Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Holiday...Holiday...Holiday

Gratuitous Picture of the Magnificent Jacqueline Pearce and The Patient Centurion

Just as things were getting exciting. I know. Just call me Michael Grade.

Anyway this is just a quick update to let my loyal reader(s) know that there will be a short intermission so I can take a well-earned holiday. That's from my proper work btw not from Big Finish.

The original plan was to listen to 'Terra Firm' today and then - as I'm away - pick up again on Monday 30th July. But then I realised that as 'The Next Life' was the end of The Divergent Universe cycle it was more natural to stop here. So I have done.

Next up, after four days in Ely and Cambridge for the Folk Festival, will be 'Terra Firma' on 30th July.

I hope you've enjoyed the blog so far.

On the Doctor Who news front it looks like Season 7 will start in August/September with 'Asylum of the Daleks'. I'm looking forward to seeing Matt Smith's Doctor again. The Ponds will bow out and their replacement - whose name I may or may not know or may or may not have been made public - will join up at the Christmas special. So all of that should be fun.

We're also approaching, slowly but surely, the 50th Anniversary and things maybe afoot to celebrate. I've run through all my wishful thinking and narrowed it down to two. So if Uncle Moff is listening I have been a good boy this year.

1: Ian Chesterton
2: Paul McGann

Everything else will be a bonus.

Why those two? Well, Ian was an exceptional and under-rated companion. Bringing him back is easier than bringing back Susan as he comes with less relativity problems and links the whole history of the series together rather sweetly. And if we're going to have a multi-Doctor story let's have the Eighth Doctor. McGann's surely earnt the right to a proper follow-up appearance. You know it makes sense. Well, it doesn't but it would be fun.

There are a million other things that would be great but you know I think I'd be content with those two.

See you in a few days.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Next Life


Sometimes you just take an irrational dislike to a person you've never met. Something about their tone of voice when you overhear them talking, the way the block you in the street or just their general existence. That's how I feel about 'The Next Life'.

It might be that telescoping the whole Neverland to The Next Life story arc into ten days makes it unfair for me to judge this story as harshly as I do. I really, really disliked this. Really. To the point of wanting it to be finished as fast as possible. To the point of which listening to all six episodes felt like duty, not pleasure.

That isn't the fault of any of the actors involved all of whom do a sterling job. In fact Paul Darrow's stint as Guidance is wonderfully underplayed (not something you often say when it comes to Paul Darrow in Doctor Who) and Daphne Ashbrook's Perfection isn't far off being perfection (I will stop here to acknowledge with a polite round of applause the excellent Grace joke in Part 2. Well done whoever came up with that). There's also a nice sinister turn from Stephene Cornicard as Keep.

The regulars all do good stuff too, even if Charley does have occasional Head Girl moments. Conrad Westmaas is asked to do a lot with K'rizz without being allowed (I assume) to go too over-emotional. And McGann, who is consistently brilliant, is brilliant. Especially right towards the end when he's giving K'rizz and Charley a telling off.

In fact it is a compliment to Big Finish that one of the main reasons I hate this story is that I have grown to like Charley and K'rizz so much that another story which involves them being mentally tortured, convinced of the Doctor's untrustworthiness and betrayed by their memories and experiences seems like sadism on behalf of Big Finish.

Except by this point it is a Big Finish cliche. To the extent that Charley and K'rizz effectively say so.

It is too soon to jump into another story so depressingly epic. I am told that the Divergent Universe arc was rushed to an end in this story because the series was coming back to television, which may or may not be true. Whatever it is we've not had time to catch our breath from Caerdroia before wham, bam we're in a massive existential crisis trying to tie up all the loose ends.

That's why I didn't like it.

It also has a dramatically silly way out for our heroes in the final part, which stretches credulity to breaking point. At least my credulity and when it comes to Doctor Who I'm pretty forgiving of plot holes and deus ex machina. But this one is a doozy.

So we end up back in the normal universe and the final three minutes end up with a lovely little twist leading into the next adventure.

When I re-read what I've written above I realise that perhaps I am just being a little harsh but that doesn't stop me from not liking this story. Irrational it may be. Irrational it is. But no, this ones not for me.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Caerdroia


That was fun and by the end The Doctor is The Doctor again. Or so it seems.

The Doctor's been getting used to his new universe and finally seems to have got himself back together enough to trick the Kro'ka into coughing up some of his secrets and he's on the trail of his long missing TARDIS.

Part One basically takes place inside the Interzone and when the Doctor pops through into the next place where he feels the TARDIS might be it turns out that there are three of him. A multi-Doctor story with a difference. The same Doctor, but with three avatars. There's a day-dreamy excitable one (that Charley nicknames Tigger), a brusque and unpleasant one (Eeyore) and a relatively normal one.

Part Two seems the Three Doctors split up and explore their surroundings, which appear rather strange. Eeyore goes with Charley and find themselves climbing about in the interior of a cuckoo-clock with no hands; Tigger and K'rizz go for a walk in the park and encounter some bizarre beasties, one of which is from K'rizz's home world and rather unpleasant; normal Doctor goes to find someone in authority but finds himself dealing with a Kafkaesque bureaucracy (slightly reminiscent of Mr. Popplewick in the final episodes of Trial of a Time Lord). All three want to leave, all three go through separate doors and find themselves back together. In the same place. A labyrinth complete with roaring monster. (Actually one of Doctor Who's less impressive cliffhangers that but interesting).

Part Three finds everyone escaping the monster - which is actually a Minotaur (or THE Minotaur) - and aided by a man called Wayland. Wayland tells a tale explaining the Minotaur and convinces the Doctor(s) to help him break in to the central chamber of the labyrinth, which is protected by a mathematical lock. Tigger goes off with K'rizz and Charley to explore the park, the remaining two Doctors realise that someone is trying to get them to break in to their own TARDIS. It's Kro'ka. Refusing to help him doesn't put the Kro'ka off his stride much. He has captured Tigger Doctor, who he feels is the weak link. The easiest Doctor to break.

Except he might not be. Masterful at talking piffle this Doctor realises that Kro'ka's been rather devious and that - should his masters find out - there will be trouble for the Kro'ka. Trouble with a capital T. Trouble involving unpleasantness of a possibly fatal kind. For the Kro'ka.

However as Part Four unravels the Doctor(s) get on top of the situation, despite a near run thing with a brain drain and some rather loud bells. Kro'ka gets tortured by the Eeyore Doctor (who must have similarities with the Valeyard) and coughs up a few secrets. This scene is McGann at his best. He is rather terrifying as the darker Doctor, especially when he reminds The Kro'ka that the other two Doctors normally keep him under control.

K'rizz and Charley trying to locate the Doctor(s) find themselves exploring Caerdroia's streets and corridors, which are very Castrovalva. (There are certain similarities between the two stories including their titles but that might just be me putting two and two together to make two thousand, six hundred and fourteen).

Eventually everyone gets together and we find ourselves back inside the TARDIS. The Three Doctors become one and everyone is happy. But the enemy has fled, which annoys the Doctor like hell. However at least he's now free to explore this new universe. There's no time here of course but all of space is his to explore. He's happy again.

The Kro'ka however is on the receiving end of a rather unpleasant exit interview with his employer.

I have left a few bits out of the above description, which is a bit of a change to the usual format. I don't wish to spoil things entirely.

It's good though and it ties together some of the Divergent Universe threads. My complaint about another mind invading alien is revealed for the arc plot point it is. They're trying to get inside the Doctor's mind because they want the secrets of the TARDIS. Bits and pieces are pulled together on Caerdroia but the whole is not exhibited.

McGann gets to show off as he does the Three Doctors stuff and it is nice to have a Doctor back who is a little less...bereft. This is the victorious, sharp-thinking, sharp-witted, waffling enthusiast of old.

India Fisher and Conrad Westmaas do some fine stuff to. Charley is funny and witty in this story and K'rizz develops a line in dry wit. He's also suitably flummoxed on his first entrance into the TARDIS, which is nice.

O and applause for Stephen Perring as The Kro'ka. Another serpentine voiced villain but with a good line in incompetence. It's as if G4S had been hired to provide a front line villain service by those who employed him.

This is good. Well-worth a listen.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Last


Interestingly - in the loosest sense of the word naturally - I listened to the end of Part 2 and all of Part 3 of this story whilst at The Oval watching England play South Africa, which was an odd experience. In front of me white clad men whacked a little red ball around rather monotonously in the sunshine whilst my ears were filled with the howling winds of a war ravaged and dying planet. Indeed somewhere about three-quarters of the way through Part 3 Tim Bresnan took England's only wicket of the day.

Part 4 I listened to on a Thameside bench with a view of the Palace of Westminster and the London Eye.

Altogether a rather strange way to enjoy a Big Finish audio but fun.

But enough of this what about The Last. The Doctor, K'rizz and Charley arrive in the inhospitable wastes of a planet falling apart. There has been a terrible war. A war to end all wars. This one has been successful. It killed almost everyone. It's an interesting tactic.

However in a bunker a small number of survivors, including Excelsior (Carolyn Jones) the leader of Bortresoye and saviour of her people as well as Minister Voss (Ian Brooker) and Minister Tralfinial (Robert Hines).  Excelsior it becomes rapidly clear is as mad as a hatter. So loony tunes she makes The Master look sane. She is being kept from the knowledge that there is no one left. There are no survivors. Everyone is dead and - as we gradually discover - everyone must die.

The Doctor, Charley and K'rizz get split up following a collapse in the building that they are sheltering in. Charley is paralysed from the neck downwards. Something she seems to take with astonishing good grace, even if she does hold out no hope of recovery. K'rizz meanwhile encounters Requiem (Tom Eastwood), a survivor. Perhaps the only survivor.

It's all downhill from there for the TARDIS crew. Death, more death and then - just when you least expect it - more death. The Last does have a certain quality of bleakness about it but then what can one expect of a story involving the deaths of millions in a firey holocaust.

There's also a story in here about the Gaia principal taken to the extreme.

I think this is a pretty average Big Finish story, erring towards the less than good. The acting is fine but I think it is too didactic - if that word means what I think it means Vicini. It feels like taking a hammer to a very crumbly nut. Yes, war is bad. Boo-hoo. We know that. We've always known that. The Daleks back in 1963 showed us that in a bizarrely similar post-holocaust environment. I know this doesn't get said very often but this story makes Terry Nation look subtle.

It's still entertaining enough. The acting is pretty good, especially Voss, Tralfinial and Excelsior.

The ending both makes sense - based on what has gone before - but also feels like a drastic cope out. A happy solution to an unhappy tale. Or is it?

Because again we have questions to be answered. What's The Kro'ka up to? Who is behind these mysterious zones and why does he/she/it seem intent on putting the Doctor through the ringer? Will everyone live happily ever after? Hints have been dropped. Seeds have been sown.

Somewhere, sometime Big Finish will tell us everything and I hope it is all worth it.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Faith Stealer


So after yesterday I managed to come down with some kind of bug in the early hours of the morning. This meant a lack of sleep, a miserable morning and a surfeit of grumpiness and self-pity. Most of Faith Stealer was listened to whilst lying in bed feeling sorry for myself.

None of that you need to know really but perhaps a little context helps.

Anyway this was quite a pleasant experience. It was a little lighter than more recent stories and had some genuinely funny moments. The best of which was probably all the interaction with the Church of Serendipity and Jebdal's Monty Pythonesque 'following leaders' moment.

I would quibble a little with another villain that gets inside people's minds. There's so many of them in this run of Big Finish stories that it is beginning to feel like Jon Pertwee Season 8 when the villain constantly turned out to be The Master until his arrival was almost routine. Oh, so this one is a bivarity anomaly quartz but it mainly works by getting inside people's minds. Hmmm. Can't we just have something big, hairy and heavily armed for a change? Something that does bad things through the physical violence and painful death?

Alas not.

The story is set in Multihaven, which is a kind of car boot sale for faith. Here different religions mingle. No one faith is allowed to dominate. Except onto the scene has arrived Laan Carder (Christian Rodska) and the 23rd Church of Lucidity. You can clearly see Laan Carder's up to no good because he and his coverts get an Invisible Enemy style catchphrase: "So much lucidity" but The Bordinan (Tessa Shaw) who oversees Multihaven thinks it is just another passing religious fad. She's seen it all before.

Into this stumbles the Doctor, Charley and K'rizz in traditional Doctor Who stylee. K'rizz is unable to shake off the L'Da's death and keeps dreaming of the moment it happened and The Kro'ka suggests Multihaven might sort him out. A suggestion that seems a little over-helpful from a being we've come to be suspicious of.

K'rizz gets zonked by the Lucidian's. Then he get mind probed by Director Garfolt (Neil Bett) who is the latest in a long line of scientific types that would have been better off listening to the Doctor's instructions.

It's nice to have a story where the TARDIS crews existential crisis's are kept to a minimum for a change. There's almost no bickering or emotional spasms. It feels like a normal Doctor Who story, which is something of a relief.

The regulars do their usual excellent job and McGann's Doctor is starting to sound more Doctor-ish again after his recent adjustment to a new Universe. He's still looking for the TARDIS, which disappeared all the way back in Scherzo (perhaps I should have mentioned that...[cough])

There's some good acting from the supporting cast, especially Rodska as Laan Carder. I also liked Helen Kirkpatrick's Jebdal, who does a fine line in faith and doubt. It's always nice when a character realises they've been had and tries to do something about it.

This was the ideal story for my state of mind today: not too deep, not too dark plus a dash of wit and humour.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Twilight Kingdom


Here's a thing. Since the 9th July I have listened to 35 episodes of the Eighth Doctor's adventures via Big Finish. It has (mostly) been quite a pleasant and easy task. However today was different. I am tired and it has been a bad week at work (and elsewhere). I was not - am not - in the most receptive of minds, which reflects somewhat in the difficulties I had getting into this story and I'm not sure whether I can be said to have given it the fairest of hearings.

In the end it felt like a bit of a drag listening to it.

The question is whether that is more to do with the baggage I'm pulling along or the story itself. It is a moot point. (A phrase I have used far too often over the last couple of days. I must find another).

The Twilight Kingdom certainly is not as good a story as The Natural History of Fear, although the basic plot is fine. Perhaps I'm just tired of each Big Finish story ending with more questions. Can't we just have a bit of fun? Something without baggage?

At its most basic this is a some corners of the universe have bred the most terrible things they must be fought type story. There's something up to no good and the Doctor must stop it. Will stop it. There will be a price to be paid but this time it won't be the Doctor, Charley or K'rizz that has to pay it. Someone else will.

This story is perhaps also about coping: with grief, with loneliness or with anger and a little about growing up.

Actually whenever I write something like that I have a picture of the writer - in this case Will Shindler - reading this and asking what the hell I'm talking about. It's the same feeling I get when I think a story has been influenced by some other book or film or Doctor Who story. I expect the writer to come up to me and say, "You know I've never read/seen/whatever that." Perhaps I'm searching too hard for depth and meaning in something that is essentially entertainment.

Anyway it isn't a bad little story really. It certainly elevated by an excellent performance from Michael Keating as Major Koth. Michael Keating is best known for playing Villa from Blake's 7. He was something of a hero of mine was Villa so I might have been inclined to be nice to Michael Keating anyway but in truth I don't need to be. He's unrecognisable voicewise. If I hadn't checked the credits I don't think I'd have recognised him at all. Major Koth is an interesting character and Keating gives him a convincing and moving life.

This is another story where it would be hard pressed to put your finger on a genuine villain. There's nastiness - and rather gory nastiness via the medium of sound effects and my own (obviously rather sick) imagination. People and things are misguided or broken but not stereotypically villainous, which even the Doctor can see.

That's pretty much all I have to say about The Twilight Kingdom. McGann, Fisher and Westmaas are up to their high standards, although K'rizz still lacks a little depth I think even if bits and pieces of his character are leaking out over time. The main cast's excellence is becoming standard really, almost unworthy of comment.

So forgive me if this is a rather odd review. This isn't a bad story but perhaps it was the wrong story at the wrong time for me.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Natural History of Fear


Wow.

That was totally unexpected and exceptionally brilliant.

An attempt to do something really different with Doctor Who that takes advantage of Big Finish being an audio format. Something that sometimes gets forgotten. Games can be played with audio and played effectively.

The problem I have is how to review it without spoiling it because I think it pays coming to unspoilt.

Let's just say we are Light City, which is a City run efficiently. Where questions - to quote the Prisoner - are a burden for others; answers a prison for oneself and where everyone works happily for the company entertained by the ongoing adventures of a travelling hero called The Doctor and his friends Charley and K'rizz.

And with that we begin.

This has touches of 1984 about it not so much in Light City's ambiance. That feels more like 'The Happiness Patrol' or 'The Macra Terror' or indeed 'The Prisoner' with its jaunty DJ making annoucements on a semi-regular basis throughout. No where it has most in common with 1984 can be found in Orwell's line about 'he who controls the past, controls the future' (although not quite that, not quite), the love that one might feel for a dictator and thoughtcrimes.

But even that informs rather than overwhelms the story. This isn't one of those Doctor Who does 1984 type homages so beloved of Classic Who (or The Moff's Christmas Specials), this is something different and something better.


It's about individuality, about evolution and stagnation, its about love and memory, it is about truth and forgetting.

And you think you know what's happening and then there almost at the end they pull off one of the great twists. A majestic piece of what the fuckery that made me want to applaud. Expectations built up over three episodes are simple ripped apart in front of your face.

So you have to applaud the writer Jim Mortimore for this. He also did the sound engineering, which means that the whole audio experience is down to him. We hear what the writer wants us to hear and it repays careful listening.

Of course it wouldn't work if the cast weren't up to it, which they are. Paul McGann and India Fisher take the bulk of the material and do wonderful things with it. They seem to relish the script. Conrad Westmaas too is up to snuff, even if he gets less to do.

I am filled with superlatives, which can be quite uncomfortable. So I'm going to leave it there mainly because all I want to do is tell you that this is excellent, possibly the best Big Finish 8th Doctor story so far, and that you really should do yourself a favour and listen to it.

Seriously. Find yourself a quiet place to sit, put this on whatever your musical listening thing of choice is, perhaps through headphones to truly appreciate it and take two hours-ish to visit Light City. You'll thank me for it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Creed of the Kromon


Phew. After the last few stories it is nice to find myself listening to something that is pretty much a bog standard Doctor Who adventure.

OK, it is set in an alt-universe and there's clearly something bigger and more mysterious going on that we're not going to find out about in short order but it is nice to be back in the vaguely ordinary. In Doctor Who terms.

This is written by Phillip Martin - who wrote 'Vengeance on Varos' and 'Mindwarp'. (He also wrote Gangsters btw, which I recommend heartily if you haven't seen it but I am distracted). Its main villains, the Kromon, have a certain similarity with the Mentors in there rather business focused approach to the universe. Their 'Creed' is that of a large corporation with the Doctor at one point offered an office and a PA of his own as an inducement to help.

It is the comic aspects of this story that come as a bit of a relief after all the seriousness of 'Nevermind' etc. The Kromon are termites of a sort - shades of the Zarbi but alas not THE Zarbi - but a lot of their scenes are black comedy. Only the scenes with Charley as they try to transform her (again hints of Martin's work in Vengeance on Varos) are particularly dark.

Indeed it is hard not to feel sorry for Charley who gets the nasty end of the stick here. The Doctor gets pushed around, shot at, drugged and lightly tortured but that's nothing but light relief for him. Charley on the other hand gets all of those things and hybridization on top, which is no way to treat a lady.

Actually now I come to think of it there is another character here who gets a rather bad time of it and that's K'rizz (Conrad Westmaas). We meet K'rizz early in the story fleeing from the Kromon. He is a Eutermesan, who are reptilian humanoids with chameleon tendencies enslaved by the Kromon. There are hints of mysteries about K'rizz too but this wouldn't be a Big Finish story if there wasn't some hidden depths to a character. He is trying to rescue L'da, his partner. Alas she's been hybridized and poor old K'rizz has to deal with the consequences, which aren't pleasent.

Conrad Westmaas breathes life into K'rizz who has one of those calming voices, even when he's fretting about whether to kill people or not. It's almost hypnotic. We'll here more about - and of - K'rizz as he's joined the Doctor and Charley as they move on into the next zone.

There's also the matter of The Kro'ka (Stephen Perring) who is the rather pompous sounding sort of interzone passport control officer. The Kro'ka is up to something, which involves the Doctor and company but what that is we have yet to find out. In the fullness of time I'm sure all will be revealed.

Not much else to say really. But it is nice to have a story that feels like a bit of light-hearted fun - the usual death & destruction included - for a change. However there are questions to be answered: who is the mysterious corporation; what's The Kro'ka up to and what's it got to do with the Doctor?

Next up...The Natural History of Fear and perhaps more shall be revealed?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Scherzo


That was hard work.

That is not necessarily a bad thing. After all who needs everything to be easy. It's nice to have something that requires thought.

I'm also not sure whether I like it or not. Again that's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact in my case it is positively revolutionary. With one or two exceptions I normally find it quite easy to decide whether I like something or not. That decision is - if truth be told - the only critical sense I really have. So it is nice to listen to something that I'm uncertain about.

It's a two-hander featuring just Charley and The Doctor. They are alone together in the new Universe, the TARDIS is gone and this is where it all begins and perhaps the new Universe is incapable of dealing with them or they it. Certainly their senses seems unable to cope. They are blinded by light and forced to join hands. This is limbo of a sort. A changing room perhaps. It is certainly mysterious and they find themselves in the company of sounds and a repeating evolving corpse. They lose track of everything: time and all of their senses...but hearing.

Why are they here?

There's a lot of questions and not too many answers. The Doctor suspects that they were placed here - wherever here is - deliberately but by who? It is all rather uncomfortable and disquieting (if that is a word). The atmosphere of the whole story is strange. It is difficult to classify. Harder to explain. Like a dream that you are trying to elucidate for someone else even as it is being forgotten.

It is also emotionally uncomfortable. I found listening to the Doctor in this almost unbearable. It's not what he's supposed to be like. He's cold, hard and defeatist. He's disappointed to still be alive. He's angry at Charley for betraying him by following him here. He risked his life to save hers and by coming here to die with him she has betrayed him. What was the point of his sacrifice? It is very difficult listening. The first two episodes in particular. There's an emotional pitch in this story that Doctor Who almost never, ever reaches.

Even Charley's professions of love - whatever that means as the Doctor says - are less irritating than I might have expected. Whatever love is, it is discussed here and there is a genuine easing at the end of the story.

But it is all quite hard listening. Can it be described as pleasurable?

The acting is wonderful. Both McGann and Fisher give this their best. It might be that, being written by Rob Shearman, it feels more like a play about change than a Doctor Who story. In fact it doesn't feel very Doctor Who-ish at all. You could, as was pointed out on Twitter to me, make a reasonable stab at a stage version of this and perhaps drop all the Doctor Who references and it would still stand up as a work about change. And about love.

I have not mentioned the thing they must defeat, which takes significant advantage of the medium to express itself. It's always fun when Big Finish use audio effectively and they do in this.

Nor have I mentioned the cliffhanger to Part Three, which is the first time I have ever cringed - in the sense of screwing up my face at something horrible a la horror films - when listening to audio. The sound alone has yuckability.

So should you listen to this? Yes

Will you like it? I don't know. I really don't.

Do I like it? I think I do but I'm really, really not sure.

Would I listen to it again? No. At least not for a long while. There are some things you can admire but are so uncomfortable or difficult that you can't or won't re-watch or re-listen. This is one of them for me. Like Nil By Mouth: which was an amazing film with great performances but so emotionally draining that I'm not sure I'm going to watch it again.

So what's the conclusion? Listen to it yourself. Make your own decision. But well done Big Finish for trying something so...difficult.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Zagreus


Where the hell do you even begin with this?

There's so much going on and so many characters it sometimes becomes difficult to hang on to them all. There's Doctors and not Doctors, there's familiar voices in unfamiliar roles. There's the walking talking TARDIS and a talking cat. There's rips in the fabric of the Universe. A terrible secret. There's Time Lords past and present. There's Romana and Leela. There's Gallifrey and an alternative Universe. There's Zagreus who gets inside your head. There's Charlotte Pollard and Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. There's a Mouse General & a Jabberwocky. There's exile and farewells. Bigotry and Vampires. There's fear and death.

It's the 50th Big Finish so they pulled out all the stops. Then tore out the stops completely and went crazy.

The Doctor saved the Universe at the end of Neverland but he - and the TARDIS - seem to have paid a terrible, terrible price. The Doctor is not the Time Lord he was. Charley is caught up in all of this and both she and the Doctor are dragged through a series of rather bizarre situations that might be real but might also be artificially created to help them understand the confusion that's going on around them.

It isn't surreal but it is filled with nonsense but nonsense in the best Carrollian sense of the word but in the end it is the same old story: a power mad conspirator bent on making the Universe in his image and using the Doctor to do his dirty work. If all power corrupts then Time Lord power corrupts absolutely. When, almost at the end of Zagreus, the Doctor talks to Romana and he reels off a list of his Time Lord heroes that turned out to be disappointments - to put it mildly - he says he doesn't want to be around to see her corruption as Madam President. (And I believe this story links into the Gallifrey series of audios, which are the ongoing adventures of Romana & Leela. I've not listened to them but this does make me want to do so.)

Paul McGann is brilliant in this. Big Finish do like to keep the Eighth Doctor constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown and there's something incredibly vulnerable about him, which McGann can get across with a crack in his voice and a little change in pitch. It can be absolutely heartbreaking at times, particularly when he pleads with Charley in the final episode. It makes you so bloody frustrated that his only television appearance is that rather dreary Americanised TV Movie. I would plead with the Moff once more for him to appear in the 50th Anniversary season but I think I've done enough of that.

India Fisher is also pretty damn good as Charley again dealing with everything the universe appears to throw at her with panache. Only right at the end does it look like it all might be too much for her. I confess that there are moments when Charley is a tad irritating but overall this is good work.


It was wonderful to hear Nicholas Courtney's voice again. It's so...reassuring but he gets to go a little beyond the usual Brigadier performance in this story, which is nice.
 

Lalla Ward and Louise Jameson bring both their old characters back to life in sterling fashion and there's some excellent banter between the two as Romana is a little rude and patronising to Leela in the first instance. And as I love Leela I was hoping Romana might get a polite slap for it. However all's well in the end.

Peter Davison, Colin Baker & Sylvester McCoy also do some wonderful stuff with their roles, which are both Doctor and not Doctor. Colin Baker in particular is mightily entertaining. Then there's the rest of the cast of thousands who contribute little touches here and there. Sometimes recognisably, sometimes less so.

Also Don Warrington is brilliantly serpentine as - and here I am trapped between spoilers/not spoilers creating a Divergent Universe filled with raging spoiler and....oops, sorry...let's just say Don Warrington is brilliantly serpentine as the Old Man.

All in all a fine effort at celebration with a twist. An end to one set of stories, the beginning of another. The Doctor exiled. Again.




Friday, July 13, 2012

Neverland


I have mentioned in previous Eighth Doctor blogs that some of these stories have a real New Who (Moff Version) feel about them. 'Neverland' is one of those stories. An end of season extravaganza that ends up wrapping up the Charley Pollard story arc but leaving us with a nice juicy cliffhanger on which to hang the new season.

And yet it isn't like that at all, which might sound like something of a paradox (and that's apt in a 'season' full of paradoxes. Big Finish know that their audience isn't really the general public. This is Doctor Who made for Doctor Who fans -  even if they are also meant to stand on their own too.

In the first place 'Neverland' is stuffed with Time Lords & the continuity that comes with them. It's got Romana II in it as Lord President for Rassilon's sake. It's got Rassilon in it for Rai...sorry.  I have to admit though I love the Time Lord's when they are EPIC. The advantage of audio, of course is there are no sets or CGI to disappoint. You just have sound, words & your own imagination, which is a brilliant combination for Doctor Who.

There are war TARDISes, time-travelling Space Stations - I imagined the Space Station from Trial of a Time Lord but perhaps on a slightly smaller scale, there are throw away references to various Time Lord secrets & a whacking great wrecked TARDIS that in my head looks astonishing. It's what the Time Lords were made for & they certainly sound more like the Time Lords of RTD's Time War than the Time Lords of 'The Deadly Assassin'.

It was also lovely to get to hear Lalla Ward as Romana II again. Older but with a sharper edge born of experience. She is Lord President - and in a little Matrix deduced scenario seen by the Doctor she's also seen as the ruthless leader of a rather darker, nastier group of Time Lords wiping the Dalek's from time just because she can, despite the pleading of the Emperor Dalek - & initially you never quite know whether she's on the Doctor's side or not. Lalla Ward does a great job with the part (which shouldn't be a surprise really).

This though is really Charley's story. Finally the real reason for the weird paradoxes & timey-wimey stuff that's been going on around her is revealed & it is all to do with anti-time. (Initially I thought Omega was going to crop up somewhere what with things anti being his thang but of course his realm is anti-matter, not anti-time.) I won't go into too much detail on this because I haven't got the time (boom, boom) but suffice it to say there's another universe involved with beings in it who want their wreck their revenge upon the 'normal' universe & they have a cunning plan in place to do that with the Time Lords being enemy numero uno.

India Fisher is superb in this. Getting to really stretch the acting muscles [whatever the hell I mean by that] & she gets a couple of lovely speeches on how wonderful the extra time she's been given by the Doctor is & what it means to really live. She's seriously becoming one of my favourite companions despite her occasional forays into jolly hockey sticks territory.

McGann too does a fine job. Again soliloquizing & speechifying with an infectious enthusiasm & behind a facetious exterior hiding a sharp & persistent mind. (He actually oddly reminds me of Lord Peter Whimsey & his distracting way with piffle that leads people to underestimate him).

O & a round of applause for Anthony Keech as Co-Ordinator Vansell who twist & turns throughout the story before....well let's not spoil it. Plus we get to hear the velvet tones of Don Warrington, which is always a pleasure.


Sentris is the main villain of the piece motivated by a twisted bitterness that had its seed in an act of nobility. She's a bit caught up in the cleverness of her plan however & taunts the Doctor for his inability to kill a friend in order to save the universe.  As usual the villain gloats too early (When will they learn) & the Doctor is victorious but has made what appears to be the ultimate sacrifice.

Then...and then the Big Finish bastards spring a whacking great twist onto the end that isn't what I was expecting at all. Grrrr.

I highly recommend 'Neverland' despite it's split into two one hour plus long episodes it is the audio equivalent of one of those books you can't put down.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Time of the Daleks


I would probably like this just because you get to hear Daleks quoting Shakespeare. There's something about that, like the "Spitfires in Space" moment in 'Victory of the Daleks', that appeals to my giddy inner child.

Fortunately there is much more to this story than just Daleks doing Hamlet. It all starts when the Doctor realises that Charley doesn't know who William Shakespeare is. A quick scoot around the vortex identifies a rip in time that stretches backwards from a New Britain. Whatever - or whoever - eliminated Shakespeare from time happened then. So off they pop.

It wouldn't be unfair to compare this to that pair of brilliant Troughton Dalek stories: 'Power of the Daleks' & 'Evil of the Daleks'. Indeed it takes aspects of both those stories & adds its own touch, which is the Shakespeare mystery.

The Doctor & Charley are mistaken for PR consultants, as opposed to Earth Examiners. There is a leader, General Mariah Learman (Dot Smith), who thinks she is using the Daleks for her own ends; there are rebels doomed to be Dalek fodder; there's an almost 'steam punk' time travel a la Evil. Just replace static electricity with mirrors & there you have it.

None of the science probably makes much sense but it sounds fun & the idea of popping in & out of mirrors travelling in time and/or space is an appealing one.

It also takes an element from 'Day of the Daleks'. That it is the actions taken by a rebel to prevent something happening that cause it too happen. So perhaps I am being too nice about this story because of its Shakespeare Daleks. After all reading back it does sound like a 'Dalek's Greatest Hits'. But sod it. It's done well & is quite fun.

And again it has lots of timey-wimey stuff going on, which makes it feel like quite an up to date take on the Doctor. You could see this as a 'New Who' story.

Charley is back to being finely combative & sarcastic as opposed to hectoring & lecturing, which makes her rather lovely. Her realisation that she might be the cause of all the paradoxes & problems with time that they have recently been caught up in is very well done & her little 'I'm scared' is rather moving in its way.

McGann is up to his usual high standards. And it is nice to hear him go head-to-head with the Daleks, especially Daleks with proper Dalek voices. Each one of these stories that I listen to makes me feel a little sad that McGann's only televised Doctor Who is still the rather disappointing TV Movie. I wish The Moff would use him as the Eighth Doctor during the 50th Anniversary...why not do a 'Doctor Lite' episode, which features McGann in a flashback story & gives Matt Smith a little breather. [This may be why I will never be Doctor Who showrunner.]

As usual there's a fine support cast but special applause here for Nicola Boyce as Viola who gets a lot of stuff to do & does it well. Dot Smith's General Learman is a bit too obviously Thatcheresque for my liking. It's as if no one can do a strong female leader in British drama without doing a Thatcher. [Although maybe the fault is mine & it is me that can't see beyond Thatch.]

Nicholas Briggs does his usual high standard of work on the Dalek voices & seems to enjoy himself when he has to do the Shakespeare stuff & when...actually I won't spoil that. I know this has been out since 2002 but I feel mildly obligated not to go too crazy with spoilers. If some sneak in, I apologise. I like it when the Daleks are devious & sneaky in addition to their normal murderous shouty stuff.

So to conclude this is a good one, even if it does riff on elements from other Dalek stories. It also adds an extra layer, which makes it all the more fun. I just wish I had an appropriate Shakespeare quote to end on.





Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Embrace The Darkness



Embrace The Darkness is a base under siege story par excellence, except that the threat may not quite be all it seems to be. In my old age I'm beginning to think that it is the 'base under seige' that is really the signature Doctor Who meme. A group of people - some likeable, some not - find themselves in trapped & in trouble: in the Arctic, in a Moonbase, a Space Station or wherever. There are unpleasant & mysterious things happening. The leader of whatever base we are trapped in will often be a grumpy authority figure. Sometimes they will break under the pressure. Into this situation will stumble the Doctor & his friends. They will be under suspicion, then listened to under duress & finally the Doctor will be allowed to try and save the day. It's a variation on "first they laugh at you...then you win."

Embrace has some of those qualities: a small crew on a spaceship are mysteriously attacked & find themselves stuck in the darkness. It is a painful experience & the crews responses: weeping, shock, fear & breakdown are surprisingly realistic for something Doctor Who related. There's limited amounts of stoicism on show here, which makes a pleasant change.

The three crew members - Ferras (Lee Moone), Haliard (Mark McDonnell) & their leader Orllesna (Nicola Boyce) - are excellently played. There's a realistic amount of banter between them & I particularly like Orllesna's acerbic pessimism when they finally meet the Doctor & Charley, which clashes rather spectacularly with Charley's optimism & faith in the Doctor.

Unusually there are moments in this story when I find Charley a little irritating. I think it might be the moment she is lecturing the Doctor on his behaviour & leaving her behind that feels a little like the Head Girl ticking off some oik. I know there a rules that Doctor Who companions have to follow out of necessity but sometimes I wish one of them would actually be grateful to the Doctor for trying not to get them killed whilst he goes off to do something potentially fatal. Whether the Doctor has a death wish - which sometimes seems the only possibly explanation for his behaviour - or not there's no need for every companion to inherit that same desire.

The Doctor makes a terrible mistake in this story based on fear. It is nice to see that the Doctor can be as quick to judge as the average mortal & his attempts to make up for that error feel perfectly right. Charley tells him that he wasn't to know but his response, "What kind of excuse is that?" is very Doctor-ish and Paul McGann does a lovely job again & I'm really quite comfortable with the Eighth Doctor. I think it is his combination of boyish enthusiasm & lack of internal monologue.

It is hard to say if there are any real villains in this story. The Cimmerians, the Solarians & ROSM all cause problems for the Doctor & his friends but none of them are villainous. The Cimmerians are afraid, the Solarians confused & ROSM - who is a kind of HAL - is a computer system with problems, mainly about reality. All of them threaten but none of them do so with any real evil intent. It is rather nice in that respect & the Cimmerians are quite an interesting race. I won't dwell too much on this as I don't want to spoil anything for you dear reader.

However I enjoyed this. It's not quite up to the standards of The Chimes of Midnight but it is still rather good.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Seasons of Fear


This, written by Paul Cornell & Caroline Symcox, feels very Moffatesque. The Doctor using time to trick his way around his defeat & (unseen) death at the hands of Sebastian Grayle.

Grayle is one of those Doctor Who villains who voice ends up oozing across the speakers like a posh oil slick. He's a tragic figure in some respects motivated by sulky greed - at least that's what it initially looks like - & love. He joins up with an unpleasent race of creatures called The Nimon who promise him immortality & power if he hands the Earth over to them. It's a focal point for their future conquests, which in the first episode appear to be a done deal but which the Doctor undoes bit by bit until it is Grayle who defeats Grayle.

Oh yes, there's a lot of timey-whimey stuff afoot here. I reckon you could quite easily plonk this into Season 7 with Matt Smith in it and Moffat's your uncle it'd fit right in.

There's some nice hops through time - from Roman Britain, to Edward the Confessor's court and finally to the Hellfire Caves of Wycombe in the 1800s. The latter episode produces some fine comedy as Charley attempts to bluff her way as an Austenesque heroine. In fact this does contain a lot of fine comedy as in my opinion that works better than the drama, which all seems rather repetitive in the end, almost as if the writers have been freebasing 'Frontier in Space.' 

I'm probably one of a handful of people that actually likes 'The Horns of Nimon' so having them back was lovely. They make a fine villain for audio, being all mouth & no trousers so to speak but most of the villainy is carried out by Grayle. Who becomes increasingly evil at each point in his timeline. Immortality in Doctor Who never works out well for anyone & for Grayle it is the same. Indeed by the end he's so horrible even his younger self can't stand him.

There's one or two plot contrivances - the sword for one - which seem a little forced & obvious whilst the Doctor's survival in the vortex pushes the boundries of his 'getting out of anythingness' to its extreme. It almost feels like cheating.

McGann & Fisher do an excellent job as usual. They make a fine pair & Fisher in particular has impeccable comic timing, which helps a lot in this story. Stephen Perring does a melifluous job of Grayle, marking his increasing evil with a slight vocal change. However he isn't one of the Doctor's most memorable villains.

Add a throwaway Dalek and some hints that the future for the Doctor and Charley might not be entirely rosey & you've got an OK little story more memorable for its comedy than anything else, which may be damning the thing with faint praise I'm afraid but compared with 'The Chimes of Midnight' this was a little average.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Chimes at Midnight


This is brilliant.

There.

Now go and listen to it.

Written by Rob Shearman The Chimes at Midnight feels like a someone has spliced Doctor Who, Upstairs Downstairs and Sapphire and Steel together. Then sloshed a gallon of black comedy into the mix before finishing off with a dash of social commentary and a smidgen of philosophical thinking about what it means to be alive then shaken it all together and come up with this delightful piece of work.

It has a wonderful creepiness to it tempered with a nice life affirming ending, particularly if you're in something of a dead end job.

Having seen Rob Shearman talking about The Space Museum on the DVD release it seems that the first episode of that story definitely has an influence on the first episode of this one. Charley and The Doctor seem to be somewhere and not be somewhere. Has the TARDIS jumped a grove on the LP that is space and time. (For the youngsters among you an LP is....oh look it up on Wikipedia, that's what it is there for)

It turns out that they've walked into a paradox. The servants in the house keep dying in ridiculous circumstances - which everyone keeps claiming is suicide, even if it can't possibly be suicide - when the clock strikes on the hour. There is something disturbing about the ticking and chiming of clocks. Perhaps it is that they're soundtracks to your mortality. Counting down - or up - the seconds. Tick-Tock...

It turns out that Charley, who as we all know by now, should have died when the R-101 went down but was rescued by the Doctor. She should be dead, but isn't. Her death led to the suicide of Edith, the scullery maid. It is Edith who is the centre of the paradox and having seen Charley alive when she is supposed to be dead has found herself asking questions about whether she is dead or alive. The energy from this paradox is doing weird things to Edward Grove...who may or may not be alive...but certainly doesn't want to not be alive. 'He' wants to be something and somebody. The only way 'he' can do that is to make poor young/old Edith feel like nothing and nobody and then live off the repeating deaths of the household like a temporal vampire.

Right. I hope you've all got that.

Louise Rolfe plays Edith. She manages to make Edith sound just right. A combination of weariness and dignity. It's a lovely little performance and rather moving.

Paul McGann does another excellent job breathing more life into the Eighth Doctor with each story. The Eighth Doctor seems so...young and excitable. Peter Davison with a little more va va voom...or David Tennent with a little less self-satisfaction. It makes you wish he'd been given a proper run on the damn television.

Best of all though is India Fisher's Charley who plays her confrontation with her own death and the forgetting of the Doctor wonderfully. It's a shame we're unlikely ever to see Charley in the flesh but then if we started down that road where would it end? A 50th Anniversary episode with Frobisher. (And yes I'd like to see that too.)

This is brilliant.

There.

Now go and listen to it.