can be accessed by clicking on the relevant area on the News / Reviews Key panels to the right.

E-Mail NewsE-Mail Reviews
1 March 2015

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Justin Richards

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: February 2015

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

“Cut off from the TARDIS, the Doctor and Leela find themselves stranded on a small island.  But they are not alone.  It is 1907, and members of the Caversham Society have gathered on the hundredth anniversary of the death of Mannering Caversham, the greatest Magic Lanternist who ever lived.

But Caversham was also a supernaturalist who claimed to have conjured up a demon from the depths of hell. As people start to die, the Doctor begins to wonder if Caversham’s story might have more than a grain of truth in it. Can the Doctor and Leela discover what really happened to Caversham a century ago?  And if they do, will they live to tell the tale..?”


Audio can be a tricky medium to get right.  Often cited as a very visual medium despite the absence of picture, it conjures up images through sound and description alone, uninhibited by budget limitations and limited only by the mind.  That’s not to say that it comes without problems: lack of visuals means a more descriptive approach to storytelling at times, and that in turn can be problematic, leading to dialogue which sounds very unnatural (“Oh! Look! That green door is half-open with a broken handle! How strange!”)

Credit where credit is due, Big Finish is usually very good at avoiding this sort of thing.  Big Finish is also very brave with what it tries to do with its plays, and on paper, a play about lanterns casting shadows and the danger that entails seems an odd beast for audio, but Justin Richards has given it his best shot here all the same.

The first episode of The Darkness of Glass is easily the strongest, setting up an isolated group of illusionists and enthusiasts in a house with the Doctor and Leela whilst the rain falls down, the wind batters all, and there’s something wicked in the glass.  It loses points for explicitly drawing parallels with Fang Rock by having Leela nod to it in such a way you can almost hear her winking to the imaginary camera, but that’s a minor point in an otherwise near-flawless opening.  Richards has a gift for distinctive voices, which is never more apparent than it is here, and Nicholas Briggs’s direction helps milk the tension for all its worth.

Sadly, it undoes a lot of this in Part Two, or more specifically, with the finale.  I mentioned at the start that audio can sometimes fall into the trap of being unnaturally over-descriptive, and to some extent it can probably never escape that, but here it felt so much so that I found myself increasingly disappointed that the resolution wasn’t so reliant upon people telling us exactly what is going on with various props, though I appreciate also that doing that in sound alone would have been impossible.

Maybe, though, that suggests that it wasn’t the best story, or ending at least, to be committed to sound.  I don’t know for sure as the first episode is so very strong, but it took this listener out of the moment at least, which was a shame.

There is a lot to celebrate still though.  The setting, though familiar, is fun and executed well, and the cast is universally good.  (The extras for this release show Baker and Briggs to be especially playful and happy throughout proceedings, and that certainly seeps through into the finished product.)

A special mention should definitely go to Jamie Robertson, whose soundtrack is brilliantly evocative of the original Fourth Doctor/Leela era and perfectly suited to the script, too.  One thing which Big Finish really excel at with these plays is music that fits like a glove, so often done that it is overlooked a lot of the time, so I hope flagging it up here goes some way to rectify this on my part.

Another thing I want to highlight here is how much better the two-part format is fitting the Fourth Doctor this year.  Pacing, story and plot this series all fit well in a way they never have done before now, as if someone at Big Finish has sat down and worked out how to really make this Doctor fit in with the format they’ve given him, rather than giving him a format and trying to make it fit as has been the feeling previously.  It marks a big leap forward in quality for the series and is the first time I have been genuinely excited to hear what happens next month on month.  

Though not perfect, The Darkness of Glass is a fun and interesting play nonetheless and I am certainly of the mindset now, perhaps for the very first time, that the Fourth Doctor Adventures not only can carry on as strong as this, but hopefully will carry on as strong as this.

It may have taken a while, but the Fourth Doctor finally feels at home at Big Finish, and that’s something worth celebrating. 

1 February 2015

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Andrew Smith

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: January 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online 

“Drawn off-course, the TARDIS passes through a CVE into a closed universe – a hugely improbable event with a tragically obvious cause. In order to escape inescapable E-Space, the Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Turlough are forced to venture in the wilds of planet Alzarius.

But they're not the only unwanted visitors to this strange world. A Starliner has landed, captained by Decider Merrion – but why would Merrion risk rousing the Planet that Slept, and the monsters in its marshes?

Mistfall is coming. The Marshmen are coming. But while Nyssa and Turlough find themselves caught in the open, in the hands of fanatics who model themselves on the legendary Outlers, the Doctor and Tegan discover that the supposedly secure Starliner affords them no protection from monsters both within and without...


If there was any good thing to come from AudioGO’s demise (and ‘good’ is the wrong label to lose), then it was that timing led to the audiobook of Full Circle getting a release around the same time Mistfall was released by Big Finish (and frankly a novelisation-reading getting a fortuitous new release date is no compensation for everyone who lost their livelihood due to the company’s collapse).

Regardless though, the two releases fit snugly together as far from being a sequel to the televised version of Full Circle (though, erm, it is), Mistfall is really a follow-up to Andrew Smith’s own novelisation of his one and only television outing.  To quote myself (because no other bugger is ever going to) from my review of the novelisation in the fanzine Whotopia, Full Circle is:


A really rather lovely novelisation written by the young Andrew Smith from his own scripts.  What makes it such a winner is not so much the story, which is fine, but the obvious care and delicacy which has gone into writing this novelisation, with plenty of time given to delving into the Doctor’s thoughts and giving characters […] a depth which shows us a real desire to make this story the very best it can be.  There’s an almost tangible adoration– love, even– in this book, which grabbed and enthused me, even if the story isn’t the greatest ever told.


I hope you’ll forgive me for being indulgent and quoting myself as these same thoughts popped into my head upon listening to Mistfall: the greatest story ever told? No.  One which Smith is clearly enjoying writing? Yes! And not only that, one which makes good use of Doctor Who lore, most specifically Adric.  He may not be around, but his presence is felt, dragging people into E-Space and leaving a solemn shadow over people once it’s clear just where the TARDIS has landed.  Even the music feels indebted to Season Eighteen and the artful dodger that almost never artfully dodged.

Mistfall cracks along at a fair pace, clocking in as one of the shortest plays Big Finish have given us as part of the monthly range for a long time now, and whilst a lot of it focuses on people being a bit cranky in a spaceship, it also moves on the mythos of Mistfall and the Marshmen nicely, showing that Smith has a really solid idea of where his creations should have gone and of the world he devised back in the 1980s.

Whether returning to E-Space will prove to be anything more than a novelty for this current arc remains to be seen, but it works well enough here and it’s true to say that without it, this story could not have happened.  The ending also suggests a tighter continuation from story to story than we’ve seen for a while, so perhaps the setting will be fully justified across the next two releases.

I’m still not 100% sure on how I feel about Nyssa’s presence here after the events of Prisoners of Fate— for someone deeply regretting what they’ve done to their son, she hopped back on board the TARDIS fairly quickly, leaving him forever abandoned if the conclusion to that play is anything to go by.  It doesn’t feel very true to the character at all, but colour me at least intrigued as to how this trilogy is going to approach this.

Overall, Mistfall is not the best play I have ever heard, but it’s fair enough and a decent start to the year’s releases, and as always, it’s lovely to hear what Andrew Smith has to offer. 

Finally, a word on the cover art.  It’s not secret that I personally know Will Brooks, diarist for this very website and co-writer of a book with me, but I did want to, from a neutral, appreciative standpoint, highlight the frankly gorgeous cover for this play which he has designed.  It’s the first since 1963: Fanfare for the Common Men to really grab my attention, and makes a very nice change in pace to the usual one-alien-and-a-handful-of-generic-headshots approach which has dogged many releases lately, promising a return to more experimental and/or arresting covers such as that for Phantoms of the Deep, and indeed many of that series of Fourth Doctor Adventures before they returned to the (in my opinion) disappointingly repetitive Photoshop affairs.  The cover for next month’s E-Space adventure, Equilibrium, is equally pretty, so touch wood for even more from Brooks in the future. (He can pay me for the good vibes later.)

1 February 2015

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Nicholas Briggs

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: January 2015

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online 

“Planet E9874 supports a developing civilisation known as the Tarl. The peaceful, technologically advanced Locoyuns are helping the Tarl develop rudimentary technology. What could be more innocent than that?

When the Doctor, Leela and K9 arrive, they find the delicate balance in the relationship between the two cultures reaching an unexpected crisis point. The spears are flying and the threat of all-out war is in the air.

The Doctor must use all his guile to tread a careful path with Tarl leader Ergu, while Leela and K9 discover an ancient power of unimaginable strength which threatens to tear the minds out of its victims.” 


Here we go then: another series of adventures for the Fourth Doctor, another old enemy returning to face our foe.  It’s fair to say that I have not been too taken with much of the Fourth Doctor Adventures range thus far, finding it to be the wrong format for this incarnation, as I noted in my review of The Philip Hinchcliffe Box Set.  There have been some good stories and some that really stand out, but for the most part they have merely plodded along for me, doing their best to not stir things and playing things ever so safely, and a lot of them have failed to make much of an impression.

I went into The Exxilons with a certain reluctance: another story in which the Fourth Doctor uncharacteristically encounters something from his past and has to defeat it whilst tiptoeing through a peppered field of continuity references.  John Leeson, Tom Baker and Louise Jameson would all be on fine form (they forever are) but the script would probably just… plod and do little for me.  Each to their own, I realized, but there we were: my expectations were set low.

I realize that complaining about traditional formats is going to make my next declaration of “imagine my surprise, then, when I really enjoyed it!” seem all the more clichéd, predictable and a tad hypocritical, but nonetheless the two episodes of Exxilon fun wowed me in a way that hasn’t happened for quite some time in this range.

Nicholas Briggs is a self-confessed big fan of Death to the Daleks, as his praise for it on the official BBC DVD and in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine will attest to, and quite right he is, too: it’s a marvellous story with a lot to recommend, plus a cliffhanger so utterly absurd that I never fail to burst into laughter when the end of Part Three approaches and the camera dramatically zooms in on some rather incongruous patterned tiling.  I mention Briggs’s love of that story as he has clearly given the Exxilons and their culture a lot of thought before writing this script: it shows in every playful nod to our first encounter with this alien race, every continuity-enhancing titbit concerning the Exxilon City, and oozes through in the Carey Blyton-esque musical score and original sound effects which enrich the atmosphere.  Briggs has managed to skilfully take points from Death which I never considered worthy of addressing, and has given them importance and development, in a way which actually enhances things rather than feel spurious or done for the sake of it.  This is a good case of actually using past stories to a purposeful and good effect, and for once the two-episode format of it really fits the story well and suits the team of K-9, Leela and the Fourth Doctor like a glove.

The story is simple enough but well told: our heroes land on a planet where the Exxilons are present and up to things disturbing the local natives who are unsettled by their presence.  Throw in some murder, maniacal dedication to The Cause, and subtle parallels between the Exxilon presence here and the Daleks’ in Death, and you’ve got enough meat to chew upon for the next hour.

The only minor niggle here is the presence of Hugh Ross in the guest cast: he is brilliant in the role and does it well, but is so associated now with Counter-Measures that it is hard to shake off Sir Toby from the mind’s eye whenever he speaks.  It’s unfair for me to criticize that aspect of the play, really, but here I am.

By the time the play ended, I was won over by it all and smiling at how much I had enjoyed it.  The CD extras show us Tom in a rather reflective and almost sad mood at times, which is notable all the more after such a joyful listen, but it had me rushing over to my DVD collection and grabbing Death to watch afterwards, which is about as good a sign for a play of this ilk as you can get, really.

Do I want more returning to the past time and again as has been the case more often than not with this range? No.  Done well as it is here and you get something good, but it’s all too easy to do it cack-handedly and the range could do with fewer nods and more of an individual identity (as well as a move away from two-episode stories, but that’s a moan for another day).  The trouble with these continual callbacks is that it slowly— slowly but oh-so-surely— squeezes the Universe(s) in which the Doctor travels, making it feel smaller and less spontaneous, which is a pity.  The magic of Doctor Who is its boundlessness, and the moment every third story involves meeting people or enemies or creatures from the past, the moment boundaries appear and that magic starts to ebb away.

Still, it doesn’t stop The Exxilons from being a lot of fun, from proving my fears wrong, and from being a strong start to this series of Fourth Doctor Adventures. 

1 January 2015

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Justin Richards

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: December 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

“The TARDIS arrives in the CAGE – not a trap, but the College of Advanced Galactic Education, one of the most prestigious academic institutions in colonised space.

Not a trap. Or is it?

The Doctor’s here to receive an honorary degree in Moral Philosophy. But there’s something rotten at the heart of the Medical Facility. Someone is operating on the students. Someone without a conscience. Someone with access to a Sidelian Brain Scanner – a technology that hasn’t been invented yet.

That someone is the ruthless Time Lord scientist known as the Rani – in her new incarnation. But will the Doctor and Peri recognise the Rani’s hand before her trap is sprung?


Ah, the Rani.  Until her triumphant lack of reappearance on TV post-2005, no-one really seemed to give two hoots about her, which is a pity as Kate O’Mara always gave it her best, and The Mark of the Rani is, for my money, one of the Sixth Doctor’s strongest televised adventures.

Suddenly though, things had changed.  Doctor Who was back, and fandom got it into its head that the Rani should be involved for… well, for whatever reason fandom had at the time.  It’s never been entirely clear, but maybe the ‘Bring Back McGann!’ brigade were on holiday.

Whilst BBV and Pudsey Bear had both tried and failed to kill her reputation for good, Russell T Davies’s stubborn refusal to include Mistress Rani in the revived series was the last straw, and then— and then! —he only went and truly rained on everyone’s parade by teasing us all, naming a character Rani who, crucially, wasn’t the Rani in The Sarah Jane Adventures, and if that wasn’t enough, the Master came back and then went and regenerated into a woman.  By then though fandom seemed to have forgotten about it altogether and were busy attacking Philip Morris for having the sheer audacity to return nine missing episodes to us all.  The bastard.

Step forward Big Finish, professional fanboys who had undertaken the steady resurrection of the Voord, the Mechonoids, the Rutans, the Nimon, the Nucleus of the Swarm and even some of their own characters such as Hex and Hex and… erm, Hex.

It was time to bring out the big guns; it was time to bring out the Rani.

The Rani Elite is the first Big Finish outing for the character, pitting her once again against the Sixth Doctor and Peri, albeit in regenerated form this time around due to the sad death of Kate O’Mara.  You can feel its shadow looming over much of this production, largely due to the dialogue being very clearly written for O’Mara and her portrayal of the role.  In much the same way that the Doctor is the Doctor but just swapping, say, mentions of Bessie for mentions of Jelly Babies won’t paper over all the cracks (yes, BBC Books, I’m still looking at Drift all these years later), so it is here.  Siobhan Redmond is wearing the tyrannical Time Lady’s shoes now, and she clearly has a lot of fun with it, but I felt throughout that I wasn’t hearing her interpretation of the role, just her reading someone else’s lines.  I would love to hear Redmond do her own thing with it in later appearances, as what we get here is fine, but not a whole new Rani.  More a Rani 1.5 affair.

As for the story itself, it’s not bad at all.  Justin Richards is always a very safe pair of hands in which to place a slot in the schedule, and there are enough twists and turns along the way here to keep you guessing and feel very true to the era, arguably far more so than any other story in these past few Sixth Doctor/Peri releases (though references to Time and the Rani make this very firmly Big Finish territory).

Set on a school with the Rani pretending to be one Professor Baxton, Richards’s script treads territory walked on by The Unquiet Dead previously, but with enough flair and difference to hold its own.  The questions posed are big ones: at what point does living become a privilege and not something one simply does? Is there a hierarchy over who should live and who should die?

Being Doctor Who, I think you can answer those questions without hearing the play, but all the same the script, and characters within it, handle them well and it helps the four episodes to move along nicely.  As a play in its own right, it’s not bad at all.

As a conclusion to this latest set of Sixth Doctor and Peri plays? Well, it hints at things to come briefly with regards to Peri and her health, but is mostly a standalone play, which is a blessing, really.  The trilogy format has grown increasingly stale as of late, with arcs being imposed on them rather than feeling like natural states of affair, and it’s nice to have heard three mostly standalone plays that just happen to feature a particular Doctor and Companion(s) pairing.  I’d love to see a return to the days of alternate Doctors and no big arcs month on month, but maybe that’s just me.  As it is, I’d like to see fewer arcs with no real cause to be there, and more individual releases such as this has been.

Lastly though, as a reintroduction to the Rani, I think it only half works.  It gives us her amorality writ large and some nice scenes to play with alongside Colin Baker’s Doctor, but as I have already said, it’s a story for O’Mara and not Redmond.  As such, we’ll have to wait a while longer to see what her incarnation brings to the table.

Whatever else though, it’s nice to have the Rani back with us, whatever face she decides to wear.

Now, let’s start moaning about Philip Morris again.  How DARE he only return nine episodes! Who does he think he is…? 

1 January 2015

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Matt Fitton

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £10.99 (Download)

Release Date: December 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


“1950s London: newcomers arrive daily on British shores seeking a fresh start, new opportunities, or simply the chance of a different life. However, some are from much further afield than India or Jamaica...

After an emergency landing, the TARDIS crew must make the best of it, and look to their new neighbours for help. But the Newman family has more than the prejudices of the time to contend with. A sinister force grows in strength amid the pubs, docks and backstreets of London...

And without the Doctor, marooned in a time and place as alien as anything they've ever encountered, Steven and Sara may well face their greatest challenge yet. To live an ordinary life.”


This one, according to the CD Extras and David Richardson’s notes, has been in the pipeline for a long, long time now.  Richardson hit upon the central ideas of this play a while back but it’s only now, in the form of An Ordinary Life and with Matt Fitton in the writer’s seat, that we can hear it in all its glory.

You can see why Richardson kept persisting with this idea and holding back until he had found the perfect writer and team: the notion of the Doctor’s companions being forced to live life day by day in a past as alien to them as the far-flung future aboard a starship would be to us (well, me anyway: I cannot speak for the rest of you all) is a good one, and Steven Taylor and Sara Kingdom prove themselves to be the ideal subjects for such a story, as Fitton’s very strong script goes out of its way to show you time and again.  Indeed, such is the strength of the drama and scenery, that it’s acutely disappointing when aliens pop up and turn the tale away from the domestic. (I am certain that this will not be an original observation by any stretch, but all the same, I mean it.)

Perhaps the smartest thing about this play is the time in which it is all set.  It puts us in England in the 1950s with a family of first-wave immigrants, a time of quite some social unrest and upheaval, and Fitton neatly draws parallels between the family with whom Steven and Sara stay, and the companions themselves: both learning, both cautious, both more frightened than they let on.  It could be done in a very clunky manner or grow patronizing, but Fitton never lets that be the case.  He continues with the slight will-they-won’t-they take on Steven and Sara’s relationship as put forward in The Anachronauts (still one of my favourite Companion Chronicles) and develops it slightly, but, again, not enough to rock the boat too much, nor to cause any continuity errors further down the line.  Whether it necessarily needs to happen is a matter of personal taste, really: I’m sure their personal relationship/story could have been as strong without this take on it, but it is far from the worst thing in the world.

Of course, a script is only as strong as its execution, and never more so is that the case when it’s so people-orientated as this one is.  Thankfully, everyone is great.  As Who fans, we practically expect that from both Jean Marsh and Peter Purves, but it really is worth stressing here just how incredibly good they are: this play would crumble without them.  It would also be nothing without its guest cast, and here we have Ram John Holder and Sara Powell in particular delivering about as good a set of performances as Big Finish gives us.  One thing definitely worth saying at this juncture is how good the guest cast has been across this first series of Early Adventures, which bodes very well for the future.

As noted earlier though, things falter when the story shifts from domestic to alien, and sadly it is that which stops this from reaching the dizzy heights that it rightly deserves to scale.  It is a crying shame really, but fewer bodysnatchers and more scenes of Sara kicking policemen to the ground would have given this the 10 out of 10 it probably deserves.

By the time the TARDIS departs and the story ends with that oh-so-familiar theme tune, we feel like we have really grown to know everyone involved, regular- and guest-cast alike, and Fitton has every right to hold his head up high, as does David Richardson, whose dogged persistence has paid off in spades here.  Hearty congratulations to all involved.

And with that, we reach the end of the first series of The Early Adventures.  I’ve noted before flaws I perceive to be present in this series, so it’s not worth retreading old ground here, though I will note that the issue of authenticity chimes again, sadly.  An Ordinary Life is great in that it very cleverly puts 1960s companions into the 1950s, the recent past for contemporary viewers of Hartnell’s adventures, but most of that impact, especially with regards to political and social repercussions, only works now, decades later.  As with some of the very best Companion Chronicles, it makes use of both the present and past simultaneously and plays with them to create something wonderful, but the one thing it is definitely not is period-authentic.  A smart use of 1960s settings and characters? Yes, but not a story that would (or perhaps even could) have been tackled back during the relevant period of Doctor Who.

This recurring issue doesn’t stop the stories from being any good (indeed, you’ll note that three out of four of these reviews have been positively glowing) but it does make Big Finish look a bit silly, or to be more kind naïve perhaps, to keep screaming on about how these accurately recreate 1960s soundtracks.

They do not; they do not come even close, but they’re bloody good fun all the same.  Stop being ashamed of letting them be what they are; drop the slogans and taglines and just admit that these are the new Lost Stories, which in themselves were fuller-cast Companion Chronicles at times.  There’s no shame in that at all.


1 December 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Mark Wright and Cavan Scott

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: November 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


“The year is 2163. Ten years since the Daleks invaded the Earth. One year until the Doctor, in his first incarnation, will help bring the occupation to an end. But for now, their reign of terror goes on.

The TARDIS brings the Doctor and Peri to Scotland – enslaved, like everywhere else on the planet. But there are rumours of Dalek-free islands off its coast. Places where resistors and refuseniks are coming together, gathering arms and armour, preparing to strike back against the enemy.

When the Doctor falls in with an unlikely group of freedom fighters making that dangerous journey to Orkney, he finds himself trapped – but not only by the Daleks, their robotised henchmen and their human collaborators.

By history.

Because history shows that for another year, resistance is useless...

The rebellion must fail – and as a Time Lord, the Doctor can do nothing to help.


There are certain things that Big Finish do which could be seen as fingerprints across the main range: the return of characters from the past, the use of actors more recently seen in Doctor Who on TV, and sequels to stories from the original 1963-1989 run.

There are more, but these three often stand out, and it is the latter which is present and correct here in Masters of Earth.  Coming straight on the heels of a story that was simultaneously a sequel to Peri and the Piscon Paradox and Mindwarp (or The Trial of a Time Lord if you prefer), we get another sequel, this time to The Dalek Invasion of Earth.  We’ll be ticking the ‘return of characters’ box with the Rani next month, but there is at least a few weeks’ pause between them both.  This time, it feels rather… brave to have sequels so close together.

Written by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright, this play starts with a light recap on the last story, though not so much that no newcomers couldn’t jump right in, before we’re plunged into Dalek-invaded Earth and all the horror that entails.  The Doctor wants out, having been here before and ended up integral to the Daleks’ defeat: the web of time has to be maintained, and the usual get-out-of-jail-free clauses which so pepper the series, but of course, things don’t end up like that and before he can stop it, both the Doctor and Peri are involved.  But of course they are.

Before I go any further though: The Dalek Invasion of Earth.

I must confess that my love affair with that tale started rather late in the day, with its DVD release.  I had always liked the Peter Cushing take on the tale, but the TV version had left me cold on VHS… and then we got the DVD, with its incredibly clear sound and remarkably clear picture, and I could suddenly appreciate the drama in a way I had never quite grasped before.  Years later, we got the audiobook recording of the Target novelisation, and the combination of good sound design and CD production, great narration from William Russell, and a stellar adaptation by Terrance Dicks made me fall in love with it all over again… and then! Then we got Big Finish’s own take on the tale’s mythos with An Earthly Child, Relative Dimensions, Lucie Miller and To The Death, all of which were stunning.

It’s fair to say then that I was both hopeful and fearful of this story: Big Finish have previous for doing good things with this setting, but Invasion of Earth is particularly good, so I didn’t want them to mess up.

Scott and Wright are old hands at Big Finish though, and whilst their Project plays concerning the Forge may not have been my cup of tea, I could always recognize that they were well-crafted plays, just not in a genre I especially went for.  Scott has since helmed Iris Wildthyme and I must admit that I was heartened to see their names linked to this play months before: they’re good writers and, as Scott as proven, a safe pair of hands, and perhaps their slightly grittier take on Who would suit the era in which this was set.

I’m going to spoil this review now by revealing my rating now: it’s a nine out of ten.  I don’t want to keep you all in suspense for no good reason.  The truth is, it’s damn close to getting the full ten, but something in particular let it down for me.  Let’s get to that in good time, though.

Despite my preconceptions about this being potentially gritty, Scott and Wright don’t really go down that route, instead telling a good adventure yarn instead, but with an air of hopelessness due to the struggle which the guest cast are undertaking.  The Daleks are brutal, the resistance weaker than they realize, the tension high, and the setting surrounded by familiar Dalek tropes: Varga plants, Robomen, saucers, traitors ready to betray their fellow human… it’s all here.

It doesn’t feel like a slog or box-ticking exercise though, but something that flows nicely and uses the 1960s Dalek trappings well.  It almost should feel tokenistic and cluttered, but no, Scott and Wright prove their worth yet again, with Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant and Nicholas Briggs all giving their all as well, elevating an already good script to higher places still.

What about that one point, though? Why only nine of out ten?

Well… sadly, because another Big Finish cliché, and frankly a Doctor Who cliché through and through, is someone getting irreversibly possessed by an alien creature or parasite, but being able to beat it by thinking really, really hard about it. (“No! No, I won’t become possessed because my mind is too strong!”)

It’s probably just a personal taste thing, but it’s a plot device that irks me a lot.  It makes me wonder how dull a story such as Inferno would have been if to stop becoming a Primoid, all they had to do was believe in themselves.

The trouble here is that it’s a big deal and a major part of the final act, and so, to my mind at least, it cheapens the tension and drama by giving us a fairly lazy plot device to wriggle out of a blind alley.

It’s not a minor quibble but a big one, and yet there is enough good elsewhere for me to still be giving this a firm nine.  It’s a far stronger play than this trilogy’s opener, and once again, the reputation of The Dalek Invasion of Earth remains pure.  Good on Scott and Wright, and good on Big Finish.


1 December 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Ian Potter

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £10.99 (Download)

Release Date: November 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

“Ceres. A tiny, unforgiving ball of ice and rock hanging between Mars and Jupiter.  It’s no place to live, and it takes a special kind of person to work there.

The crew of the Cobalt Corporation mining base know exactly how deadly the world outside their complex is, but the danger isn’t just outside anymore. The systems they rely on to keep them safe are failing and the planet is breaking in.

When the TARDIS strands Steven, Vicki and the Doctor on the base, they have to fight a foe they can barely comprehend to survive.”


There comes a point in life when someone appears to be protesting too much.

“I don’t hate Steven Moffat, I just hate this, this, this, this, this and of course this…” is one you often find on Twitter (you can swap ‘Steven Moffat’ for any showrunner or writer and you’ll find the same vitriolic results; he’s just flavour of the month online as I write this), and similar include, “I do like the Daleks, they’re just…”, or “Yes, sure, Red Kangs are best, but have you considered…”

With the extras on this CD, we have a slightly different game.  It’s the “Let’s tell everyone how great this Early Adventures range is, and how different it is to anything that came before it!” game.

It’s slightly unfair of me to focus on the extras for this play, as they may well have been recorded completely out of order, but three releases in and we can almost hear the sweat pouring off of Big Finish’s collective brows as the guest cast are interviewed: was cancelling the Companion Chronicles a smart move? Are these plays going to prove themselves to be the next big thing?

There are ways around this, but I’m not sure that getting assembled cast members to compare Chronicles and Adventures is the way forward.  We have lots of talk about how much better this range is because it’s so much more expansive with a near-full cast; how authentic the scripts are to the eras in which they intend to be from; how different they are.

Now, the first point is a subjective one, so far be it from me to say anything definitive there: for the record, I think both formats have strong points and drawbacks.  The third (to skip ahead) is not exactly true now, is it? Because what this range is, ostensibly, is The Lost Stories but with original scripts (and given some of the Lost Stories scripts were expanded from a handful of words scribbled on the back of a cigarette packet somewhen in the 1960s when half-cut on ale, it’s pushing it to say ‘lost’, really).  In all fairness, they do name-check Lords of the Red Planet as a springboard for this sort of production, but saying it’s a whole new range feels like it is pushing it somewhat.  As for the authenticity issue… well, back in the first release, we had Carol Anne Ford happily remarking that they’d never have done that script back in their day, and this story is all well and good, but most definitely not a 1960s script, but one you can picture being executed with excruciatingly bad CSO and above-average models in the late seventies.

It tries to do what some of the best Companion Chronicles did, and use the fact that Steven Taylor was a space pilot to aid and enhance the script and justify the setting, but everything feels far too… un-1960s-ish, for lack of a better term, to get even close to this supposed authenticity which they aim to hit.  Added to this, the story isn’t anything special as a whole, and when you haven’t got a strong enough story to cover the cracks…

I’m sorry, I’ve mostly gone on about format so far, but sadly the play itself did very little to inspire or indeed excite me across its four parts: by far the weakest of the Early Adventures range so far by quite some distance, and easily the least 1960s-esque release to boot.  It’s just a bit… dull.

Whilst the final series of Companion Chronicles ended on a bit of a damp note due to scripts not feeling quite as polished or exciting as normal (possibly due to focus being more on this range?), I’d still take them regularly rather than get what we’ve had here so far.  Perhaps I am just being jaded and the quality of release will suddenly come on in leaps and bounds? I don’t know.

It’s not as if I haven’t enjoyed them up until now, really, as my previous reviews will attest to.  It just still feels like a sad move to kill the Chronicles off in their monthly form to make way for adventures in a format that isn’t anywhere near as original, clever or authentic as Big Finish would like us to believe, no matter how much the extras try to tell us otherwise.

1 November 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Nev Fountain

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: October 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


“Once, long ago, in a land of monsters and corridors, a fair maiden was captured, and placed in a deep sleep.

She was used to being captured, and she had a hero who rescued her on just such occasions. But this time the hero never came.

And the fair maiden slept on.

Eventually, a King rescued the maiden, and made her his bride, which many wise old women might tell you is just another way of capturing fair maidens.

And still the fair maiden slept on.

Then, the hero had another stab at rescuing the maiden from her prison, but he was too late. And, more importantly, he had forgotten the rules of fairy tales.

He didn’t slay the dragon.


It feels like this story has been waiting to be told by Big Finish for a while now.  Their fascination with a post-Trial of a Time Lord Peri goes way back to Her Final Flight, a subscriber special and one of those oft-forgotten plays which I always enjoy whenever I revisit it.  We then change ranges and ping over to The Companion Chronicles with Peri and the Piscon Paradox, which is every bit as good as reputation would have it.  Its writer, Nev Fountain, clearly really cares about Peri as a character and has given her ultimate fate a lot of thought, and Nicola Bryant has rarely been as good as she is throughout that play, squeezing the script for every drop of drama, heartache and laughter she can.  It felt like a decent conclusion to things: open-ended enough to maybe exploit further down the line, but with the option to simply move on now and leave things as they are. (I am desperately trying to not spoil that play here!)

We then switch ranges again, this time to the Main or Monthly Range, depending on what it’s being called this week, and have the Sixth Doctor travelling with Flip, but his heart(s) belong to someone else: Peri.  He simply has to see her; to know how she is doing.  It was clear from the very off how that trilogy was going to end: farewell Flip, prepare for Peri.

And now we are here with The Widow’s Assassin: Peri is back, Flip is gone, the Sixth Doctor is patiently waiting for things to click into place, and Nev Fountain is back in the hot seat, writing the follow-up-in-all-but-name to Piscon Paradox.

The first question is: is it as good? The answer, predictably, is no.  Let’s be honest though, it was never going to be.  Peri and the Piscon Paradox is about as perfect a play as Nev Fountain, and indeed Big Finish, have ever done, so it was going to be hard.

The second question is: is it satisfying for Peri? The answer is… debatable.  For Peri with regards to lines/action here and Bryant’s performance? Yes, it’s very good indeed.  As a continuation of her tale? Not so much.  It takes a rather easy way out, a way which avoids future complicated arguments between the Doctor and Peri about how things ended between them, and whilst that is perhaps understandable, it still feels like it robs us of some weighty drama further down the line.  It just doesn’t feel right or fair after all this time and fanfare.

The third question is: is it a good play? The answer is yes, it is good.  Not brilliant, but higher than average.  It is good.  Fountain is great at writing comedy and there are some genuine laugh-aloud moments across Widow’s four episodes, often in the guise of the hapless prison guards who so ineffectively guard the Doctor.  Halfway between the two guards from children’s television classic Maid Marian and her Merry Men and Evans from The Web of Fear, they sing whenever featured, and a whole host of alien delegates do likewise.

As with Piscon Paradox, there are some twisty-turny plot elements involving time here as well, though I must confess that I saw some of the larger twists coming a while off this time.  I think, in fairness to Fountain, that it is perhaps the result of a lot of twisty-turny plot elements involving time being prominent in the show on TV in recent years, not to mention in Big Finish plays such as Dark Eyes 2, The Light at the End and, indeed, Peri and the Piscon Paradox itself.  It just makes them slightly easier to spot than would otherwise be the case.

Still, Peri is back, and Bryant seems to be having fun alongside Colin Baker.  We’ve Daleks coming up next and the return of the Rani, so things look promising.  Even better, the irksome cliffhanger ending regarding Flip is resolved with an off-hand comment near the end of this play, which genuinely had me cheering: the best move Big Finish have made for a while now!

I am not going to pretend I thought this was the best play ever; in some ways, it disappointed me a bit.  It’s not Fountain’s finest, nor is it Peri’s, the Doctor’s or Big Finish’s.  It is, though, another decent monthly release after the recent Seventh Doctor/Ace/Hector-Hex trilogy, and that bodes well for the rest of 2014.


1 November 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Marc Platt

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £10.99 (Download)

Release Date: October 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


“England, 1400. Winter. Blood in the snow. Henry IV has usurped the throne, and deposed King Richard II languishes in Pomfret Castle.

Meanwhile the Doctor and his companions preside over New Year revels at Sonning Palace.

But Sonning is a prison, treachery is in the air and murderous Archbishop Thomas Arundel will stop at nothing to crush the rebellion.

As the Doctor and Barbara take the road to Canterbury, Vicki finds a royal friend and Ian is dragged into a dark web of conspiracy at whose heart sits that teller of tales, Geoffrey Chaucer.”



Chaucer! You either like Chaucer or dislike him with a fiery intensity that can set whole libraries aflame (just ask any English Literature graduate, we’re all the same).  Me personally? I really like him and think that The Canterbury Tales is fab through and through, and it has forever surprised me that the show never took the plunge and had our heroes meet him.  Well, until now, that is.

Two stories into this new Early Adventures range now, and we’re flung into The Doctor’s Tale, an historical adventure with all the ingredients one would expect from such a tale: shady characters, political shenanigans, someone famous from Earth’s history who one of the companions happens to know a lot about.  This is a far more ‘authentically’ 1960s-esque piece of Doctor Who than the preceding month’s adventure (though I stress again how much I enjoyed that story), and I suspect much of your enjoyment of it will depend on how keen you are on historical adventures, and quite possibly how much you know about Chaucer, though seeing as every effort is made by Marc Platt’s script to fill you in on the historical/political and, indeed, literary backdrop to the era in which this story is set, you shouldn’t struggle too much.

Taking its lead from the Crusade school of thought, Platt separates the TARDIS crew rather swiftly, giving us two separate strands of story that come together nearer the end of the tale.  It’s a neat move which allows the script to breathe more, and gives both William Russell and Maureen O’Brien, on narrating duties, some good, meaty material to really sink their teeth into.

One thing that did really strike me about this story though is how missed Jacqueline Hill is as Barbara.  The absence of Barbara in an historical story was always going to be notable, and never more so here, where we hear her fill in parts of the plot, take a central role in proceedings, and tick that ‘educational and fun’ remit which the show strived for in its formative years, even when she does take a week’s holiday for the third episode (a nice attention to period detail by Platt).  I’m not surprised, therefore, that Big Finish have announced someone coming in on Barbara-narrating duties for future adventures, and am curious to see how that pans out.  As it stands right now though, much like when Katy Manning takes on the Brigadier or the Third Doctor, you can feel a spectre in the room; a piece of the jigsaw missing.  Indeed, perhaps the most fitting tribute to Hill and her portrayal of the character is the fact that her absence is so keenly felt, here more so than William Hartnell himself, and that for this range and its stories to properly work, the gap is going to need to be somehow plugged.  That’s quite some legacy to be leaving years on.

Back briefly to the play in hand though.  Platt’s script feels very evocative of the era in which it apes, and you can almost picture the creaky special effects as people travel from A to B.  It’s richly enhanced by a stellar performance by Alice Haig as Isabella, who infuses her role with a ferocity comparable to Jean Marsh’s in The Crusade and for me was the standout performance in the whole play (no easy task when you also have John Banks giving it his all with genuine conviction), and, two releases in, the range so far.

The Doctor’s Tale may lack the Boy’s Own air of 1950s adventure serial that Domain of the Voord had about it, but stick with it.  It’s a damn fine story, clearly painting the brutality of life under a dogmatic and fanatical regime (in this instance, a religious one), a life with quite the body count by the end of it.  You’ll cheer for Chaucer, hate Thomas Arundel, and feel every ounce of Isabella’s frustration and pain.  And you’ll miss Jacqueline Hill.

What is a Hartnell historical without Hill? Good, but not Wright.


1 October 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Matt Fitton

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: September 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


“The end of the world is nigh. That’s what everybody is seeing in their nightmares. That’s why they are congregating in Liverpool for the party to end all parties, hosted by Rufus Stone, a celebrity turned doomsday prophet. He claims he’s the only one who can save them when the day of judgement comes. Because he’s on the side of the angels.

The Doctor, Ace and Hector arrive to find the city in the grip of apocalypse fever. There are lights in the sky, earthquakes and power cuts. The Doctor is determined to investigate, while Ace is more concerned about finding a way of restoring Hector’s lost memories.

Meanwhile, in the river Mersey, hideous, slug-like creatures are stirring...



So, here we have it, then: the absolutely-definitely final story for Hector/Hex we-promise-this-time-honest story.  I don’t think I need to put into words here the amount of scepticism I had going into this play, though I was comforted by the knowledge that the other two in this trilogy have been damn good.

I’ve been growing a bit… tired of the trilogy format for the monthly releases recently as it has perhaps grown a little stale, and you have to wait a long time between releases to encounter favourite Doctors or companions again, which can be a tad frustrating and stifles any real growth in affection towards said characters, but thus far this one had bucked the trend by giving us two strong releases back-to-back for the first time in a while.

I was also very, very wary of listening to yet another story in which they should get rid of Hex.  He should have gone in A Death in the Family, no doubt about it, but this was put on hold and, in fairness, there was some nice trickery going on with the Black and White TARDIS plot thread, and Protect and Survive was an incredible play.  And then Hex should absolutely definitely have gone in Gods and Monsters, and when he failed to then, I must admit that I just gave up.  It hasn’t diminished the quality of plays following, but was a really, really silly thing to do.  So then, exit point number three: does it make good on it?

I am pleased to say that Signs and Wonders does indeed, and also ends this strong trilogy on yet another strong release.  Set in Liverpool, a mysterious preacher man is foretelling the end of the world, people are having premonitions about their deaths, and Hector/Hex is fed up with not knowing who he is, and wants to return to his home, or the closest he has to one, to try and gain some perspective.  Throw in the return of Sally Morgan, some gods and slug monsters, and the scene is set for something final with a lot of explosions along the way for good measure.

At first, I feared that this story was simply going to replicate the big bangs and Elder God-related techno-guff of Gods and Monsters, but it quickly shows itself to have more heart and a plot two steps away from manipulation and ensuing confusion.  It’s also got Jessica Martin being wonderful in it as a Reverend who enjoys brass rubbing, which is nice.

As with the other plays in this trilogy, Matt Fitton gives us a good, strong story for Hex/Hector across four episodes, one which makes use of the plot developments for him without them getting in the way.  There is also plenty to do for the other characters, with the Seventh Doctor in particular having some fun with his brolly and Amy Pemberton excelling once more as Sally Morgan, one of my favourite additions to Big Finish in recent times.

I do not want to give much away here, but the play concludes with a very definite ending for Hex/Hector and a nice nod to the future for the Seventh Doctor and Ace, tying in to events we’ve already glimpsed in adventures such as UNIT: Dominion.  It’s a neat step forward.

The ending for Hex/Hector itself is absolutely perfect, and Fitton should be given full credit for pulling it off.  It’s a far, far more satisfying ending than Gods would have been in hindsight, though I still maintain it was where he should have gone if not in Death, which was every bit a natural conclusion to his character as this play is.  You couldn’t wish for a better ending to his story though, so colour me satisfied.

What is frustrating though is that it ever even got to this stage.  This is indeed the perfect ending (a Big Finish, if you will), so why didn’t we get this before? Why did we not get a trilogy as strong as this earlier? I’m glad that Big Finish got it very right ion the end, but disappointed that it took so very long to reach this destination.  It shows a lack of confidence in direction and an unwillingness to let go of actors and have the stories suffer accordingly.

The future is definitely looking brighter now, but please: have the courage of your convictions and know when to stop.


1 October 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Andrew Smith

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £10.99 (Download)

Release Date: September 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


“The Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara land on the planet Hydra, where Admiral Jonas Kaan leads a vast flotilla of ships trying to elude the vicious race that has invaded and occupied their world. But his ships are being picked off one by one, vessels and crews dragged underwater by an unseen foe.

The time travellers find themselves pitched into battle against the Voord, the ruthless enemy they last encountered on the planet Marinus. As they take the fight to the very heart of the territory now controlled by the Voord the stakes get higher. First they lose the TARDIS... then they lose that which they hold most dear. And that's only the start of their troubles.

In the capital, Predora City, they will learn the truth of what it means to be a Voord. And that truth is horrifying.”



The first of Big Finish’s new Early Adventures range, Domain of the Voord has a lot to do across its four episodes: kick the new range off, give the Voord an edge and background/serious identity which they so lacked on screen, and tell a good story in its own right.

The first category is perhaps the hardest to judge, as a lot of whether you enjoy it or not will depend, I suspect, upon what your expectations of the new range are.  I think, in some respects, that Big Finish have rather shot themselves in the foot this time around.

A lot of the advertising surrounding Doctor Who: The Early Adventures has been in monochrome and very clearly paints them out to be evoking the 1960s era: brand new audio stories, told in black and white, cheers the poster, and elsewhere David Richardson, the producer, has said how he wanted to recreate the feeling of listening to soundtrack recordings of missing episodes (still 97 missing, at the time of writing this) with these plays.

With all this in mind then, I think it is more than reasonable to assume that people are going to have specific expectations about the range in mind before pressing play and listening to the Voord do battle with our heroes once again.  With that in mind, I think it is more than reasonable to assume that said people may end up very disappointing when listening to Domain of the Voord and discovering that it is, in fact, nothing like listening to a TV soundtrack, being littered as it is with very audio-typical dialogue (“It’s been two weeks since we set sail on this large, metal boat on a sea of crystalline blue!”) and actors reading out characters’ lines with ‘he said’, ‘she said’ and other such quantifiers after each sentence.  What we actually have is a release somewhere between the Companion Chronicles, the TARGET Talking Books and Big Finish’s Lost Stories range when it covered adventures from the 1960s.  Indeed, it feels far more like the final range than any other, including lost episode soundtracks.  Perhaps some of this will depend on how authentic you found something like The Rosemariners when listening to it: did it feel like an enhanced audiobook, or a TV soundtrack? If the answer is the latter then... well, colour me impressed as I’ve no idea how you’ve happened upon this experience.  If the former, then that’s fine: an enhanced audiobook is a lovely thing to be listening to and in no way a bad thing.

That’s what we’ve got here, only with a brand new script this time as opposed to, erm, a brand new script based on a handful of scribbles, and in many cases flat-out contradicting said scribbles. (The Lost Stories range really was a curious beast at times.)

This is going to disappoint a hell of a lot of listeners, but what’s to be done? Well, maybe clearer advertising and statements, but what we have now is what we have, and that’s the end of that.  Perhaps with the news that roles such as Ben and Barbara have been recast, we have the possibility now of truly recreating that soundtrack nature in the future by having full-cast productions with additional narration, but right now, we’re not there.

Second point: does it feel like we’re back in the 1960s? Again, I would say no.  Not just because of the production values, which are obviously a step up from what could be achieved back then (though why do footsteps dubbed onto the track always feel so intrusive and fake?), but the story feels a mixture of being steeped in that era and true to it, and whole worlds away from it with some complex technical jargon and violence.  Carole Ann Ford herself remarks in the (very, very slim) CD extras that it would never have been done in the 1960s due to the imagery, so again, you wonder what is to come, and just hope it doesn’t disappoint too many people. (Seriously though: the CD extras are so slight, you wonder why they bothered. There’s no discussion at all of it being a new range and what they hoped to achieve, which for a series launch feels like a rather drastic oversight.)

This move away from rigidly trying to ape an era isn’t necessarily a bad thing: a hell of a lot of the first series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures suffered directly because they were hell-bent on emulating an era and forgot to tell necessarily exciting stories, so ignoring this could be a good thing.  It’s just not a thing it claims to be.

To return to the start though, let’s address the other two points I reeled off: does it move the Voord on, and does it tell a good story?

This time, the answer is a resounding yes, to both points.  I’ve mentioned it in these reviews before, but an Andrew Smith script is always an exciting prospect.  Do you remember those distant days way back when the only thing we had from Smith was Full Circle on screen and its rather beautifully written novelisation? (If you haven’t ever read it, please do: it’s the most wonderful love-letter to a show which the writer so clearly adores.) I’m terribly glad that those days are behind us now.  Big Finish should be praised for it.

Here with Domain of the Voord, Smith gives us a very exciting and fun script which intelligently scrutinizes the Voord based on their one on-screen appearance whilst also telling a decent tale in its own right.  The TARDIS crew land upon a ship in the midst of a planet-wide war with an alien aggressor.  Within minutes, Ian is fighting to save the day, the Doctor is in danger of losing the TARDIS, and the crew are aware that the Voord are back and mean business.

Along the way, we get duplicitous prisoners trying to engage in a bit of Stockholm Syndrome, an alien race that present as religious fanatics in many respects, a return to the fun days of TARDIS-loss and separation from the Doctor (I don’t think I’m going to be spoiling much here when I say I cheered when the first person declares the Doctor to be dead early on in the story: it’s always a fun staple of Who when you hear this, as you’re then waiting eagerly to see how he returns to save the day), and glimpses of birthright and blood ties, and what it is that makes someone who they are, or in this instance: what makes a Voord a Voord? Oh, and it also solves the age-old question of what the correct plural of the Alien Voord is: Voord or Voords? (Much like sheep and sheep, Smith favours simply ‘Voord’. So, there we have it.)

Despite my love and adoration of Yartek, Leader of the Alien Voord (to the extent where he ‘wrote’ on my blog weekly, dispensing advice and witticisms for nearly a year), I think it’s safe to say that he never really scared us much.  Smith manages across four episodes to make the Voord feel like a legitimate threat.  It’s no easy task, so credit where credit is due.  That said, the final episode is practically the length of two standard-sized ones, so it’s nearer a five-episode-span than you’d expect, another nail in the authenticity coffin.  In short though, this is a damn fun play, ably acted as ever by Ford and William Russell, and with a frankly terrific guest cast: take a well-earned bow, Daisy Ashford, Andrew Bone and Andrew Dickens.  They are all absolutely brilliant.

In the end though, Domain of the Voord is a difficult one to mark.  In terms of story alone, this is a nine out of ten affair, no questions asked.  However, in terms of what The Early Adventures purported to be and what they actually are, the score surely has to be docked some points.

I’m going to plump for 7 out of 10 in the end, which feels unfair to Smith but hopefully fair to other listeners.  But, please feel free to adjust the score accordingly.  And watch out for the Voord; they’re not as harmless as you’d imagine...

16 September 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Philip Hinchcliffe, adapted by Marc Platt

RRP: £8.99 (CD) / £6.99 (Download)

Release Date: September 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 12th September 2014

“Philip Hinchcliffe, acclaimed producer of Doctor Who (1975-77) returns to tell new stories for the Fourth Doctor and Leela.

"The starting point was there were a few basic ideas that were kicking around for another series, had we made it," says Philip. "I thought this project would be fun to be involved with, and I've tried to and tell stories that are in the same spirit as the ones Robert Holmes and I were telling."

The Ghosts of Gralstead (Six episodes)

The Doctor and Leela return to Victorian London, in the year 1860.

At St Clarence’s Hospital, respected surgeon Sir Edward Scrivener requires the bodies of the dead… At Doctor McDivett’s Exhibition of Living Wonders and Curiosities, miracles are afoot… And in Gralstead House, the ghost will walk again. Mordrega has come to Earth…

The Devil's Armada (Four episodes)

The TARDIS lands in Sissenden Village in the sixteenth century. Catholic priests are hunted, so-called witches are drowned in the ducking stool, and in the shadows the Vituperon are watching… and waiting…”


Nostalgia.  It’s a funny old thing, one which can disappoint and satisfy in equal measure, and one which seems very much Big Finish’s buzz word right now.

“Come! Let us journey back to the sixties!” they cried when giving us their new Early Adventures range (and, as discussed in my review of Domain of the Voord, fail to deliver that which they claimed they were going to be delivering).  This cry was also echoed when the Fourth Doctor joined the Big Finish fold: finally, we were going to get some true-to-television Fourth Doctor action, was the implication, with some of the more straight-laced fans sighing in relief at this news and frowning upon the Nest Cottage trilogy for having a Fourth Doctor that felt older and not the incarnation he used to be. (Presumably they don’t mind the fact the Fourth Doctor changed wildly from story to story on screen anyway.) I rather loved the Nest Cottage releases, giving us what essentially felt like a Fourth Doctor set in a future beyond his tenure on television– an afterlife for past regenerations, perhaps? Where was the First Doctor’s garden as glimpsed in The Three- and Five Doctors? Do past incarnations just spend all day running around in mist in the time-stream as glimpsed in The Name of the Doctor? Or do they, as hinted in Nest Cottage and indeed on screen with the mysterious Curator, have a life of their own with their own adventures, continuing but perhaps discreet and sneaky this time around? I kind of like that idea; that once gone, there is a fragment out there that carries on.  In the world(s) of Doctor Who, why not?

I was apparently in a minority it would appear though, as people cheered for Big Finish’s intent to return to TV and were very kind towards The Fourth Doctor Adventures’s first series.  I think it is fair to say though that I was less impressed with what we got.  Whilst nothing was outright bad at all, it felt very conservative at times: this was a series that could go anywhere at all in time and space, and we had painstaking attempts to fit it in with events seen in The Talons of Weng-Chiang, a return to Nerva, and a series so keen on aping an era that it forgot a lot of the time to have a dash of colour and enjoyment along the way, too.

That has improved increasingly as the series has run on, but at times I still wish for something a bit... more.  We glimpsed it with The Foe from the Future, which managed to balance nostalgia and something new and exciting well, and stories such as The Crooked Man have been as strong as the strongest of other Big Finish releases, but they have definitely missed a certain something for me, and I think that’s the time-free quality that the main range sometimes has.  Though set in the past, it strides into the new, and more often than not, this is something The Fourth Doctor Adventures has avoided doing.

I think you can imagine then that I was not exactly cheering with joy when hearing about this box set.  I like Philip Hinchcliffe’s era on screen, and I think that Hinchcliffe himself is always an articulate, interesting and thoughtful interviewee, but this harkening back to nostalgia again, couple with a sense of underwhelmement (a new word I’ve coined) with The Lost Valley, Hinchcliffe’s own audio play as used in The Fourth Doctor Box Set, did not endear me to this idea, but what we have here in the Philip HInchcliffe Presents set is exactly what I have been yearning for: something new and enjoyable, whilst looking to the past as well.  If nothing else, it simply confirms to me that what the Fourth Doctor needs is to join the Main Range fold, as hour-long stories are simply not cutting it for him.  At six- and four episodes apiece, the stories in this box set have ample room to breathe, and give us two of the most enjoyable Big Finish outings for Doctor number Four to date.

We kick things off with The Ghosts of Gralstead, a Victorian adventure with bodysnatching, spooky goings on in the entertainment business, a god-like enemy from the future flung into the past, and a pleasing mixture of classes that tells its own story... no, no, come back! I swear I’m not just repeating the plot of Talons, this is its own thing... sort of.

Yes, much like Foe, this has its roots firmly in Weng-Chiang’s territory, to the extent where Jago and Litefoot are nodded to mere moments into the play and some of the lines are almost taken wholesale from Robert Holmes’s scripts: playful homage or blatant cribbing? You choose.  Ghosts is another little sibling to Talons, just as Foe was, but, just like Foe, it manages to push beyond these trappings by simply being a really good story in its own right.  You can see the fingerprints, but the overall story merits more attention than that.

In the CD Extras, Hinchcliffe freely says that him and Robert Holmes had few if any ideas for what they would have done together had they stayed on for one more season, but that an adventure yarn with explorers and the enjoyable mash-up of Victoriana and Doctor Who would have appealed, and the story he has given Marc Platt to adapt shows that perfect synthesis of old statesman and new writer.  It gels together amazingly well, and applause must go to Platt as well as the cast, which is incredible throughout.  Perhaps most impressive to me was Emerald O’Hanrahan as Clementine Scrivener, who gets comparably little to do, but manages to fill that role with a life and zest all of its own.  Louise Jameson is wonderful, finding new things to do with a role she’s been playing on-and-off for absolutely years now, and Tom Baker is also on fine form here, giving us a performance that at the end of Part Four has rarely, to my eyes (or, rather, ears) been bettered.

Truly, there’s not a duff note throughout the tale with regards to performance.  The story itself though sadly ends with a whimper rather than a bang after six episodes of adventure: a real pity, but perhaps the only real sour note for me in Ghosts.

What Ghosts is, though, is very much what fans often distill Hinchcliffe’s era as being: Leela! The Victorians! Spookiness! Fog! Colourful background characters! It’s safe to say that Talons looms large and has a lot to answer for in this regard.

Hinchcliffe’s era was much more than this though, and The Devil’s Armada goes some way to addressing this.  Taking a leaf out of the good book Mandragora, this story flings us into history and mixes alien goings on with real-life events.  Again, like Mandragora we have superstitious religious hyperbole on display here and what purports to be a god as a foe, so again, I think it is fair to say that the fingerprints are very much on display.

And again, it’s a damn good play in its own right, with cast and script both strong and solid, and this time consistent, with an ending that is every bit as good as the rest of it.  In may ways a sequel to Marc Platt’s First Doctor Companion Chronicle The Flames of Cadiz, Armada flips that tale on its head by telling events from the English viewpoint as the Spanish Armada amass, ready to take on Queen and Country as religious persecution and witch-hunting reaches fever pitch on shore.  The play never once shies away from the brutality of such persecution, and characters that try to redeem themselves are never quite saved due to the severity of their actions beforehand.  Even characters with shades of grey are more determinedly black or white due to circumstance, which makes for a refreshing change.

Things aren’t perfect in this play.  The central threat is essentially Azal or the creature down in the Satan Pit all over again, which rather dulls things, but it’s made up for with a guest cast that boasts Beth Chalmers (whom I adore, even if they did rather piss away poor Raine), Nigel Carrington and Jamie Newall all being... well, brilliant.  I struggle to find an accurate description other than that.

Across these two plays, we have some of the finest guest performances Big Finish have given us for a while.  The same goes for the plays.  Nostalgic? Yes, but not in a way that is cloying, which has been the real problem with the Fourth Doctor’s Big Finish adventures so far.  I see that the box this set comes in has the number one printed upon its spine, giving me home that there is more to come.  Certainly, I’d love to see more Fourth Doctor releases of this quality and consistency, and if that means a shift to box sets and longer plays rather than monthly releases, then sign me up.

You want to see Tom Baker in his element once again? Go for the box sets and skip the main range.  The best is here.


16 September 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: James Goss

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: September 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 16th September 2014

“Athens, 421 BC. An ancient civilisation of philosophers and poets and the birthplace of theatre. The Doctor has decided to show Ace and Hector how it all began, with help from the great comedian Aristophanes.

But life in Athens is no laughing matter. There’s the ever-present threat of invasion from the Spartan horde. The plague that turns people into the walking dead. The slavery. The tyrannical rule of the paranoid, malicious Cleon and his network of informers. And the giant flying beetle with knives for wings that stalks the city streets at night.

What Athens needs is a hero. And who better to be a hero in ancient Greece than a man called Hector?”


Before I even get going, I’m just going to take a second to assert what I did in my review of Revenge of the Swarm: I’m not going to bang on in this review about whether or not they should have brought back Hex/Hector.  They shouldn’t, but that’s a discussion for... well, probably the release after this one.  Instead, I’m going to focus on the play as its own entity, away from these things, for now at least.

The second in this trilogy of Seventh Doctor/Ace/Hex-sort-of-ish plays, Mask of Tragedy takes us back to Ancient Greece, a time of political reform, war, new ideas, philosophy, and, it turns out, space tourism and a lot of fun.  Barely two minutes have passed before it’s revealed that in Greece around this time, everyone is well aware of time travel and aliens, because... well, because it’s Greece around this time, so every time traveller wants to visit it!

It’s a great idea: funny, silly, cheeky, a little bit Iris Wildthyme, and perfect for a play that honestly made me laugh aloud at least twice an episode.  I simply was not expecting this play to be as funny as it is.  I’ll confess that despite liking James Goss’s writing and the Seventh Doctor (heck, I like all the Doctors, even... no, no, especially Edmund Warrick), this play didn’t hold much expectation in my mind before listening to it.  Perhaps it’s due to my apathy towards the resurrection of Hex/Hector, but regardless, it is often the way when two plays in a run get released in the same month: you’re aware, especially so in this case, that a finale of sorts is in the pipeline, and so it’s easy to lose sight of what else is there.  I remember when this happened with Paper Cuts, which proved itself to be one of the best Sixth Doctor/Charley adventures out there, and this is certainly every bit as strong a release as Revenge of the Swarm was last month, so I dearly hope it doesn’t get overlooked.

The play kicks off with Ace acting as a Greek chorus and giving us hints of what’s to come, which is at once confusing and intriguing.  We’re then thrown into the action, with Hex still not the Hex we once knew and the Seventh Doctor in a toga, keen to take a trip into history, but one with an ulterior motive, as it soon transpires that he is sponsoring the comic playwright Aristophanes and, in his own words, wants to keep an eye on things due to the nature of all things time travel converging on this one place in time and space.

We soon get a playwright bemoaning his art being sullied by an audience’s taste for fart jokes, Ace as a proto-Feminist freedom fighter, a not-very-good space traveller who is only there for kicks and lessons, Spartans a world away from their depiction in 300, and Hex/Hector lost and adrift in a time he finds hard to cope with, with the titular mask proving that he is not the man he was.  Indeed, Ace and the Doctor find themselves treading on eggshells to not remind him that he’s not this guy they once travelled with, and this is shown up time and again here when Hex/Hector is thrown into the past and expected to cope in the way Hex used to be able to.  Indeed, this is a play which uses the Hex/Hector plot device to full effect, both with regards to story and drama, and it is also a play which doesn’t forget what has just come before, with Swarm proving itself to have an effect on his character here, too.  It’s an example of continuity being used in a smart and effective way, as opposed to a clunky one.  You don’t need the lines nodding towards Swarm in there, but it helps explain a few things.

Sylvester McCoy and Philip Olivier are in fine form throughout the play, though Sophie Aldred perhaps suffers a little by having an Ace who is used mainly for comedy and is given some... questionable lines.  I’m sure having her bellow “I’m gonna teach ya... how to gatecrash!” works well in a comic strip, but on audio it’s a little bit wince-inducing.  That said, Aldred does spar well with Emily Tucker, with whom she is paired with for a fair chunk of this play, and she plays some of the tender moments between her and Hex/Hector rather well.  Why do birds suddenly appear, etc.  I suspect we’re heading towards tears before bedtime with this budding romance, as hinted at in Swarm as well.

Mention has to go to Samuel West as Aristophanes in this play, who manages to be blackly funny and wonderfully dour in equal measure throughout.  He also steals the show in the CD extras by being so damn nice and loving towards Dimensions in Time, which is genuinely touching and pleasingly fan-ish to hear! It does make me sad though that he never once wishes upon someone that they are doomed to go on a journey... a very long journey.

Whatever my misgivings towards Hex/Hector, the same cannot be said for this play which, like Revenge of the Swarm, is good fun throughout.  We have an ending approaching though: a definite ending this time, apparently.  I am not sure that I really believe Big Finish on this one, but let’s play along with them and say it’s true.  I want it to be true, and if that play can be as good as the two preceding... well, maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised once again.  Here’s hoping. 

16 September 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Justin Richards, Jonathan Morris, Nick Wallace

RRP: £8.99 (CD) / £6.99 (Download)

Release Date: September 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 12th September 2014

“An epic adventure uniting the Doctor's friends across time and space, featuring Jago & Litefoot, Counter-Measures, the Vault and Gallifrey!

1: Mind Games by Justin Richards
In Victorian England, Henry Gordon Jago and Professor Litefoot investigate worrying events on the streets of London – which seem to be linked to the New Regency Theatre’s resident act, the mesmerist Mr Rees…

2: The Reesinger Process by Justin Richards
London, 1964, and the repercussions of Jago and Litefoot’s adventure are dealt with by Sir Toby Kinsella and his crack team of specialists at Counter-Measures. What is the Reesinger Process – and who is behind it?

3: The Screaming Skull by Jonathan Morris
Disgraced soldiers Ruth Matheson and Charlie Sato are called back into action by Captain Mike Yates, when the UNIT Vault is mysteriously locked down by a deadly force. Together they must infiltrate the Vault and get those trapped out alive. But what enemy are they facing?

4: Second Sight by Nick Wallace and Justin Richards
The actions of Mr Rees have alerted the Time Lords of Gallifrey, and Romana has assigned her best warrior. Independently, the Sixth Doctor has arrived on Earth. A power from the dawn of the Universe is about to be unleashed once more…


Fifteen years ago, I had my tickets booked to attend Battlefield 3, a Doctor Who convention in Coventry.  I had been lucky enough to grab a copy of Sirens of Time on CD beforehand, and spent the night before transferring it to audio cassette so that it could be listened to in the car on the way there.  I was familiar with the concept of the show on audio: I’d listened to Paradise of Death and The Ghosts of N-Space, and I had long since worn out a tape recording of The War Games which I had made.  This was something exciting and different though; this was new Who with three Doctors and the promise of more adventures to come! I listened to the Big Finish “Talking about my Regeneration” preview CD time and again in preparation, but nothing compared to hearing Sirens on the way to Coventry.  It was a truly magical experience.

Big Finish had a buzz about it and a big crowd at its stall that year, where I purchased Phantasmagoria and listened greedily to their panel, thrilled by the hints of what was to come.

Fifteen years on, it’s amazing to see how massive Big Finish have grown as an entity, and how large it looms in the annuls of Doctor Who as a whole, and so we now have The Worlds of Doctor Who, a celebratory trawl through spin-off series aplenty.  The first thing worth noting is how beautiful the packaging for this CD set is.  The photography inside is very nicely done, the brief essays by actors are sweet, and the individual covers done for the CDs themselves are lovely, with the Jago and Litefoot and Vault ones being of particular note.

As for the story itself, it concerns a mysterious hypnotist named Mr. Rees, whose influence extends far beyond his natural lifespan.  From the Palace Theatre in Victorian England to the 1960s and the present day, his story and threat carries on worming its way through life and history, and touches the lives of many connected to that mysterious traveller in Time and Space, the Doctor.

Across the four CDs, we dip into the worlds of Jago and Litefoot in Mind Games, Counter-Measures in The Reesinger Process, the Companion Chronicles via The Vault in The Screaming Skull, and finally a mixture of both Gallifrey and Doctor Who itself in the finale, Second Sight.  What impressed me the most about this release is how all the series retain their own identities throughout whilst carrying a story thread across them all.  For example, the Jago and Vault stories are a whole world away from one another and perfectly fit their respective story, whilst they also move things on with the overall story.  Ditto comparing the second and fourth CDs.  It shows how strong a hook Big Finish latched onto here with Mr. Rees.

The only tale which perhaps lacks any real clear identity is The Screaming Skull, the but that is perhaps expected.  The previous two outings for the Vault have involved them used as a framing device for other tales, and whilst that it mostly the case here as well, it does at times feel less of an established format than is shown elsewhere, though that doesn’t stop Jonathan Morris from writing a damn good script all the same.  Despite misgivings over its format though, it also feels very sneakily like a pilot episode for a new series: the UNIT old guard, the Vault and maybe the new outfit as glimpsed in both UNIT, the original spin-off series and its follow-up, UNIT: Dominion.  I guess we’ll see, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

All of the instalments here are strong though, with Justin Richards doing the majority of the writing (he’s responsible for CDs 1 and 2 and co-writes the fourth with Nick Wallace) and showing us once again why he’s so prominent a name in the world of Doctor Who fiction.  Second Sight may suffer sometimes from its brief length (we get a lot of scenes where characters say “This could be his plan... unless... of course! It could be *this*!” which, by staggering co-incidence and ease of plot, turns out to be the case– but of course) but it wraps up Mr. Rees’s tale well and gives Leela a lot to do, which is always nice to hear.  It also makes good use of the Sixth Doctor, played as ever with gusto by Colin Baker.  It’s the Eighth and Sixth Doctors who have benefited most from Big Finish over the years, so it’s only right to see one of them celebrated and featured here.

What’s a joy over the whole release is hearing everyone in the same place connected to the same story: Ellie Higson, Charlie Sato, President Romana.  Everyone is here, present and correct and this is as fun and enjoyable a celebration of the extended worlds of Who as Big Finish could have given us.  Another triumph for Big Finish.

12 September 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

RRP: £8.99 (CD) / £6.99 (Download)

Release Date: September 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 12th September 2014

“In January 2014, Tom Baker celebrated his 80th birthday.

On March 19th, Tom sat down with Nicholas Briggs to look back over his 80 amazing years - his youth, his early acting career, his great success with Doctor Who and beyond… and his return to his most famous role with Big Finish.

This candid and intimate interview forms two fascinating hours of engaging entertainment in the unique company of Mr Baker.”


I’ve been watching a lot of Reeltime’s Myth Makers interviews recently, having taken full advantage of three-for-two offers on their DVD releases online, and as such have become accustomed to Nicholas Briggs’s voice gently putting interviewees at ease and teasing out questions in an affable, relaxed manner.  Sometimes he’s in a studio, sometimes he’s pretending to have been teleported into a snowy wasteland or a Zygon-infested beach, and sometimes he’s interviewing the floating head of Jackie Lane.

What I’ve always rather liked about his interview technique in these releases is how his focus on Doctor Who is often marginal, instead focussing on subjects’ lives outside of the show.  We all know that when they turned round they were all wearing eyepatches, but we don’t necessarily know what the eyepatch-wearers were doing twenty years beforehand: had they always wanted to be actors? Did they carry on in the theatre after Doctor Who? What makes them tick?

Listening to Tom Baker at 80, Big Finish’s lengthy interview with Tom Baker to mark his eightieth birthday (if you hadn’t already guessed from the title), I felt at times that I was listening to the audio track from one of those Myth Makers interviews, which is as big a compliment as I can pay for these sort of things, believe me.

There are going to be a host of fans out there no doubt disappointed by this release, let’s get this out of the way now.  Why? Because Doctor Who, especially as it was on television, is by no means the focus.  It gets its time in the limelight, but there is more attention near the end paid towards Big Finish than there ever is towards Baker’s era on TV (which to my mind at least makes sense given who’s making it), and that is bound to disappoint some people.

However, that’s not to say that Big Finish dominate proceedings either.  Far from it: most of the interview, across its two CDs, is taken up with Baker’s life before and after Who.  For my money, the first CD is the best, as it is almost exclusively concerned with Baker’s life before joining the show.  From his days in the army to his stories about Laurence Olivier, Baker is absolutely fascinating and hilarious, pulling you in with tales tall, small, humble, surprised and surprising, and told with a slightly detached air of bafflement, which only adds to the feeling that Baker is telling them all with a smile and a twinkle in his eye.  Quite simply, it’s a joy to listen to.

The Who stuff is undoubtedly interesting, too, and finds Baker perhaps more reflective than he has been in interviews before.  Briggs doesn’t push him too hard on certain points and is happy to let him skip over entire years with a few words, but is also keen on pushing certain points further: why the friction with Louise Jameson? Was he sad when he left, and if so why? Simple questions on paper perhaps, but hard to put forward in a subtle and caring way, so full points must go to Briggs for achieving this.

He steers the interview chronologically through Baker’s life, and whilst some may dislike his relaxed demeanour (he goes into this interview with almost no questions prepared and certainly no facts or figures: if you want to know when Baker was in shows such as Medics, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) or Monarch of the Glen for, or when they were first broadcast, be prepared to be disappointed with Briggs not knowing the answers any more than Baker does), it worked for me.  The whole thing feels like an extended and fascinating talk at a bar.

It must be said though that after the joys of that first CD, it’s less interesting than perhaps it would have been in a different context.  Similarly, the Big Finish talk is interesting enough, and given it’s Big Finish releasing the CD more than deserved, but I was far less engaged with it than I may have been at, say, the end of a Fourth Doctor Adventure release.  There were also a couple of moments I’d love to have seen expanded: how did working with Mary Tamm and Louise Jameson again feel all these years on?  And does Tom Baker agree with some fans’ belief that the Nest Cottage audios weren’t authentic enough, for example? Briggs mentions it in passing, but I’d love to have heard Baker’s full thoughts on this subject (especially as I rather love that trilogy of series from Paul Magrs’s hand).

In the end though, the thing that most stuck with me at the end of this release is death: the idea of it, Baker’s very vocal and open declaration that he is close to it (statistically speaking at least), the impact it’s having upon him and his demeanour, and how it has taken people away from him.

Because, whilst I am under no illusion that one day I am going to read those awful, awful words – Doctor Who star Tom Baker dies, aged... – it had never, in a strange sense, occurred to me before that this day will come and become anything other than a hopefully distant eventuality.

Oh Tom Baker, you simply cannot leave us.  You are the Doctor; you always will be, perhaps more so than any other Doctor that has ever Doctored.  And more than that, you are a person who is forever going to find yourself on people’s fantasy “who would you have round for dinner?” lists: if nothing else, Big Finish here have produced an interview over two hours in length that will see the number of inclusions on fantasy lists increase exponentially.

Well done to Briggs and Baker for making two hours fly by.  A worthy and cheerful celebration of 80 marvellous years. 

E-Mail NewsE-Mail Reviews
RSS Feed
News Key
News Home
The New Series
The Classic Series
Blog Entries
Reviews Key
Reviews Home
Books / Magazines
DVD / Blu-ray
Toys / Other
TV Episodes