Doctor Who: Project: Twilight (2001)

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A review of Big Finish audio drama no. 23

  • Written by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
  • Directed by Gary Russell
  • Sound Design and Post Production by Gareth Jenkins
  • Music by Jane Elphinstone and Jim Mortimore
  • Starring: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Maggie Stables (Evelyn Smythe), Holly De Jong (Amelia Doory), Rob Dixon (Reggie Mead), Rosie Cavaliero (Cassie), Stephen Chance (Nimrod); Rupert Booth (Dr William Abberton/Matthew), Mark Wright (Mr. Deeks),Kate Hadley (Nurse), Daniel Wilson (Eddie), Gary Russell (Newsreader)

Full disclosure here: In all honesty, I’m not much of a fan of vampire fiction. While I would say that Nosferatu is, quite possibly, one of my favorite horror films, anything after the 1950’s is pretty hit or miss for me. Things that “try something different” with the legendary creatures like Hellsing, Vampire Hunter D, I am Legend or even Lost Boys are fairly interesting, but exists as diamonds in the proverbial rough of all of the other vampire stuff. I especially am not a fan of the more “romantic” side of vampire fiction, meaning that anything from Anne Rice novels to True Blood aren’t necessarily bad, but are not my most favorite thing to watch/read/ listen to. So imagine my apprehension when I come face to face with an audio drama that is not only about vampires, but has the word “Twilight” smack dab in the center. If there is anything that I don’t like it’s a story of pre-pubescent love between a vampire werewolf, and a caricature of a high school girl, but I digress.

Doctor Who has tackled vampires before, to varying degrees of success. We have seen things like fairly classical vampires in State of Decay, fish monsters that have fangs in Vampires of Venice, or grotesque mutations with a taste for blood as in Cure of Fenric. I think one of reasons I’m not too enamored with these stories is that they go leagues out of their way to explain common vampire tropes like an aversion to garlic, thirst for blood, and sensitivity to light all with a scientific slant. This has been done so often since 1954’s I am Legend that it almost seems silly at this point; it’s quite similar to how contrived many of the “origin stories” for zombies have become. In the 50’s, Richard Metheson breathed new life into a tired genre by making his vampires somewhat science-based, 60 years later it’s yet another tired cliché. I honestly can handle these mythological creatures, there doesn’t need to be an elaborate background of expositionary dialogue to set everything up.

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In Project: Twilight we find ourselves knee deep in just such a situation, with vampires being explained in a silly way. It appears that the ‘Twilight’ vampires were a form of botched scientific experiment, having been humans (typically prisoners or war wounded) created during the First World War by the Forge, a top secret government initiative to research means by which a superior soldier class might be engineered. So basically, the vampires in this episode are like a messed up version of Captain America.

The reason The Doctor and Evelyn end up coming face to face with this situation is The Doctor’s hunger for what he says is the best Chinese food in all of the galaxy, located in the most unlikely place – a dockside in south-east London. He assures Evelyn that he has sat for dinner with the legendary Kublai Khan, and not had Chinese take-out as good as this restaurant – The Slow Boat. Once they are chowing down on MSG-filled wontons and noodles, they discover the remnants of what can basically be called a “nest” filled with carcasses of brutalized small animals and other refuse. Next thing you know something like a mafia hit appears to happen nearby, and The Doctor and Evelyn are stuck in the middle of another bad situation.

‘Private. Do not enter.’ Oh dear, perhaps I should tell them that’s ancient Gallifreyan for ‘Doctor come on in, have a snoop around.’

We are introduced to the staff of a shady nightclub and casino called Dusk, run by a man named Reggie Mead who is obviously in some sort of organized crime syndicate boss, oh and a vampire. Other characters are varying degrees of likability, but a character name Nimrod stands out the most. he is described as an older man, donning all sort of futuristic vampire hunting technology. He is apparently nearly one-hundred years old, and was a twisted scientist in his past. He was mortally wounded and had to inject himself with the very same serum that created the vampires in the first place, cursing himself to hunt the earth for his own kind. My mind immediately slipped to the Marvel comics character Blade, who was a vampire himself, and yet hunted other vampires.

I liked Project: Twilight for what is was, but it’s not my favorite entry of the Big Finish line. Try as I might, I just have trouble enjoying vampire stories as much as other people and I’m not sure why. I like the inclusion of the shady governmental organization Forge and Nimrod, and hope they show up up again in a later installment. Much like with a few of the New Adventures related Sylvester McCoy dramas, I disliked how gory this episode was. I am not squeamish to this sort of thing, but I don’t see Doctor Who as the prime place for exploding people and vampire torture with added “squishy organ” sound effects. I originally didn’t finish this drama a few years ago because it got silly towards the middle with this stuff, and I was especially burnt out on vampire stuff having worked at a retail store when those Twilight books and films were coming out. On the second listen I’m glad I finished it, and I would say that it’s above average.

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Doctor Who: Bloodtide (2001)

Bloodtide

A review of Big Finish audio drama no. 22

Written by Jonathan Morris

Directed by Gary Russell

Music, Sound Design and Post Production by Alistair Lock

WOW! It’s been a while since I reviewed a Big Finish audio adventure, or any audio drama for that matter. For a few years, I was listening to these constantly, actually I was re-listening for review purposes, and I sort of let them slip a tad. For a little while, listening to stuff like this was kind of hard due to a promotion at work. I was previously blessed with over nine hours of work time to fill with podcasts, audio dramas, and radio – but this got hard when I became a supervisor. Suddenly I had a radio to listen for, and constant questions to answer. Now I’ve balanced this out, and plan to review an audio drama once a week! That’s right! Check back every week for another new edition.

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This week, I’ll be time-traveling back to 2001 and the infancy of Big Finish. This is a review of the twenty-second audio drama produced by these guys, starring none other than Colin Baker as The Doctor and Maggie Stables as Evelyn Smythe, his audio companion. Bloodtide follows on from a previous audio drama that I reviewed a few years back, The Apocalypse Element, and sees The Doctor and Evelyn coming face to face with a big historical figure – Charles Darwin. Just like any other historical Doctor Who story, the trip isn’t exactly a pleasure trip for our dynamic duo.

In the Ecuadoran settlement of Baquerizo Moreno, there has been some bad stuff going on. The Doctor and Evelyn attempt to have a normal meeting with a young Charles Darwin, circa his Beagle days, only to start learning about all sorts of horrific stuff happening there. Baquerizo Moreno is an Ecuadoran penal colony, so one can imagine that there are tales of barbaric atrocities going on. Something is different here, however, there are rumors that prisoners have been mysteriously disappearing from locked prison cells, A local fisherman has been driven insane by something he saw in the caves, and the Governor seems sort of suspicious.

The Silurians

Of course, everything can be chalked up to appearances by the nefarious Silurians, recently awakened from millions of years of slumber. At the beginning of the episode, we actually saw a flashback to the dying days of the Silurian Empire. The planet was dying, oceans were foul, and many animals were going extinct. The Silurians are preparing to place themselves into suspended animation, but one man is not welcome. A Silurian scientist, S’Rel Tulok, is banished to wander the Earth along with the reason he’s in trouble – genetically modified primates that he altered to be more intelligent. As one can imagine, this is the birth of the human race.

As you can imagine, this isn’t the modern Madame Vastra brand of Silurians we’ve been used to seeing in the current run of the TV series. These are the classic iteration as seen in Pertwee episodes complete with the hissing voice and all. The Silurians are a great audio villain, because they were sort of cheesy until they got revamped a few years back. Without seeing the unmoving mask and other shoddy special effects, the listeners imagination is left to run wild and create quite the formidable foe. This is especially true when the drama re-introduces The Myrka, a monster that never lived up to it’s hype in the actual show. Instead of a rough guy in a rubber suit caliber monster, we are treated to something more like Godzilla – a stature that seems to be the original idea behind the Myrka.

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Once again, I am reminded why I love Evelyn Smythe so much in these audio adventures, she’s not the center of the Doctor’s love-life since she is older and is written as an equal of sorts. I LOVE older companions, I wish there would be more in the actual show! She does do a bit of the annoying stuff that companions tend to do when they meet a historical figure (i.e. trying to lead them into coming up with a future theory while they are there, or helping them along), but she isn’t as bad as Rose trying to get Queen Victoria to say “I am not amused!” Maggie Stables has done the role five other times up to this point, and so far she has yet to do a bad job.

I have said many times, that I really enjoy the “softer” version of The Sixth Doctor in these audio dramas. It really shows that Colin Baker is a great actor and was “screwed” during the production of the actual show. While I do enjoy the moral ambiguity his Doctor had, sometimes it was a bit much, often resorting to murders followed by witty one-liners ala James Bond. Audio Colin Baker could be my favorite Doctor if future episodes keep this quality.

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The supporting cast was very good, with the only blemish being the shrill voice of Greta in the first episode (she improves vastly afterward). The Ecuadoran characters have suspect accents, like any other Big Finish audio with exotic characters, but since I am not from South America, I’m not going to pretend I am the authority on this. This adventure stars Miles Richardson as Charles Darwin, George Telfer as Captain Fitzroy, Daniel Hogarth as Tulok, Julian Harries as Governor Lawson, Helen Goldwyn as Shvak, Jane Goddard as Greta, Jez Fielder as both Emilio and Lokan, and finally Rob Shearman and William Johnson as The Myrka.

The Historical accuracy of this episode comes into question a bit for me, mainly because this adventure goes to great lengths to paint the picture that Charles Darwin became a devout atheist due to revelations attained on the island. With the premise of the episode being based on evolution and such, I can sense an agenda here to a degree, and unfortunately words are placed in Darwin’s mouth that he would have never said at the age he was here. Darwin is one of those figures that has become so “fetishized” that I’m not surprised this was in there, but a bit disappointed. Darwin was fairly religious into his middle age, but slowly edged towards agnosticism in his golden years. If anything, the revelation of the creation of mankind would have simplified his life, because he often struggled to reconcile his views with that of his upbringing, looking for ways to prove his theories tied in with God. Finding out that man was created by lizard people millions of years ago would have just lead to one conclusion: the Silurians are God(s).

In conclusion, I really enjoyed this episode despite the political tightrope walking in the plot. Being somewhat religious myself, and a history buff, I just get annoyed when science fiction tries to hammer an atheist subplot into stuff unnecessarily. The highpoint for me really was the Myrka attack, and how Big Finish was able to take a questionable monster and re-inject it with a bit of monstrosity and power. Maybe one of these days Big Finish will make a drama about The Supreme Dalek’s pet from The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and make it cooler than a guy wrapped in paper and vines.

Doctor Who: Dust Breeding

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Synopsis

On nineteenth Century Earth artist Edvard Munch hears an infinite scream pass through nature. Centuries later his painting of that scream hangs in a gallery on the barren dust world Duchamp 331. Why is there a colony of artists on a planet that is little more than a glorified garage? What is the event that the passengers of the huge, opulent pleasure cruiser ‘Gallery’ are hoping to see? And what is hidden in the crates that litter the cargo hold? The Doctor’s diary indicates that the painting is about to be destroyed in ‘mysterious circumstances’, and when he and Ace arrive on Duchamp 331, those circumstances are well underway.

Written By: Mike Tucker
Directed By: Gary Russell

Anyone keeping up with my Big Finish Audio reviews will recall that I generally feel that the Seventh Doctor stories based on the Virgin New Adventures line of books are …. not my cup of tea. I worried that this one was in that particular series, but was pleasantly surprised that it was not. Luckily I’m glad to report that this particular entry in the monthly line of audio dramas is in continuity with an earlier entry called The Genocide Machine and not The Shadow of the Scourge, the former being an entry that I quite enjoyed; the latter not so much. Containing The Doctor as played by Sylvester McCoy (soon to be in a Hobbit film near you!) and Ace, as played by Sophie Aldred, this adventure seems just like a continuation of the original show, just if it lasted a bit longer.

One of the major strengths of this drama is the great cast within. There are a few questionable choices, as is usually the case with a lot of these early plays, such as a weird accent used by Caroline John, but the direction here is usually spot on. McCoy does great as The Doctor here, playing the role in such a way that it lines up far closer to the way the role was performed on the television show, not the yelling angry style found in the aforementioned “New Adventures” plays. Louise Falkner appears here as a Captain Jack-esque tertiary companion named Bev Tarrant, a character that previously appeared in The Genocide Machine.

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Above and Beyond, the highlight of this play (for me at least) was the return of the Master as played by Geoffrey Beevers. Beevers previously held the role for a short time at the end of Tom Baker’s tenure on the main show, and was portrayed as somewhat of a walking corpse teetering on death at the end of his regenerations. Fairly early on, we are introduced to a wealthy man named Mr. Seta who wears an extraordinary jewel covered mask and is a bit less than trustworthy. Of course “Mr. Seta” is just another one of The Master’s playful anagrams of his own name, a fact that The Doctor should really pick up on at some point. Granted, his plan is ridiculous, and his regression back to his previous iteration (Anthony Ainley was very ill at this time and did not want to participate) is not very well explained, but it was nice to see Beevers do the role for a bit longer than he did in the past. I’m no Ainley hater, but the role was a tad silly when he was playing it, and Beevers adds the darkness back that was originally there with the first Master as played by Roger Delgado.

Many of the best dialog segments where by Mr. Seta / The Master, such as this gem:

‘You’ve spent your life looking at masks Madame Salvadore, without ever wondering what lay beneath them. Would you like to see beneath my mask..?’

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The plot has some silly, or convenient moments, and the main villain of the piece wasn’t all that spectacular but all in all this was a good listen. Little touches like a droning noise that sounds like a screaming Dalek in the background really makes Duchamp 331 a planet to be truly feared, and helps sets this play above merely “average”.  I loved the Master in this, had he not been present I’m not sure if I would have liked the final product nearly as much. For me, Big Finish dramas with the McCoy Doctor have been hit or miss, but this one was a nice surprise.

Doctor Who: Loups Garoux

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Synopsis

Brazil, 2080: The Doctor and Turlough arrive for the Rio de Janeiro carnival.
Is wealthy heiress Ileana de Santos all that she seems? What sinister ailment afflicts her invalid son, tended by the mysterious Dr Hayashi? And who exactly is Rosa, engaged on a secret quest to fulfil the destiny of her extinct tribe?
Time is running out for Rosa, Ileana and the Doctor, as the fearsome shadow of an ancient werewolf moves ever closer…

Written By: Marc Platt
Directed By: Nicholas Pegg

I’m just going to start this off by saying that I was not a huge fan of Marc Platt going into this audio drama based entirely on his earlier contributions to Doctor Who, a TV episode called Ghost Light and a book called Lungbarrow. In fact, I would rather watch the terrible charity episode Dimensions in Time than sit through Ghost Light again. Thankfully, Platt seems to be on his A-game in Big Finish as I thought Loups Garoux was quite enjoyable. This is surprising as I think that Davison has got the worst scripts of all the Doctors (up to this point); a problem that seems to be sorted out.

First thing first, Turlough is awesome and I was pretty excited to hear Mark Strickson reprise the role in this drama. This isn’t just a guest role either; Turlough is up in the forefront of this whole play. As listeners, we get a glimpse at his mysterious darker nature, a fact that he has hidden from the Doctor and the other companions. He gets separated from the Doctor at one point (as with many Doctor Who stories), and takes center stage for a bit, even getting his own temporary companion in the mix. We also see a bit of a reluctant romance for not only Turlough, but the Doctor as well (Gasp!). This added romance is surprising for those familiar with Platt’s writing as Platt himself created the ridiculous “The Doctor is Asexual and Timelords are born in looms” garbage found in Lungbarrow, a piece of novelized fanwank that many fans cling to despite countless contradictory pieces throughout the show.

The rest of the actors are pretty solid as well, especially Emily Bron as Ileana. She plays the matriarchal leader of a group of old-world werewolves clinging to a hidden existence in the future. Despite a few wonky stereotypical accents, there really was nobody to single out as the weak link of the production. Everyone had their part, and everyone was important here. Even the Fifth Doctor, who did very little in his past few plays, was on top form here both in Peter Davison’s acting and the storyline itself.

The actual story is a solid plus from me as well, as it delves into the topic of werewolves without zany Hollywood movie hijinks. The creatures are treated in a manner that I’m not used to, and I really liked it. Basically these wolf creatures live among us, but use an ability to stay hidden from our eyes. While this isn’t exactly talked about at length, it’s sufficient to explain why we don’t have huge wolves walking around all the time. Of course the wolves can also take a human form, something that sickens a few of them to their core. This shape shifting is more-or-less the basis for the main plot. You see, Ileana has a son that can’t turn to a human appearance. She wants her son to be able to walk amongst the “cut-claws”, but he has a feral monstrous disposition and appearance. Oh and there is an ancient demonic former ex-lover of hers out there trying to kill the other wolves!

I guess I gained a new-found respect for Marc Platt, a writer who I was not too enamored with in the past. I’ve actually listened to one more of his Big Finish plays that I enjoyed, but that’s a review for another day. In closing, if you want a solid Peter Davison title to start out with in Big Finish, you could probably pass on the ones before this, as Loups Garoux is definitely a new benchmark for this Doctor.

Doctor Who: Minuet in Hell

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Synopsis

“The twenty-first century has just begun, and Malebolgia is enjoying its status as the newest state in America. After his successful involvement with Scotland’s devolution, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart has been invited over to Malebolgia to offer some of his experiences and expertise.

 There he encounters the charismatic Brigham Elisha Dashwood III, an evangelical statesman running for Governor who may not be quite as clean-cut and wholesome as he makes out. One of Dashwood’s other roles in society is as patron of a new medical institute, concentrating on curing the ills of the human mind. One of the patients there interests the Brigadier – someone who claims he travels through space and time in something called a TARDIS.

 Charley, however, has more than a few problems of her own. Amnesiac, she is working as a hostess at the local chapter of the Hell Fire Club, populated by local dignitaries who have summoned forth the demon Marchosias. And the leader of the Club? None other than Dashwood, who seems determined to achieve congressional power by the most malevolent means at his disposal…”

A few months ago I mentioned that there were two serials that I did not finish; the first was The Apocalypse Element, a serial that I think I fell asleep during the first time I tried to listen to it. And now we have the second one – and this one was rough. The story is great, the sound design is great, the brigadier is also great; so what went wrong? This serial takes place in America, vaguely set to be in the “Bible Belt” somewhere, in this part of the country most people have very little accent – so much that this part of the country is usually referred to as having a “general American accent”. Like “BBC English” this is the version of the language spoken in many TV shows and movies. I’m bringing this up because this play employs what I like to call “old prospector English” a variant in our language not heard since the film The Apple Dumpling Gang graced our screens all those years ago.

Dear England: I know you guys hate how many Americans talk like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins when doing bad community theater renditions of your manner of speaking, but talking like you crawled from a “Wild West” themed historical park is not good revenge.

After hearing Mark Gatiss do this exact thing in The Mutant Phase, it makes me wonder if this is a common misconception on that side of the world. Morgan Deare is the chief perpetrator here as he fleshed his character, Senator Waldo Pickering, out in this very manner. After hearing a whole string of “Jed Clmapett-isms” I turned to play off.

Well, I’d like you guys to know that I got over it and ploughed my way through the play once again. Waldo tried very hard, but I was not broken this time. I was strong and persevered through the terror. Upon completion I figured out that this play was actually very good, if not one of the best ones conceptually that they’ve done. It takes on very mature subject matter in a way far more fitting of what I feel is typical Doctor Who. Some of the Virgin New Adventures stories (plays or books) try to do the same thing (Adult Doctor Who), but end up with foul language, sex, body horror, drug use and other things more in line with an episode Torchwood. Instead of resorting to shock, this play talks about religious extremism, far right politics, and other topics usually left out of the show. Really, the only risqué thing in the entire drama is the fact that Charley is forced to be a serving girl in the Hellfire Club, and is too naive to realize that she is basically supposed to be a prostitute. The play doesn’t dwell on this, and by the time we realize this, she’s already out of there.

While, not the best episode for me, mainly due to the accents, I will say that this is one of the better plays that Big Finish has done, and a real step up from the previous play. Paul MGgann does a great job, especially when he is questioning who he really is due to having amnesia for a while. And let’s not forget that The Brigadier is here in his full glory, meeting the Eighth Doctor for the first time. All these positives tip this to the plus side for me, and I’m glad I listened again.

Doctor Who: The Stones of Venice

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Synopsis

“The Doctor and Charley decide to take a well-deserved break from the monotony of being chased, shot at and generally suffering anti-social behavior at the hands of others. And so they end up in Venice, well into Charley’s future, as the great city prepares to sink beneath the water for the last time…

Which would be a momentous, if rather dispiriting, event to witness in itself. However, the machinations of a love-sick aristocrat, a proud art historian and a rabid High Priest of a really quite dodgy cult combine to make Venice’s swansong a night to remember. And then there’s the rebellion by the web-footed amphibious underclass, the mystery of a disappearing corpse and the truth behind a curse going back further than curses usually do. The Doctor and Charley are forced to wonder just what they have got themselves involved with this time…”

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I’ve really been enjoying these Eighth Doctor adventures from Big Finish so far, and was excited to dive into another one. This play is slightly surreal in both setting and plot. While it exists in the far-flung future, the characters and things happening in and around Venice make it seem as if it could have honestly been a historical episode. There are Dukes and Duchesses, art dealers and religious cults wandering the streets – all of these scream “medieval period piece” to me. This oddness in setting makes for a serial that revels in atmosphere and characterization over the story itself.

We basically have a group that wants Venice to Sink, another than does not, and a religious cult that believes a long-lost Duchess holds the keys to salvation. These three groups run around and talk to each other for four episodes, and not much else happens. This simple story is kept this way because the author wanted to build an engrossing mystery, but there is one problem. The story is really quite simple, and many will figure out the big M. Night Shyamalan-styled twist at the beginning of episode one. For me, this would be like watching (or reading) a Hercule Poirot mystery knowing the killer from page one. No matter what sort of swerves and red-herrings come our way, it just isn’t that exciting.

I’d say that this is the weakest of the Paul McGann episodes so far, and there is a great explanation for this. When Big Finish did these audios, they actually recorded a few of them at the same time. While we got “Storm Warning” as a smashing introduction to Charley and a great re-introduction to the Eighth Doctor, this was actually the first one recorded. I’m not saying that those portrayals are bad, but they are a bit more subdued than earlier episodes. Keeping this in mind, the episode is a success and an entertaining listen based on the setting alone, although it fails to meet the standards of its predecessors.

Doctor Who – The Apocalypse Element

A few weeks ago I mentioned that for whatever reason, I had failed to finish two of the Big Finish audio plays that I listened to way back when I originally ran through the first thirty or so. In the case of the Apocalypse Element, it had to do with the fact that I initially listened to these before I went to bed, and found this one really boring as I fell asleep during it. On a second listen, I realized that I didn’t recall much of the story (thus assuming that I did in fact doze off a bit) but I don’t believe I ever listened to the whole thing! While there were a few problems, I’m glad I gave this a second shot, as it is a solid drama, and another great example of why the sixth Doctor really works if the writing is really good.

“When the planet Archetryx is threatened by a Dalek assault squad, the Doctor and Evelyn become embroiled in an ever-deepening mystery. What has become of President Romana, missing for twenty years? What lurks in the vast gravity wells of Archetryx? What is the secret of the ancient element the Daleks are synthesising – and how does Gallifrey feature in the plans?

The Doctor finds that if his oldest enemies cannot conquer the universe they will watch it go up in flames…”

It’s easy to dismiss this drama as nothing more than pure act of fanwank, as it basically exists to fill in plotholes ravaging the Doctor Who canon for years. I honestly think that this view isn’t very fair at all.

First of all, this play contains the first Big Finish, and more specific, Doctor Who appearance of Lalla Ward since her departure in the TV serial Warriors Gate. This Romana is different from the Romana that we are used to; she’s been imprisoned for the last twenty years, and it’s not evident if she’ totally trustworthy after her ordeal. Ward does a great job showing a more emotional and even fractured side to Romana, a far cry from her chipper know-it-all personality from the show. I may be in the minority, but I never did like Romana in some of her appearances with Tom Baker. This is because I dislike companions that constantly try to outsmart the Doctor. Much like Adric, Romana always knew everything and came across like a jerk sometimes. Don’t forget that she was there when the show was slowly turning into the “Tom Baker comedy hour” so we had The Doctor being a goof, followed by Romana rolling her eyes in each episode.

So yeah, about those plothole fillers – we have many occurrences where this drama attempts to “fix things” that may not have made sense in the show. To be honest, this can be a bit too much at times, and almost seems like the writer had an agenda with the story (I’ll fix all the problems!). These problems that are “fixed” in the play include the use of a human retinal pattern being used specifically without explanation to open the “Eye of Harmony” from the 1996 TV movie. This agenda clutters the story of the play, and makes it obvious that too much is going on. We have the return of Romana, the Daleks Invading Gallifrey, the Daleks eradicating another planet, a zany Dalek scheme etc. It would have worked better if it was longer.

Doctor Who – The Apocalypse Element is a good drama albeit one that tries to do far too much. While the story is exciting, it seems a bit cluttered with returning characters, subplots, and various other problems. With its problems, I honestly enjoyed the play, and continue on my Colin Baker reconciliation tour!

Doctor Who: Last of the Titans

While not an official Big Finish release, I decided to go ahead and listen to this short mini-drama starring Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor. This drama was originally released for free bundled with issue 300 of Doctor Who Magazine. I managed to check it out due to the fact that it was split up and released via Big Finish’s weekly podcast back in 2009. According to Wikipedia this was originally a story called Vilgreth, released by a small company called Audio Visuals a long time ago. These guys were amateur audio drama / Video producers that eventually moved on to be part of Big Finish and BBV Productions.

Synopsis: Once again, the TARDIS displays its preference for the grimy, the odious and the dangerous – and, finding himself lost and alone in the dark heart of a gigantic spacecraft, the Doctor has no way of knowing that a cosmic catastrophe is waiting to happen…

Due to the limited run-time of the piece, and the fact that it was intended to be a free pack-in, I tried not to listen to this audio drama too harshly, but it still sticks out as one of my least favorite things that Big Finish has done. It’s not that the drama is written poorly, or that the production is bad, it’s just that I don’t like the main narrative device that is used – It’s from The Doctor’s perspective. I don’t mind hearing the Doctor talk to himself, or rationalize out loud, but having the whole thing in first person is not my cup of tea. If the character is to be mysterious, sometimes irrational, and full of questionable alien morality, hearing his inner thoughts sort of kills the whole thing. This structure also lends itself to a situation where the whole production reminds me of a children’s book. I’m not sure why exactly, but despite the dark nature of the story, the whole thing seemed immature.

Last of the Titans does what it was set out to do very well, although it is leagues below the quality of its “big brothers” in the main Doctor Who line. If anything, all this drama made me want to do is check out the stuff that Audio Visuals did “way back in the day” as I was unaware of their existence until I read up on it.

Doctor Who: Sword of Orion

Hot on the Heels of my last Big Finish audio review, we have yet another Paul McGann /India Fisher Eighth Doctor audio drama to take a look at. This time we have the return of one of my favorite villains of all time – the Cybermen. This play actually marks the very first time we see Cybermen appear in one of these plays, and this is a good thing. After having a ton of these already star the Daleks, it’s good to see other classic villains get sprinkled in.

Here is a synopsis:

“The human race is locked in deadly combat with the ‘Android Hordes’ in the Orion System. Light years from the front line, the Doctor and Charley arrive to sample the dubious delights of a galactic backwater, little suspecting that the consequences of the Orion War might reach them there. But High Command’s lust for victory knows no bounds.

Trapped aboard a mysterious derelict star destroyer, the Doctor and Charley find themselves facing summary execution. But this is only the beginning of their troubles. The real danger has yet to awaken.

Until, somewhere in the dark recesses of the Garazone System, the Cybermen receive the signal for reactivation…”

What really stands out to me in this episode is the sound design. This story could have had a horrendous story, and I still would have liked it based on the atmosphere alone. Not only is the music well done, but the care at which the background noises and sound effects were produced sets a benchmark, for me at least, that no other drama up to this one has come to. The first instance of this occurs at the very beginning of the play. The Doctor and Charley are visiting a “space bazaar” of sorts to hopefully find a way to cure an ailing vortisaur, the creature that they met in the last episode. In this scene we hear layer upon layer of creatures talking, music, and idle chatter, all leading the listener to imagine a robust market side, hustling and bustling with tons of business.

Another place where this stands out is when we finally see the Cybermen that we all know take part in the serial. For the first few encounters we only ever hear a creature that is attacking various people. The noises are both animalistic and insane, making this creature terrifying. Later we find out that this is in fact a rogue Cyberman that has gone totally mad waiting for its connection to a cyberleader to get re-established. After years of seeing sub-par Cybermen that either stomp around saying catchphrases, or are wussy enough that they can be destroyed with a flick of a gold coin, I feel that this is the sweet spot for the creature. Well this or the unsettling voice that the original Cybermen had, which is definitely nightmare fuel of the highest octane.

While some of the side characters in this drama aren’t really all that well fleshed out, they do serve a great purpose to antagonize the Doctor and Charley when they initially believe the pair to be murderers of a fellow crewmate. These characters, the crew of a scrap ship, are your typical Doctor Who rag-tag, and somewhat mutinous ship crew. There definitely could have been a bit more fleshing out of a few of these characters, but it wasn’t really needed. Much like any Alien of Predator movie, some characters are just destined to be bad guy-fodder.

I’m not going to say that this is the best Doctor Who drama that I’ve listened to, but it really does have a great atmosphere and storyline to it. If this is the beginning of a quality plateau that holds steady for the next few releases, I’ll be insanely happy for the rest of the line.

Here is a trailer:

Doctor Who – Storm Warning

I remember being excited to import a copy of the Doctor Who television movie directly from the UK back when I got back into the show back in 2004. I had just purchased a region-less DVD player from China, and wanted to show everyone just how much of a nerd I could truly be. I had heard bad things about this movie, things that gave me absolutely no hope for it whatsoever. The movie could have been worse, but Eric Roberts basically ruined the whole thing for me; a fact that leads me to wish any character he plays in a movie the worst outcome possible. Remember that scene in The Dark Knight when Batman causes Roberts (as Sal Marone) to break both legs?  Tears of pure joy from this guy.

Aside from a few bits of questionable dialog, that weren’t his fault, I have always felt that Paul McGann would have been an awesome Doctor had he been allowed to hang onto the role longer than a 90 minute Television movie. Thankfully all memories of The Doctor being half-human and Eric Roberts in a silly outfit were washed away the moment I booted up Storm Warning from Big Finish. Here is the official Synopsis for Paul McGann’s triumphant return to the Tardis:

October, 1930. His Majesty’s Airship, the R1010, sets off on her maiden voyage to the farthest-flung reaches of the British Empire, carrying the brightest lights of the Imperial fleet. Carrying the hopes and dreams of a breathless nation.

Not to mention a ruthless spy with a top-secret mission, a mysterious passenger who appears nowhere on the crew list, a would-be adventuress destined for the Singapore Hilton… and a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey.

There’s a storm coming. There’s something unspeakable, something with wings, crawling across the stern. Thousands of feet high in the blackening sky, the crew of the R101 brace themselves. When the storm breaks, their lives won’t be all that’s at stake…

The future of the galaxy will be hanging by a thread.

The Eighth Doctor was definitely an underrated version of the character. Not only did he feel cheerful and somewhat goofy, but he definitely had a romantic and adventurous side; these are traits not really seen for a long while in the television show. The eighth Doctor definitely looked to be more of an Indiana Jones type of character, and that definitely is the case in this revival. I’m a fan of the darker Doctor’s as well, but the wide-eyed swashbuckling, name-dropping, and most importantly – fun Doctor is what I like the most; this could be why I seem to like Matt Smith’s take on the character so much. I did try to get into a few of the BBC Eighth Doctor Books at one point, but found quite a few of them to be depressing, pretentious, and a bit too un-Doctor Who for my liking. I’m glad that the continuity Big Finish has created at this point seems to have nothing to do with those books, as I probably would not have liked them much.

What we see here, is both a re-introduction of The Doctor and the appearance of a new companion. This story does a great job of tackling both tasks, and is as good as Rose in the regard that it does not get bogged down by its own baggage and keeps the story moving. What I mean by this is that we don’t have a long winded passage where we find out what happened to Grace Holloway and Chang Lee, as this is definitely not needed; this was one problem I have had with the newer BBC wales series as the writing tends to have the Doctor constantly talk about his previous companions (Like Rose), and in the case of a character such as Martha Jones, it really hurts the narrative. The new companion in question is Charley Pollard, a tomboy-ish girl that fashions herself to be an “Edwardian Adventurer”. Charley seems to be the perfect foil alternative to many classic female Who companions, and comes across as independent and strong, not just a shrieking character that always gets in trouble (Susan, Mel, etc..)

This drama seems to share a bit with the later Steven Moffat televised episodes of the show in that Charley is shown to be troublesome to time itself in the same way that Amy Pond seems to be. Since the Doctor plucked her from a large scale historical event, (the crashing of the R101), her mere existence afterwards is a paradox and causes him problems from then on. I like this little subplot, as it give any later audio dramas a plot to latch onto, rather than them just being a set of unrelated adventures.

The actual plot of this story involves the doomed flight of the R101 dirigible, and much in the old Doctor Who fashion it is explained that such a catastrophe was somehow caused by aliens and the Doctor was there. We have seen this with the Titanic, The London fires, Pompeii, and basically any other disaster! The aliens in question are the Triskele, which are described as being “dolphin-like” I’m not sure how literally to take the comment as the description given during the play could also describe our typical view of “grey” aliens, but since there are no pictures that I know of, I imagined them as such. This could be my only fault with the play that I could find – there is a lack of descriptive remarks that give an idea of the way that characters and such look. This isn’t exactly a deal-breaker, but I would have liked a few more “that looks like a dolphin” type remarks to solidify any impressions I had gained.

Storm Warning is a great beginning to a new series of Doctor Who dramas and kept me entertained the whole way through. This play has definitely re-kindled my like for the eighth incarnation of The Doctor, minus all the crap from the TV movie. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Doctor Who: The Mutant Phase


After weeks, even months, of listening to the void of soundless boredom, I started taking my iPod to work this week in order to keep occupied for my long ten hour shifts. Since I do not want to listen to the same songs every day, I decided to load up on podcasts of varying topics, and a few Doctor Who audio dramas. As you may have noticed by a few earlier posts, I am attempting to listen to all of these Doctor Who Audio plays by Big Finish in order, and one would assume that I would review them as such.

I realized that I had gone far too long without keeping notes, writing things down, and generally getting ready to write any reviews. So guess what? I’m going to re-listen to a lot of these in order to keep these up rather than going off of memories of these plays that could date back to over one year ago. You never know, I may end up liking dramas I previously hated (there are actually two I never finished of the forty or so I have heard, I need to fix that). Luckily this drama did not make my “poop list” the first time I listened to it according to my iTunes star rating, and stayed just as enjoyable the second time around.

 

Synopsis

In the 22nd century, the Daleks have occupied planet Earth. By the 43rd century, only a handful of humans survive. Still further into the distant future, a Thal scientist must choose whether to betray his heritage, or see the universe destroyed.

When the Doctor and Nyssa find themselves trapped in this deadly chain of events, they must decide who their real enemies are. What is certain, however, is that no matter where the Doctor turns… his arch enemies, the Daleks, will be waiting for him.

What could possibly be worse than that? The Mutant Phase…
The Mutant Phase has an immediate bonus for me in that it is a re-visitation of my favorite Doctor Who serial The Dalek Invasion of Earth. For those unfamiliar with that title, said episode was an important episode for many reasons: it was Susan’s last appearance as a regular companion, it was the first serial shot on location, it was the second Dalek appearance, and it was so popular that it was one of two stories to be remade into a feature film starring peter Cushing. Going back to such a classic episode is a cool idea, and thankfully we get the setting as more of a “bookend” to the meat of the story rather than a “fanwanky” total revisit.

In that episode, the Tardis crew including Susan, Ian, Barbara, and the first incarnation of the Doctor, arrive in a bleak post-apocalyptic and Dalek infested England in 2167. What really made The Dalek Invasion of Earth stand out for me was the chilling use of vacated landmarks during location shooting, and the utter bleakness of the overall story. For a “kid’s show”, this episode had a lot of dark things like signs saying not to dump dead bodies in the river and humans turned into a slave work force.  What we have here with The Mutant Phase can be seen as a “prequel” of sorts to this classic episode as we see The Doctor As played by Peter Davison and his companion Nyssa arrive a few years earlier, to a time where Daleks have never met the Doctor and don’t meddle in time travel.

My only real quibble with the episode rears its ugly head in this introductory portion of the episode. The Doctor realizes pretty quickly that they are somewhere in the state of Kansas, which for foreign readers, is located in the United States. While looking through a field of genetically altered crops infested with wasps, The Doctor and Nyssa stumble upon a “Roboman” guardsman, a zombie-like policeman for the Daleks. By zombies I don’t mean the Romero-esque eating brains and rotting away living dead variety, but the classical use of the term as in brainwashed servant. Not to be confused with Cybermen, Robomen are just regular people with some sort of mind control device implanted onto their heads.

So anyway, this roboman gets America back for the dreadful British accent Dick Van Dyke used in Mary Poppins, by delivering his dialog in the worst, most overdone, American accent out there. This can partly be chalked up to the dronish manner in which the robomen characters talk, but behind all the reverb and monotone was a glimmer of a vocal style not heard since The Apple Dumpling Gang. I seriously hope that many in the U.K. do not think all Americans talk like 1890’s old prospectors, but I get the inclination that it may be the case. I think Mark Gatiss was responsible for the voice, as he is credited as such! All joking aside, this small slip-up was very minor, can be overlooked easily, and does no harm to the play itself.

This play has quite a few interesting characters, and chiefly among those are two Thal scientists, Ptolem and Ganatus, both forced to work for the Daleks to stop the mutant phase. We hear a lot of mentions of these guys before we see them interact with the Doctor, so their motives stay hidden for the majority of the play. Another nice addition is Karl Hendrick, a man that lives in the dark and studies old relics from our current history. He gets quite a few great one-liners and funny moments making him one of the better side characters.

Aside from a couple of minor things like over-done foreshadowing that Nyssa’s wasp sting may be important in some way, the plot of the Mutant Phase was well done, and revolved around some good ol’ fashioned “timey-wimey” stuff involving a temporal paradox. With any paradox based episode the resolution didn’t exactly wrap the whole thing up in a bow – a fact that is actually made fun of in the dialog. When the Doctor explains what has happened to Nyssa at the end, she tells him that it simply made no sense, to which he replied “paradoxes don’t make sense” or something vaguely similar. Admitting this, the play somehow jumped over any plotholes it may have obtained whilst jumping between a multitude of timelines. For me this was nice, humorous touch.

While not the classic of its older brother, The Mutant Phase is a competent audio drama that keeps one entertained throughout. Keeping in mind that the Daleks are the only race that the doctor has ever really considered committing mass genocide on, listening to him being forced to work alongside the horrible creatures is compelling and makes this a must listen. I’ve been lukewarm on the Dalek Empire Releases so far, but this one has really redeemed the series, can’t wait to hear what’s next.

Review – Doctor Who: The Holy Terror

Big Finish Audio “quick review”

Summary: The TARDIS lands in a forbidding castle in a time of religious upheaval. The old god has been overthrown, and all heretics are to be slaughtered. Obviously it isn’t the sort of thing which would happen there every day — just every few years or so. Soon after the Doctor and Frobisher are hailed as messengers from heaven, they become vital to opposing factions in their struggle for power. But will they be merely the acolytes of the new order — or will they be made gods themselves? Evil is growing deep within the crypt. And the pair soon find out that they will be lucky to escape their new immortality with their lives.

Before I listened to this audio adventure I had not really came across anything with the non-human companion Frobisher in it. This is a shame because he is such a fun character that I definitely want to hear more with him; I may even try to get a trade paperback of the comic strips that he originally came from. For those not familiar with the character, Frobisher is a shape shifting alien that insists on making himself look like a huge penguin and speak like he’s from a seedy New York back-alley. I’m all for more non-human companions, they definitely make the concept that much more interesting.

The Holy Terror is, for all purposes, a satire on how silly religious zealotry can get sometimes. As a spiritual person, this doesn’t appeal to me on the “ha ha look at religious people LOL” wavelength that many will most likely take the episode as, but more a glimpse into how fundamentalism is bad. The episode starts with the untimely death of a man named Pepin VI. In this land, Pepin VI is seen as a living God, and the simple act of his death means that he was not only a liar, but anyone that supported him should be imprisoned or killed. Pepin VII has no interest in being king at all, much less some sort of God-king. In fact he questions this very fact as he literally feels no different than he did before. Since he should feel like a god, this concerns him greatly. When the time comes for him to conjure up a miracle to satisfy the masses at his coronation a certain blue box appears…

What follows is an odd mixture of horror and humor, the likes I haven’t really come across in any Doctor Who media. On one hand we have grotesque situations like the appearances of characters like Amulf, a depressing take on the evil man-servant archetype, this one having had his tongue brutally removed to show servitude. On the other we have zany comical scenes such as Frobisher getting a statue dedicated to himself, a fact that sort of goes to his head. These two seemingly opposing story types meld somewhat well and lead this story to be one of my favorites of the whole line. Considering I’m not a huge fan of 1980’s Doctor Who, I really like Colin Baker’s work on Big Finish and feel that the direction those guys put forth really brings out characters that were once reviled by most. I mean, look at what they did to Mel!

The only real downside to this story is that it does contain a random M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist towards the end of the story once we know the true nature of the actual villain of the story. This revelation (that I will try not to spoil) flips the story upside down and makes characters switch around in importance. This is a bit jarring, but evidence of something like this happeneing was planet fairly early on in the story.

My Rating 5 out of 5

Review – Doctor Who: The Shadow of the Scourge

Wow! this is a bad cover :P

 

Big Finish Audio “quick review”

 

Summary: The Pinehill Crest Hotel in Kent is host to three very different events: a cross-stich convention, an experiment in time travel and… the summoning of the scourge.  The Doctor, Bernice and Ace find themselves dealing with a dead body that’s come back to life, a mystical symbol that possesses its host, and a threat from another universe that’s ready for every trick the Doctor’s got up his sleeve.  This time, has the Doctor gone too far?

As I stated in my last “quick review” with the darker Doctor Who styling, The Fearmonger, I need to try harder to separate these stories from that of the rest of the cannon.  Not that they are bad stories, but I have pre-conceived notions of what tone the show should be in that sort of interfered with that drama.  This time I decided to listen to a story based on the Virgin New Adventures line of Doctor Who books.  For those unaware of the term the VNA novels were released after the show was put on “indefinite hiatus” by Michael Grade, the much beguiled BBC controller in the late eighties.  Throughout the nineties, a series of books was released that put a darker tone to the stories, painting Ace as a soldier, and the Doctor as even more manipulative than ever.  I also got my first introduction to Bernice Sumemrfield, a 26th century archaeologist that traveled with the Doctor and Ace during this time.

This play introduces a new villain in, The Scourge, a multidimensional creature resembling a huge praying mantis, which dwells and thrives off of uncertainty, doubt, self-loathing, and depression.  They are found to do this by sonic means, so we get a rough scene where ace has someone box her ears to rupture her eardrums.  This does act as a sort of comic relief (something that is needed) as Ace now can’t hear what people are saying and constantly repeats things back to people.

 

From Doctor Who magazine

 

This play is VERY dark, almost Torchwood dark to be honest.  I was actually quite surprised when the Scourge start disemboweling people, as the foley guys (I’d assume it’s called foley in radio as it is movies) came up with the most grotesque noises that they could in order to portray such as scene.  We have many scenes of sheer emotional terror and anguish in this play as well with not only Ace, Benny, and background characters, but even the Doctor.  This is possibly the most intense play, if not Doctor Who related media, aside from maybe Torchwood: Children of Earth, that I’ve consumed.  While this sheer darkness is off-base for the TV show, I will concede that a darker take on the characters can be a bit satisfying as we get some real emotion from everyone involved, but it never reaches into the gratuitous side.

The one thing that really kept me from really liking this storyline and rating it better than “average” is the crazy “minscape” section towards the end of the serial.  The Doctor and Benny are literally sucked into the Doctor’s own mind as he tries to fight his own “scourge”.  It is at this point that we elarn that depression and other doubts are basically from these creatures, and they have been praying on the weak humanity for thousands of years.  The monster keeps repeatedly telling The Doctor some bad stuff like the fact that he is “merely a troublemaking child who fears being alone so much that he deliberately alienates his companions to see whether they’ll leave him or not”.  This reminds me of the recent TV episode containing the Dream Lord, as you find out that the Doctor is pretty self-loathing sometimes.

The Shadow of the Scourge was a decent episode of the Big Finish Audio dramas, and really reminded me of a Torchwood related item.  I’m still not a huge fan of the dark nature of some of these, but at least the performances were VERY well acted.

 

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

 

 

Review – Doctor Who: The Fires of Vulcan

Note: I’ve skipped the last audio play as I need to re-listen to it.

 

Big Finish Audio “Quick Review”

Synopsis: “Two thousand years ago, a volcanic eruption wiped the Roman city of Pompeii from the face of the Earth. It also buried the Doctor’s TARDIS…Arriving in Pompeii one day before the disaster, the Doctor and Mel find themselves separated from their ship and entangled in local politics. As time runs out, they fight to escape from the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. But how can they succeed when history itself is working against them?”

You know, I haven’t really seen too many episodes of Doctor Who with Mel, but I always hear that the character is annoying and basically terrible.  Being an American, I don’t have all of the pre-loaded bias against Bonnie Langford, due to her status as a child star.  This fact, I have noticed, has made her get picked at a bit on websites and such.  In a similar case, I was unfamiliar with Billie Piper’s music career prior to her signing on with the show, and thus had no problems with the character Rose Tyler.  I think some people get so engrossed with the “pre-Who” careers of some folks, that it harms their enjoyment of the show.  Anyway, back to Mel; Mel isn’t really that bad at all!  Even in the campy Delta and The Bannermen, she seemed like a decent enough character despite the screaming and running around she seemed to do.  But wait – isn’t this a review of a Doctor Who audio book, and not a career retrospective of  Bonnie Langford as Mel?  Yes it is, and the above clarification is necessary, as I felt that this would be one of the worst audios due to the characters inclusion, based solely on other people’s opinions online.  Guess what?  I loved it!

The story opens with a strange discovery in a collapsed archaeological site in Italy.  It seems that an Earthquake has opened the ground near the site of the former city of Pompeii, revealing a blue police box in the rubble.  We jump to The Doctor and Mel arriving at the same site in 79 A.D., one day before the “big day” at Mt. Vesuvius.  Mel is worried that the Doctor seems pre-occupied and won’t let them run out and do their normal explorations on the amazing scene they are witnessing.  The truth is, the Doctor knows about the Tardis being found there, and he’s worried that today is the day that he finds out why.

It’s no secret that I love historical episodes, and this one did not let me down.  A similar episode of the show during the David Tennant run as the tenth incarnation of the Doctor relied way too much on aliens and other trappings of the “modern historical” in Doctor Who, but this is straight historical.  There are no aliens and no monsters just a story of one man’s quest to divert what he believes to be the inevitable – his death.  Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford do a great job in the roles of The Doctor and Mel, and show a great chemistry together.  While not as popular and dramatic as McCoy and Sophie Aldred were as a team, this pairing gets the job done, and harkens back to an older era in the show.

The Fires of Vulcan is probably one of the better Big Finish audio plays I’ve heard so far, despite all the fan hate for me.  I for one, hope she has done more of these!

 

My rating 4.5 out of 5

Review – Doctor Who: Winter for the Adept

Big Finish Audio “Quick Review”

Summary: “When a teleportation accident goes badly wrong, Nyssa finds herself stranded on the freezing slopes of the Swiss Alps in 1963. But is it mere coincidence that she finds shelter in a snowbound school haunted by a malevolent poltergeist?  When the Doctor arrives, Nyssa and the other inhabitants of the school soon discover that the ghost is merely part of a darker, deeper and more deadly game involving rogue psi talents and something else… Something not of this Earth.”

When we last left the Doctor (as played by Peter Davison) and Nyssa, they were leaving frigid Alaska bound for some place hopefully warmer.  Not only does that not happen, but they end up in a house with a religious zealot that believes that cold air is the path to salvation and warmth is a sin.  Nyssa gets stranded in this place long before the Doctor arrives, and is taken in by a group of Swiss School girls living on the mountainside.  This story contains a few weird motifs that are out of the ordinary for Doctor Who, but serve well in this story….for the most part.  The first of which is that the story itself is bookended by a narration from one of the Swiss school girls.  The cheesy overly flowery diary entry harkens back to such writers as Jane Austen, but only in a superficial way.  The girl basically says very little with as many adjectives as possible to make it sound classy.  This sloppy writing should have been the first red flag for what I was getting into.

From: Doctor Who Magazine

Winter for the Adept is one of those audio dramas that I really wanted to like, but sadly did not whatsoever.  The story begins as a ghost story intertwined in a Stanley Kubrick’s Shining-esque wrapper, but completely falls apart 3/4ths of the way in and becomes a Michael Bay film.  It’s like Andrew Cartmel (the writer) was so set on adding aliens into the mix that he forgot he was writing a ghost story.

The choppy writing doesn’t end there, as there is a lot of dialogue talking about “Spillagers” at the beginning, a term that is never explained until towards the end of the play.  When it is revealed what a “Spillager” is, I was rolling my eyes due to how convenient it was within the plot.  The Doctor constantly talks about “spillages” and his “spillage detector” in such a way that it leads you to believe that he is talking about some sort of energy release or some such.  Not the alien that magically happens to be there in the Alps at the very same time.  I also found myself having a lot of trouble imagining what was going on especially in episode four.  There are many instances where random yelling, noises, and explosions can be heard with little explanation as to what is actually going on.  Sadly this play is a frightful miss for me.

 

My rating 1 out of 5

Review – Doctor Who: The Spectre of Lanyon Moor

Big Finish Audio “Quick Review”

Synopsis: In a desolate Cornish landscape littered with relics of prehistoric man, the doctor and Evelyn uncover a catalogue of mysteries.  What is the secret of the fogou? Can the moor be haunted by a demonic host of imps? And what is Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart doing in Pengriffen?  Teaming up with his old friend, the Doctor realises that an ancient conflict is nearing its conclusion – and Lanyon Moor is set to be teh final battleground.

One thing that I always love in science fiction is when the writer takes a prominent supernatural occurrence (e.g. ghosts, elves etc…) and explains it away as either completely commonplace or something more.  For instance the way that Gods in Stargate are actually powerful aliens that prayed on human faith.  This particular Doctor Who audio play does this exact thing with the mythical creature – the imp.  The story consists of the Doctor and his newest companion Dr. Evelyn Smythe investigating old Celtic ruins alongside an archaeological team and even the Brigadier!  This play is in fact the first appearance of Nicholas Courtney as Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart in any Big Finish Audio release.

An Image from Doctor Who magazine

It was always sad to me that the sixth incarnation of the Doctor as played by Colin Baker was never allowed a proper adventure in which he interacts with the Brigadier.  Almost all other Doctors ended up with such an episode, but the closest thing we ended up with was the dreadful charity “special” Dimensions in Time in which I need to dissect one of these days.

This episode has its ups and downs but was generally very entertaining to me, and sits as one of the better episodes of Big Finish Audio out there.  The duo of Colin Baker’s Doctor and Eveleyn Smythe as played by Maggie Stables is a great pairing, and I really hope they do a few more stories together.  Having the brigadier in this episode really helps iron home that this is, in fact, a Doctor Who story.  It really seems the most like an old episode of the TV show that I’ve listened to.

My rating: 4 out of 5

Review – Doctor Who: Red Dawn

Big Finish Audio “Quick Review”

Synopsis:

Ares One: NASA’s first manned mission to the dead planet Mars. But is Mars as dead as it seems?
While the NASA team investigate an ‘anomaly’ on the planet’s surface, the Doctor and Peri find themselves inside a strange alien building. What is its purpose? And what is frozen inside the blocks of ice that guard the doorways? If the Doctor has a sense of deja-vu, it’s because he’s about to meet some old adversaries, as well as some new ones…

We open Red Dawn with a countdown timer and launch of man’s first foray to the red planet in a ship called the Argosy.  From the very get-go this seems a doomed mission as a ton of stuff begins to go wrong right out of the gate.  At the exact same moment, The Doctor and Peri travel to a large building that seems to have doors and other controls that are run empathically.  Once they run into the now landed Argosy crew, they find out that they are on Mars just as the Ice warriors show up.  The villain of the piece is a man named Paul, who is so stupidly one-dimensional that he might as well be a textbook example of bad ethical practices.  The man literally tries to incite a inter-galactic war for the sole reason to make money on weapons trading and other like things.

The play has a few missteps that made this drama hard to finish for me.  While I have complimented Nicola Bryant as Peri in the handful of audio adventures I have heard with her, this audio play is seemingly back to the “old school”.  I found Peri (of no fault to Bryant, but the script) to be about as annoying as she was in the earlier parts of her run on the classic show.  All she did was run around and hound one of the Ice Warriors about his promise not to kill the Doctor and yell at folks about ethics.  Peri was not the only blight on this drama as it seemed as if everyone involved was completely incompetent in all situations.  The Doctor kept talking about the Ice Warrior honor code, but never takes advantage of it, as he has with other races such as the Sontarans.

This is quite easily the most boring of these audio dramas so far, and it was slightly less entertaining than The Sirens of Time.  Not all stories can be top shelf I guess.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5

Here is a “trailer” of sorts:

Review – Doctor Who: The Genocide Machine

Big Finish Audio “Quick Review”

 

Synopsis: “The library on Kar-Charrat is one of the wonders of the Universe. It is also hidden from all but a few select species. The Doctor and Ace discover that the librarians have found a new way of storing data – a wetworks facility – but the machine has attracted unwanted attention, and the Doctor soon finds himself pitted against his oldest and deadliest enemies – the Daleks!”

 

Ah yes, the first Dalek-related audio drama Big Finish has produced.  Being a huge fan of the little squid-like hooligans, I was excited to see – errr – hear what the audio format had for these guys.  This begins a story-arc of sorts that Big Finish has labeled Dalek Empire; it will contain four separate stories with different Doctors held together by the common theme.  This segment follows The Doctor and Ace as they are humorously brought to a planet called Kar-Charrat in order to return a library book, lifted from a library where such things are frowned upon.  At the same time we cut to another group led by a person that is almost like a “semi-companion” in Bev Tarrant.  Bev is a female Han Solo of sorts, and plans to steal a large ziggurat in order to make it rich.  Too bad the Ziggurat is full of evil squid monsters surrounded by armor – the Daleks.

After the last McCoy and Aldred play, I was worried that the overly dark nature would spill into all of their plays.  Thankfully that isn’t the case, as this play seems more in-line with the show than one of the books.  That is the great thing about Big Finish, if you don’t like a certain play, the next one will be completely different, and may strike your fancy.  I enjoyed the plotline and dialog; yet felt that it was bit too preachy in some regards, especially when you find out the atrocity the librarians on Kar-Charrat have committed.  Without giving away the plot completely, let’s just say that the overtly hippie-like nature of Avatar is pretty close to the mood the audio sets.

The audio only really fails on the insanely contrived plan that the Daleks have hatched.  While they are known to have ridiculous over-thought plans in the past, this one is pretty over the top.  They basically plan to use the libraries knowledge to create a super Dalek with the power of the Universe, so they plant cryogenic sleeper cells on every planet of this one particular system that also contains the aforementioned “secret” library.  I say “secret” because everyone seems to know of it.  Plot aside, this was a fun audio adventure, and a blessing of what to come for Sylvester McCoy stories.

 

My rating: 3 out of 5

 

Here is a trailer I found on Youtube:

 

Review – Doctor Who: The Marian Conspiracy

Big Finish Audio “Quick Review”

Synopsis: Tracking a nexus point in time, the Doctor meets Dr Evelyn Smythe, a history lecturer whose own history seems to be rapidly vanishing.  The Doctor must travel back to Tudor times to stabilize the nexus and save Evelyn’s life. But there he meets the Queen of England and must use all his skills of diplomacy to avoid ending up on the headman’s block…

It’s no secret that the exploits of the sixth Doctor in the form of the original TV series were met with mixed reviews.  Many felt that the show was on its last legs at the time, and a few higher ups over at the BBC seemed keen on axing the show forever.  When I got into watching a lot of the classic stories, I really liked how Colin Baker played the Doctor despite his costume and the somewhat rough scripts he was sometimes handed.  As I’ve stated before these Big Finish audio dramas are where Colin seems to be at his best as the Doctor.  I would even say that his episodes are usually among my favorite.

This episode at hand, The Marion Conspiracy, is one of the better ones of this line up to this point, as it contains a few things that really set it apart: the introduction of a NEW companion, a historical timeframe, and time travel consequences.  The plot follows The Doctor and a history teacher named Evelyn Smythe as they try to figure out why Evelyn is seemingly being written out of time.  This dynamic is usually one of my favorites as I love when The Doctor takes in a companion that is a bit older and has wide-eyed enthusiasm AND wisdom; I think that’s why I liked Wilf so much in the last few David Tennant seasons.

The story follows The Doctor and Evelyn as they travel back to Tudor times to figure out exactly what Evelyn is disappearing from existence.  There are a few misunderstandings where they both assume that they are in Elizabethan England when in fact they are at the court of Queen Mary.  They both get embroiled in a plot to kill Mary and ultimately try to stop it.  All in all, this was a very good audio drama, and is one of the better ones that I’ve listened to so far.  The acting, plot, and pure historical awesomeness, all click in such a way to make me the most happy.

click here to listen to a trailer

My rating 4 out of 5

 

Review – Doctor Who: Fearmonger

Big Finish Audio “Quick Review”

Synopsis: One would-be assassin is in a mental ward. Another’s on the run. Their intended victim is stirring up the mobs. Terrorists are planning a strike of their own. A talk-radio host is loving every minute of it. A Whitehall insider whispers about a mysterious UN operative, with a hidden agenda. Everyone’s got someone they want to be afraid of. It’ll only take a little push for the situation to erupt – and something is doing the pushing. But you can trust the Doctor to put things right. Can’t you?

One of the things that I have yet to actually get around to doing is reading any of the Doctor Who: Virgin New Adventure books produced in the early-mid nineties.  I do know that conceptually I do not agree with the general tone of the books based on what I’ve seen, and some of the fandom that came from them.  As a first “true” introduction to the format, these plays based on the Virgin New Adventure books, are equally as problematic to me.

The actual audio drama that I am looking at reviewing here is called the Fearmonger and stars Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred reprising their roles from the latter era of the original series.  Immediately we find The Doctor and Ace hot on the heels of some kind of monster that may or may not inhabit the body of a crazed right wing political group leader.  At least this is what a man who regularly calls into a Fox News styled pundit show seems to think, and says that he plans another assassination attempt on her, as a previous one (that the play opened on) went south.  We find the Doctor commandeer the radio show and egg on the “crazy” man, basically saying “yeah! There is a monster” which riles everyone up.  This leaves Ace and the Doctor to investigate the situation themselves in order to get some answers.

The right wing political party in question, The New Britannia party, is a pretty rough group of characters who base their entire political stance on racism.  They basically want to throw out anyone who isn’t white and sherilyn Harper, their leader, doesn’t help with her rhetoric.  Against them is a terrorist group trying to end the hate ironically with assassinations and bombings.  Immediately you may notice that the back-bone of this story is very dark, and that is honestly a big problem with it for me.  While things like nationalism, jingoism, racism, immigration and politics have always featured in Doctor Who media, the show was at least clever enough to try to keep it toned down.

With this new tone, the storytelling loses its fun and clownish charm, instead going for preachy social commentary.  This was a trend in the 1980’s McCoy episodes as they ham-fisted things like racism into episodes that did not need it in the plot.  Remembrance of the Daleks comes to mind with a few scenes of black segregation in the 1960’s that served no purpose other than to make the watcher feel bad, and cluttered up the over-all narrative.  This bleak and preachy take on the Doctor is not my favorite to be honest.

I guess it may be my problem as a listener, that I need to differentiate the show and these audios more in order to really enjoy them, but as a fan of the classic show rather than a series of books, the themes in here clash with my preconceived notions of what the characters should be doing.  Aside from my gripes, the acting and production on this play are VERY well done, and to be honest it is the best produced play from Big Finish so far.  I know my opinions on the McCoy era may not be the most popular, but I will try to look at the other Virgin New Adventure stories with a more open mind.  We’ll see how that goes.

My Rating 3.25 out of 5