Tuesday, 31 October 2017

TORCHWOOD - ALIENS AMONG US VOLUME 02

Those of you who have not heard volume one may wish to catch up – its available to buy HERE and my review is HERE, because this is a continuing story a real season five and what self respecting fan of a genre series would come to it five episodes in??? Also there will be some mild spoilers in this review for those of you who have not caught up with part one.
So Cardiff has basically been invaded, already taken over by aliens led by Ro-Jedda (Rachel Atkins) who has become the City Mayor, tensions are running high in Cardiff, racial hate crimes are spiralling out of control and the whole city has an air of impending doom as if the end of days is only a few moments away the population are on edge, the aliens are among us and it is only going to get worse.

And then there is Torchwood, the new revamped Torchwood rebuilt by Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) and featuring new recruits Mr Colchester (Paul Clayton) and the alien Orr (Sam Beart) and ably assisted by Rhys Williams (Kai Owen), Sgt Andy Davidson (Tom Price) and the slimy and enigmatic Tyler Steele (Jonny Green)

But things are not quite right in Torchwood either, cracks are appearing and there is something just not quite right with Gwen Cooper. At a time that the team need to be more united than ever, at a time of impending crisis they seem to be falling apart.
Sounds grim? well it is, but in a good way if you know what I mean and the action really has stepped up a gear from the first box set, it seems more focussed, more character driven, more personal and more dangerous, this set comprises four stories:

5.5 Love Rat by Christopher Cooper

When Jack Harkness is killed by a frenzied man he picks up we know something is wrong.
When Jack Harkness tries to get intimate with everyone he meets this seems normal, but when Orr picks up all sorts of conflicting emotions from hime there is definitely something wrong..
What a very “Torchwood” story to open the set with, the sort of story that really wouldn’t have been out of place in the early part of Season One on TV involving a sentient alien STD trying to take over the world (the mind boggles) – What is amazing is that what could be played as a camp farce is played completely straight and that Torchwood are powerless to combat the threat on their own and have to go cap in hand to Ro-Jedda for a solution. The story weaves itself into and around the existing narrative of a city on the edge and plays on the desperation a disparate Torchwood beautifully – this new Cardiff is a world where Torchwood are not all powerful protectors…..

5.6 A Kill to a View by Mac Rogers

Bilis Manger (Murray Melvin) the creepy clock shop owner from Torchwood series One is back, this time as caretaker for the new apartment block that Mr Colchester and his husband Colin (Ramon Tikaram) have moved in to to keep Colin safe from racist attacks, a place of safety, a haven from the nightmare Cardiff has become. They couldn’t have picked a worse place, because Bilis has been nurturing the baser instincts of some of his tenants to become hunters and social climbers and the Colchester’s have the flat that Sandra (Diveen Henry) and Andrea (Ellie Haydon) are looking for and they intend to take it by force. A tense story reflecting the obsession we have of social climbing of being better than our neighbours, of having dinner parties where the participants are circling each other like sharks just waiting for the social faux-pas that will never be forgotten. This attitude is distilled into the psychotic Sandra & Andrea  meaning Colin Colchester may never feel safe again.
Murray Melvin has not lost any of the oily obsequiousness that characterises him – he has a plan and he is using the resident to carry it out. A real classic of a story.

5.7 Zero Hour by Janine H Jones 

There has been an exponential increase in couriers, they are all over the place in a way that they just weren’t a few years ago. One of these couriers is Hassan (Sacha Dhawan) a rather handsome young man who catches the eye of Tyler Steele. Hassan works for “Deliverables” an app based courier firm, delivers on the same route to the same places every single day sometimes more than once a day – Tyler finds this strange and contact Gwen Cooper and Torchwood to investigate and uncovers a monstrous conspiracy of virtual slave workers and the horror of the compulsory benefits package upgrade.
Torchwood is at its best when it takes the ordinary and makes it sinister and this is just what Janine H Jones does in this story – all those people, all those parcels all that repetitive movement all for a greater and far more sinister purpose than we could ever imagine.

5.8 The Empty Hand by Tim Foley

Sgt Andy Davidson is one of the good guys, the nice face of community policing, he would have been more at home as the village Bobby in the 1950’s than a city cop in the 21st century. So it is a massive shock when Andy wakes up in an interview room accused of shooting an innocent refugee in cold blood. And there is video footage to prove it. Thing is Andy really doesn’t remember doing it, and his left hand really hurts….
And just when Torchwood are trying to put a lid on this and investigate the video leaks it goes viral and there are protests on the streets. Andy is holed up in his home surrounded by press and protesters, but its ok because Rhys Williams is with him complete with crisps, dips and a six pack of beer, and Rhys also fancies sending out for a Chinese takeaway :-)
Tom Price as Andy and Kai Owen as Rhys make a fantastic double act, bringing some much needed light relief to a very bleak, very believable story – it really is Rhys’ humanity that shines through, a no nonsense bloke who just knows his mate Andy is not capable of doing what he did. Until the takeaway arrives….

A grim ending to a grim set with the truth seemingly sacrificed on the alter of the greater good and a cliffhanger that made me go cold.
Vastly improved from volume one, Aliens Among US has found its feet, the new team are working well together and the individual stories let each character have their moment in the spotlight – the overarching story of the alien run Cardiff and the Gwen situation are also given time to develop at their own pace and don’t feel tacked on to the actual episodes of the story. And then there is THAT cliffhanger that ends the set leaving me chomping at the bit for Vol 3. A well deserved 9/10.

THE EARLY ADVENTURES 4.2 - THE OUTLIERS

Well now, nobody did a base under siege story quite like they did in the Troughton era did they?
Oh yes, there were bases under siege before and there have been many a base under many a siege afterwards – but no era has been defined by one the of story than the era of Doctor number two, and this months Early Adventure takes the idea, runs with it and makes it work on an altogether grander scale than had ever been attempted in the 1960’s
 Simon Guerrier (for he is the writer of the piece) has all the ingredients in place – firstly the Second Doctor, Polly, Ben & Jamie are all present and correct. Secondly he has the “base” which in this case is an asteroid which has been mined out. Thirdly you have a mining operation with a fanatical Project leader in Dr Richard Tipple (Alistair Petrie) and fourthly you have the threat. Heat in an oven on gas mark something or other for a some-such amount of time and stand back and watch (or listen) to the results….
 People are vanishing in the mining project and the scale of the disappearances are being covered up by the authorities and when the Doctor and co arrive they are immediately suspected of being responsible for the disappearances, so far so Troughton but what really makes this different is the scale of the thing because the “base” in question is a gigantic asteroid the size of a small planet with a population that are housed inside whilst mining takes place, and though the cast of this play are relatively small you really feel as a listener that every person on the asteroid is in imminent danger of disappearing beneath the murky waters of the interior of the asteroid, because in the rising water is a presence – a presence that has foreseen a catastrophe created by the mining community and it will do anything it can to stop the future that looks almost certain.
 In many ways this is a very traditional Troughton “Monster” story but it has so much depth (an that just isn’t the rising water either) because as with all the best stories there are shades of grey, there is right and wrong on both sides and both sides of the conflict can be said to be “monsters” in one way or another. Depending on your point of view. Traditionalist will love the fact that on the surface it seems to slavishly stick to a tried and tested formula and tread very little new ground whereas newer fans will like the moral dilemmas and the character development that we witness during the four episodes and the vagaries that the story offered regarding  the future history of Ben, Polly and Jamie once they leave the Doctor – it seems that the future is very much up for grabs, and long term fans will enjoy the cheeky reference to Ben and Polly being chased by a Cyberman on a beach (is Radio Time Canon now?????)
 A lovely story with something for everyone and not as traditional as it first may seem. 8/10.

231 - THE BEHEMOTH

Well, sometimes things just work. A load of disparate ideas and situations come together and a sort of alchemy takes place. The Behemoth is one of those rare things. It contains the following elements:
 1 Bath in 1786
2 Old SIxie, Mrs Clarke and Flip
3 Two real historical characters Captain Van Der Meer and the mysterious “Lady Clara”
4 Society Balls and social injustice
5 a script that may or may not have been influenced by Del Boy Trotter….
 AND it is utterly marvellous.
 Oh, you want more? Ok then so Old Sixie (Colin Baker) Mrs Clarke (Miranda Raison) & Flip (Lisa Greenwood) are holidaying in 18th Century Bath, taking in the baths and the pump room and playing at being part of the polis society of the time.
When the Doctor rescues the dog of Mrs Middlemint (Georgina Moon) our TARDIS crew find themselves in the debt of her brother the renowned industrialist Sir Geoffrey Balsam (Glynn Sweet) and are the toast of society as they are invited to attend a gala ball in which the mysterious “Lady Clara” will make an appearance. And for the first episode this story is very much a society comedy of manners in the style of Jane Austen, but just when you think you have got the handle of what type of story it is Marc Platt pulls a stroke of genius and changes the tone of the story completely – as Old SIxie romances Mrs Middlemint, the veneer of Regency respectability is torn apart as Mrs Clarke befriends the Reverend Naylor (Wayne Forester) a committed abolitionist and opens all our eyes to the fact that the wealth of so called polite society is built on the back of the slave trade.
 Never has a story gone from one extreme to the other but seemed so natural, because slavery seemed to be as natural part of high society as periwigs and society balls, and it is the casual acceptance by all but Captain Van Der Meer (Giles New) and the Reverend Naylor that is shocking to Flip and Mrs Clarke. The slaves are viewed as sub-human, as property to be bargained with, as nothing more than drones to keep the wheels of industry and commerce turning, and their nobility as personified by Mrs Middlemint’s slave girl Sarah (Diveen Henry) and her husband Gorembe (Ben Arogundade) is a privilege to hear.
 The main cast are firing on all cylinders from Colin Baker taking a rare romantic interest to Miranda Raison as Mrs Clarke utterly outraged at the treatment of slaves, her speech regarding fighting fascism in all its forms is true punch the air stuff, and there is Lisa Greenwood as Flip who has her own sub-plot avoiding the amorous and unwanted attentions of upper class twit of the decade Titus Craven (Liam McKenna) – all parts played with utter conviction, an historical in the true sense of the word, our heroes are impotent observers in a past where injustices have and are happening.
 Colin Baker has always been the star of Big Finish productions Doctor Who Main Range, and stories like this are proof positive that he deserves that position. A compelling drama from beginning to end and ever so slightly educational as well – I wonder if Del Boy Trotter looked up “Lady Clara” when he was writing his screenplay for Rodney’s community film? Probably not but that  does not stop me from awarding a rip roaring 10/10 for a genuine classic story.

SHORT TRIPS - ALL HANDS ON DECK

Comedy and tragedy are two sides of the same coin as The Seventh Doctor once said in The Happiness Patrol. And its true they are, no truer than this story because when the laughter stops the tragedy begins and we are taken back to Susan Foreman’s blackest day and to what just might be her Grandfathers blackest day.
Carole Ann Ford returns to narrate and to play the part of Susan in a story loaded with significance for the whole of her relationship with The Doctor, because in the Earth Susan lives in, where they have suffered two Dalek Invasions and are only just starting to build a working society and then the Time War intervenes. Not that it seems that the Time War is intervening but it is.
Susan Foreman, neither are the real names of the character we know but she has grown used to them and she is always on call when Earth authorities need a helping hand with a disaster or some alien tech. But lately Susan has been suffering from a sort of hay-fever feeling, a pressure that just wont go away and what with Dalek tech starting itself up for no good reason, asteroids on a collision course with the Earth and a plague of bio-mechanoid spiders she has a lot to cope with at the moment.
There is a lot of nostalgia in this story, Susan lives in a flat in the converted remains of Coal Hill School, in the courtyard there is a tree planted to commemorate Ian and Barbara and then there is an unexpected visit from her Grandfather, now in his Eighth incarnation and Susan’s world will never ever be the same again.
This is one of those stories that absolutely pulls the rug out from under you, it goes from hi-jinx with custard floods and hi-octane thrills with Spider cyborgs to a small scale conversation between a Time-Lord and his Granddaughter and a momentous decision to be made because this is the day that the Time War invades Susan’s life and the choices she makes on this day will shape not only hers but also The Doctor’s future direction.
It turns on a sixpence, and a great moment of stillness hits you and we are back at the end of The Dalek Invasion of Earth with over 50 years of hindsight, and the story told today is no less heartbreaking but is another paving stone on the road to Karn and everything burning in the aftermath.
Beautifully performed and written and directed with every ounce of emotion and sorrow wrenched from the source material this is a story of a right of passage and a choice and it is rather wonderful 10/10.

SHORT TRIPS - A HEART ON BOTH SIDES

It is coming. Or it has already happened. Or it is happening now everywhere and every-when The Time War has haunted Doctor Who since it came back in 2005, and soon – very soon we get to experience it first hand with a new series of adventures starring Paul McGann as Doctor number Eight, but to whet our appetite there is this and the next Short Trips release, sort of Time War preludes or Time War cutaways, or even more so stark depictions of how the Time War has affected everyone The Doctor knows, has known and will know. And this particular cutaway features Nyssa of Traken.
Nyssa was always the most compassionate of the Doctor’s former companions and in this story she travels from world to world with her companion one “Doctor Foster” remaining steadfastly neutral in the horrors of the Time War, offering medical aid to those in need regardless of their allegiances. A very very Nyssa thing to do, until one day she lands on the planet very very close to Gallifrey, a fuel rich world which the Time-lords have tried to appropriate into their empire to which the indigenous population are very against, and then an atrocity perhaps perpetuated by a Time Lord takes place and suspicion falls on Nyssa and her companion. In times of war even the great and the good sometimes turn to the most abhorrent of methods in the pursuit of the mythical greater good….
Sarah Sutton draws the listener in to what is a very dialogue heavy piece – her voice aching with compassion for those innocents that the Time War has destroyed and only wanting to do the right thing in a universe where the ethics of right and wrong have become fluid at best. The role of the Doctor in the story is kept hidden from Nyssa but not from the listener, he is in fact hidden in very very plain sight – but it is the effect that the Time War has had on the once noble and non interventionist Time Lords that is explored here, and the extremes that they will go to to gain even the most minuscule of advantages. And in contrast we have Nyssa who is resolutely an humanitarian and The Doctor who’s resolve and determination to do the right thing are being sorely tested and we see the beginnings of a path that will lead to Karn and his resurrection as a Warrior.
A tense cutaway, a short prelude, an excerpt from a greater and much more calamitous happening but a window into the seed of good that still exists somewhere in all the tragedy. 8/10.

BERNICE SUMMERFIELD - TRUE STORIES

Big Finish, with these Bernice Summerfield releases you are spoiling us!
 Well they are. Not one but two releases featuring the universes premier archaeologist and alcohol consumer  within a month, I never get tired of listening to the adventures of Bernice Summerfield, and this release is a delight to listen to.
 Completely different from the full cast audio drama set of Ms Summerfield’s latest adventures with Unbound Doctor David Warner, but set in the same “Unbound” universe this set of tales has Bernice having her own misadventures whilst The Doctor is off being President of the Universe and trying to work out a way of preventing its total collapse.
The stories told by Bernice herself Lisa Bowerman under duress, as Benny is in a spot of bother, she is up in court and to her neck in bother and to calibrate the jury she has to tell six stories, three true and three false, a rather clever framing device for six stories of bizarre happenings, archaeology, drinking, dating, invasions and a rather fetching blue-rinse hair do. Its that sort of set of stories.
 In my experience there are two types of science fiction fans, those who take the Arthur C Clarke route and those (like me) who take the Douglas Adams route, and I think it is safe to say that the C Clarke faction will find this set not entirely to their taste, but the Adams crowd will lap it up because it is supremely silly and has a sense of scale and wonder on the one hand and a wonderful obsession with the mundanity of existence and the ordinariness and frustration of existence on the other none mores than the fifth story in the set Stockholm From Home in which Bernice finds herself trapped in an old peoples home, subjected to the indignity of having a hairdo having missed Bingo night, is constantly spam messaged by an alien from a dating app and has to contend with a rather sub parr invasion plan. You get the idea.
 The stories are given life, shape and colour by Lisa Bowerman, no one else could be Bernice, she just inhabits the part her synchronicity with the character is such that you can just see Benny’s withering looks and raised eyebrows through her narration, the best companion that The Doctor ever had and we are so fortunate to have her continuing adventures.
 A joy from beginning to end, a madcap mix of misadventure and mirth as Mr H.G Jago may say and a very true to form 9/10 from me.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

THE NEW ADVENTURES OF BERNICE SUMMERFIELD VOL 4: RULER OF THE UNIVERSE

Indulge me if you will, before I review this at times exhilarating  at times downbeat, at times frustrating and at times utterly wonderful box set while I start with a musical interlude dedicated to the one and only, the greatest companion The Doctor has ever had, this song never fails to make me smile and raise a glass or three of Shiraz to Benny:


Good isn’t it? And so, now I have that out of my system on to the box set, and what a set – as I said it has it all, highs, lows, excitement, dullness (mid numbing dullness I will have you know – I mean you cant expect The Doctor NOT to be bored as ruler of the Universe can you?)  Yes you read that right The Doctor is the ruler of the Universe, but its the wrong Doctor and the wrong Universe – this is the “Unbound” Doctor played with grumpy petulant disdain by David Warner and this Doctor doubts he is up to the job of saving the whole universe, but maybe he can create a safe zone to protect some of it, this is a Doctor crushed by the weight of his responsibility and bored with the inanity of politics, a Doctor who wishes he was somewhere ANYWHERE else, but doesn’t have the option to quit – and by his side is the wonderful effervescent, intelligent sarcastic expert drinker Bernice Summerfield (Lisa Bowerman) – an unstoppable force for doing the right thing with a wry smile, who is being brought down by this Doctor who isn’t really the Doctor doing something that the Doctor really shouldn’t do.
Sounds a grim really doesn’t it. And it is a bit grim really but you cant really have a situation where the Universe is contracting and the stars are going out without it being grim. We are not talking grim on a Scandi-Drama scale but this really is new territory for Bernice, she is usually so up, so wry, so downright sarcastic and drunk and witty and clever and here she just seems a bit, well, downtrodden – this new take on her personality is wonderfully played by Lisa Bowerman who just so IS Bernice, she has to be the hero while the Doctor is wallowing in the enormity of the task he has to undertake. And then of course there is Sam Kisgart (see what they did there) as The Master added to the mix, just what you need as the Universe ends. But the story begins with a clock, a special Clock called the Apocalypse Clock, a clock that may be able to avert the destruction of everything:

1) The City And The Clock by Guy Adams

Bernice is back to doing what she does best – a bit of archaeology to try and unearth the mythical Apocalypse Clock as the time the Universe she is in runs down. Its great to hear Bernice again, so enthusiastic about doing what she does well, and then her and her team run in to some rather nasty ghosts, and then there is the matter of keeping The Doctor and his publicity machine under control. This story really sets up the dynamic for the rest of the set – Bernice as the go getter and doer and The Doctor as a morose curmudgeon hating every second of his existence as President of the Universe, an existence where everything is controlled by soundbites and buzz words and the Doctor is in danger of forgetting what being the Doctor actually is….

2) Asking For A Friend by James Goss

There have been a few stories that are actually about what it is to be The Doctor and examine the person him (or her) self. We have had stories about the absence of the Doctor (Human Nature), stories about longing for The Doctor (Love and Monsters) and stories about breaking The Doctor (Heaven Sent) but not many about what makes them who they are. Then we have this. Its unlike any other Doctor Who story before and it is such a simple idea that I cannot believe its not been done before, this is the story where The Doctor goes into therapy and lays his soul bare to therapist Guilana (Annette Badland) – but The Doctor being the Doctor nothing is really as it seems, his fundamental lack of understanding of the situation that he is in sees tragic personal consequences. Beautifully written, sensitively performed – Badland and Warner both underplay perfectly and give the material the respect and gravity that it deserves. A classic.

3) Truant by Guy Adams

Bored of his time as President, working on equations to make the use of the Apocalypse Clock viable the Doctor takes off on an impromptu adventure to relieve the tedium leaving Bernice sent off after him to retrieve him like a naughty truant schoolboy – but The Doctor is trying to stop an invasion but it turns out he is several generations too late. A bit of a morality play mixed in with some Pythonesque absurdity (you will know it when you hear it, just listen out for the ward “Liberals”) – because when do invaders stop being invaders? should the grandchildren be made to pay for the warlike nature of their grandparents and what if the person entitled to rule does not want to rule? all these questions and many more will be addressed as will the question of what happens to the ruler of the Universe when he runs away from the responsibility of his job? that ones easy and is answered in the final part…..

4) The True Saviour Of The Universe by James Goss

When the Doctor gets deposed as ruler of the Universe, there is only one man who can take his place – The Master (Sam Kisgart), all smarm and sneer and as arch as they get, The Master will be the one to save the Universe, The Master will be the one to start the Apocalypse clock and the Master will be triumphant. Anyone see any flaws in that plan? A roller coaster of an ending where everyone seems to get what they deserve and a rather lovely coda leading on to hopefully more adventures for Mr Warner & Ms Bowerman.

Loved that – a different sort of story arc for Bernice and a long dark night of the soul for The Doctor – a real journey of discovery and character development with silliness and bleakness in almost equal measure, a downbeat Bernice a dour Doctor and a dangerous Master, a Universe in peril – what else could you want? 10/10.