Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The Diary Of River Song Series 03

“It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for” – ladies and gentlemen this is my last review for Planet Mondas, real life has finally caught up with me leaving me time poor, but before I hand the baton over to Martin & Liz I have one more review, one more chance to offer my overly wordy, far to flowery opinion. And this release I am reviewing is an absolute corker and deserves not only a musical interlude but a musical introduction:

That was rather good wasnt it and a fitting introduction to The Diary of River Song Series 03, in fact it deserves a GIF as well (no expense spared on my last review)

Because this release is rather special, I have been reviewing Big Finish since October 2013 and this is one of the very best I have had the honour to listen to it really has everything – its a part sequel to the series 06 story arc involving Kovarian’s attempt to assassinate The Doctor at Lake Silencio, its an almost traditional Doctor Who story with a mystery to solve in historical times, its a surreal almost Lynchian take on “timey-wimey” involving multiple courses at an  an exclusive restaurant and its a reminder that time must always stay on its course and that a fixed point is a fixed point. Intrigued? Well read on.
I make no secret that I adore River Song – I am as far from a Moffat cheerleader as you could possibly get but she is a wonderful character with so many layers – on the surface she seems confident, glamorous, flirtatious and tough but underneath there is the little girl stolen away from her parents and raised by a monster to become a killer – River is a complicated space/time event, she is also The Doctor’s wife (though not all of the Doctor’s incarnations know it) and this time she joins up with The Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) and his companion Brooke (Joanna Horton), but more on her later….
Four stories later, one central mystery, one fixed point, several regeneration and load of club card points later the tale is told, the price is paid and River carries on. – the set is split into four interconnected stories:

3.1 The Lady in the Lake by Nev Fountain
So imagine that there is a place called Terminus Prime where you can choose the nature of your demise be it heroic, fantastical or just plain daft – shouldn’t get a lot of repeat custom should it? But unfortunately River has access to the galactic Club-card database and has realised that several people make several journeys there and that these several people all had something in common – Demos Run. It starts as a bit of a light farce, what with employees called Kevin dressed as Death from the Seventh Seal but having to keep their name badge on :-) and ends in abject heartbreak for River – this is the sort of drama that turns from one to another on the head of a pin, Neve Fountain is such a skilled writer one moment satirising the tedium of corporate protocol the next pulling the rug out from under you doing something which is far too spoilery to discuss. Alex Kingston hits the ground running as River, but also plaudits to Ian Cunningham as Kevin and Sophia Carr-Gomm as Lily.

3.2 A Requiem for the Doctor by Jac Rayner
How did Mozart die, was he murdered after he finished composing his requiem? The Doctor )peter Davison), River and Brooke (Joanna Horton) are in Vienna to try to find out – River is her usual flirty, intellectual, confident self around Five and he seems a bit bothered and bewildered by her familiarity all stiff upper lip and english whilst Brooke doesn’t seem to like her at all, in fact she is downright jealous of her relationship and seeming familiarity with HER Doctor – set to the backdrop of a mystery to find a killer and prevent it literally going viral is this game of one upmanship, of carefully calculated chess between River and Brooke with the Doctor seemingly oblivious but probably knowing what is going on all along. A triumph of plotting and pacing acted to perfection.

3.3 My Dinner with Andrew by John Dorney
Ok, forget everything that has gone before, forget “timey-wimey” this takes it to a whole new level – hold on to your chronometers because you aint seen nothing yet! The Bumptious Gastropod is an exclusive restaurant outside the normal rules of causality – and it is here that The Doctor dies, it is here that Madam Kovarian (Frances Barber) has established a new fixers point in time to ensure that it does happen. It is also here that several versions of River, The Fifth Doctor, a very bemused man called Andrew and a very knowledgable Maitre D’ make their marks on the story. Its upside down, its back to front, its almost farce like in its presentation and it is truly a wonderful piece of writing everything just sort of dovetails together quite nicely – it does require active listening but it is incredibly rewarding.

3.4 The Furies by Matt Fitton
And so the end with tales of Furies haunting the mind of Madam Kovarian (Frances Barber) and memories of the childhood she lost haunting River, with causality collapsing and new powers making their play in this brave new Universe can a crime committed be put right? Is the life of one innocent worth, well everything? Its deep dark and stirring stuff and left me with a feeling of unease at the resolution, its very River but certainly not very Doctor. Our two leading ladies Alex Kingston and Frances Barber verbally spar, chew the scenery, spit venom and bristle with rage – their scenes are just so visual and the reprise of the “tick tock goes the clock” motif from series six adds a sinister and melancholy edge to proceedings. Not how I would have wanted it to end, not how the Doctor would have wanted it to end but the only way it could end and bravo Matt Fitton for ending it that way.

And that is that (until the next series in August featuring Sir Tom Baker no less) and what an epic box set, but also what an intimate exploration of the darker recesses of River’s mind and her all consuming love for the being we know only as The Doctor, her love is all encompassing and sometimes The Doctor doesn’t even know who she is – thats River’s tragedy and what drives her onwards.
I cannot recommend this box set enough, even if you ever not that keen on River on TV give this a go and you will be pleasantly surprised by her depth of character.
I sign off on my last review by awarding 10/10 and also would like to end with a song which I find very River-esque. Thanks all.

234 - Kingdom Of Lies

This story is many things – its a farce, its a Shakespearian pastiche, its a satire on the Royal Family, its a comedy painted in broad strokes, its a story of hidden nuances and it is also rather entertaining. It has the feel of a mid era Hartnell historical so think The Romans or The Myth Makers and you are about the right level – Brian Rix farce on the one hand political intrigue and machinations on the other.
Landing on the Planet Cicero Prime The Doctor (Peter Davison), Tegan (Janet Fielding), Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) and Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) discover a painted line on the floor in the woods of a seemingly Medieval world – with Adric and Tegan standing on one side and The Doctor and Tegan on the other they are captured and find out that the line is a literal dividing line in the Duchy that they have arrived in as the Duke Sebastian (Jonathan Firth) and Duchess Miranda (Charlotte Lucas) are having some pretty severe marital problems and have taken matters into their own hands to resolve the situation. Amicable reconciliation is not on the agenda, in fact The Duke (who has captured The Doctor and Nyssa on his side of the line) has hired an assassin known only as “The Scorpion” to permanently solve his marital problems, unfortunately for The Doctor and Nyssa (or Nyssa “The Destroyer” who kills for fun” as Nyssa calls herself in possible the deliberately least convincing portrayal of bravado I have witnessed :-) ) the Duke believes The Doctor to be The Scorpion and the next few episodes are spent with The Doctor trying to appear that he  is trying to carry out the killing without actually doing it….
Adric and Tegan fare no better, captured by the Duchess they convince her they are protectors from the Order of Alzarius here to thwart The Scorpion…
Its pure Shakespearian farce with both parties working against each other and hilarity ensuing. Until the final episode when the tone changes completely and the larks and misunderstandings of episodes one to three give way and the true seriousness of the situation is brought to the fore.
There is a lot to this story, it is very multi layered and once again demonstrated that the Doctor doesn’t have to use violence to succeed, quite the opposite The Doctor just has to be the cleverest person in the situation, which he is by a long way and is light years ahead of everyone else in the plot. Davison is on fine form and clearly having a ball with the quite comedic material he is presented with and genuinely owns the story ably assisted by his sidekick Nyssa who as I said before is the least convincing bloodthirsty killer you could ever imagine.
The story does stand up to repeated listens as the pace of all the shenanigans, crosses, double crosses and even triple crosses can make your head spin – the plotting is tight and there is not a line wasted.
Doctor Who can be heavy going and some of the best stories are the grim ones but its great to let the story tellers and actors kick back and have some fun once in a while and this story is just that, a great fun start to the year to brighten a grim January 8/10.

The Fourth Doctor Series 07 Volume 01

A new year and a new way of dong things for the Fourth Doctor Adventures at Big Finish – perhaps inspired by the “box set” and “binge watching”  craze brought on by Netflix (guilty as charged all of Stranger Things 2 in a weekend, 4 series of Once Upon A Time in two months) Big Finish have decided to release season 7 of the Fourth Doctor in two singable boxsets rather than monthly releases. And it works better this way, gives you just enough of Tom and Louise Jameson to keep you satisfied but definitely leaves you wanting more. Taken as sole releases the stories may seem a little disjointed but listened to as a box set as designed the subtleties of the character development and continuity become apparent – there is no “arc” as such (apart from stories three and four making an old fashioned four parter) but there is a cohesiveness of purpose and there does seem a definite purpose to the stories.
So we are back in late season 14/early season 15 – the first two stories have a distinctive Hinchcliffian feel whereas the concluding two parter is a WIlliamsesque wonderland of ambition over production values that would never have worked on TV but on audio? well the pictures are always better on audio aren’t they?
The Sons of Kaldor by Andrew Smith
Who wants a sort of semi sequel to “The Robots of Death”? anyone? I can imagine a sea of hands raised in anticipation and I am happy to say Andrew Smith delivers.
Set on a deserted spaceship the Doctor and Leela encounter Voc robots and a sleeping commander who they decide to revive they are given an update on the situation – the ship was hunting the “Sons of Kaldor” an armed separatist movement that wants to overthrow the government of Kaldor and reinstate the founding families as rightful rulers. What we get is a tense political thriller with stakes raised higher and higher that is real seat edge stuff.
The Crowmarsh Experiment by David Llewellyn
This one couldn’t be any different from its predecessor, almost a “Doctor-lite” story that gives us a chance to appreciate what an incredible talent Louise Jameson is and how lucky we are to have her in the world of Doctor Who.
Leela and the Doctor are attacked soon after landing on an alien planet. Or are they. Leela awes in The Crowmarsh Institute on Earth in 1978, everyone is referring to her as Doctor Marshall – apparently she has been testing experimental dream therapy equipment and taking time to adjust to reality again. But what is reality? and why is she in the institute?
This is an outstanding story – our perceptions are played with, the nature of reality is explored and some pretty deep questions are posed about what we perceive to be real. I can just imagine this on TV at the tail end of the Hinchcliffe era getting Mrs Whitehouse up on her high horse about warping children minds – yes its that good.
The Mind Runners/The Demon Rises by John Dorney
Whereas the first two releases were small scale and could have easily been realised on TV in 1977 this one would have gone along the same road as The Krikkitmen and The Killer Cats of Ginseng – wonderful ideas, astounding concepts but utterly impossible to realise on a BBC budget. Luckily audio has an unlimited budget and stories of this scale can be given the production they deserve.
Trying to take Leela to New York the Doctor mistakenly arrives on the Planet Chaldera and they are soon involved in a mystery of why “Mind Runners” – citizens who detach their consciousness and attach it to others for a ride along are being killed off, the Planet Chaldera is dying and a rocket is being built as a means of escape but nothing really makes sense – what is the “Night Mind” a demonic force said to possess the planet? why are the cult of The Digitals and the enigmatic Mr Shift so invested in what is happening? and is anyone going to get out alive? This is a fast paced story and has Tom in full buffoon mode with an excellent supporting cast including Josette Simon as Officer Taraneh and Andy Secombe as Mr Shift, a slimy villain who can literally shift his form into anything he likes. All the characters, all the players even the setting are only window dressing for a greater and more diabolical plan that has been hatching for a very long time. This feels in almost equal parts Blade Runner directed by David Cronenburg run through a Douglas Adams filter – make of that what you will but it really is a cracking Doctor Who story.
So there we have it, an excellent start to 2018 for Tom Baker and Big Finish, just enough to satisfy with the hint of more to come and business not quite yet completed. A binge-worthy 9/10.

The First Doctor Adventures Volume 01

Is it 2018 already? wow 2017 just sped by didn’t it and one of the last releases of 2017 becomes my first review of 2018 the much anticipated releases of The First Doctor Adventures Volume 1. Now then, if you don’t know already Big Finish have done something  very brave with this set, rather than casting Carole Ann Ford As Susan & William Russel as Ian and doing this Companion Chronicles or Early Adventures style they have recast using the team from An Adventure In Space and Time so sit back, relax and enjoy David Bradley as The Doctor, Jamie Glover as Ian Chesterton, Jemma Powell as Barbara Wright & Claudia Grant as Susan. But does it work? Well the answer is a resounding YES, not because they are dead ringers for the originals but because they are NOT playing Hartnell playing The Doctor or Hill playing Barbara but they are playing the characters of The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan from the page, interpreted from the script not from the performances we have seen before – yes there are similarities but the roles are the Time and Space casts to own for themselves and boy do they do it well.
Of course I did find myself comparing with the original cast in the first few minutes but soon got used to the new voices playing old favourites much aided by having see Bradley play the First Doctor in the Christmas Special on TV a few days prior. But performances are only one of the ingredients that make a production successful there are also the scripts, the direction and the music – well you will pleased to read that they are all straight out of Season One the “Sci-Fi” is very 1960′s I can imagine the cast all in silver jumpsuits in 60’s style bubblegum futuristic cities and the historical is very historical in that it follows all the rules of the Hartnell era historical in which events conspire to separate our heroes it really is authentic 1960’s early Who and this first volume is made up of two stories:
1.1 The Destination Wars by Matt Fitton
Starting off with a Sci-Fi story The Doctor has seemingly brought Ian and Barbara to their own future, but we soon discover that they have arrived in the Space Year 2003 and not the actual year 2003 and the planet they have arrived on is called Destination and not Earth at all, but it does owe a lot to Earth History and its mysterious benefactor who is seen once every decade or so known only as “The Inventor” (James Dreyfus) is his rule as benign as it seems? And scratching the surface of this futuristic utopia there is something ugly and xenophobic about the seemingly enlightened futuristic population, a dark secret at the heart of their society. An old fashioned story with a very modern moral stance and lots of secrets from the Doctor and Susan’s past that come back to haunt them – as I previously stated the new regulars inhabit the roles fully never lapsing into impersonation or caricature but playing the character’s as written and James Dreyfus as The Inventor steals every scene he is in, the less you know about him the more surprising his role in the story is so DO NOT read the cast list as it contains major spoilers. Also authentic to the era this story ends on a cliffhanger to the next one.
1.2 The Great White Hurricane by Guy Adams
And ladies and gentlemen we have a bit of a classic on our hands. I much lament the loss of the “pure historical” from the series as it gives the writers the opportunity to tell stories as good as this one. Set in an historical event I had absolutely no prior knowledge of more details HERE – our heroes arrive in New York 1888 where unbeknownst to them the Great White Hurricane is about to strike – Ian is shot in the head, Susan is kidnapped by a gang member and the Doctor is given a night in the cells for his arrogance towards the local constabulary and then in the local hospital with a recovering Ian, Barbara sees the date on a newspaper and being a History teacher knows what is coming and what follows is a desperate attempt to get back to the TARDIS by all of our heroes following different paths as the winds get stronger and the snow moves in to lay siege to the city they must fight the elements and not let the gangs that rule the streets get the better of them. There is a very real sense of desperation, of the ordeal that our heroes are suffering caught up in events that they really have no control over, with no “villain” as such apart from the forces of fate and nature – the pacing is superb and the four episodes just fly by, its real seat edge stuff and following the early ethos of the show was educational too. Superb.
A very brave move by Big Finish that has paid dividends – authenticity from there scripts, professionalism in the new interpretation of the leads, pacy direction and excellent sound design, I cannot wait volume 2 to find out how things proceed. 9/10.

233 - Static

I think this one deserves a musical interlude to set the scene – give this a listen as it really complements the atmosphere of Static:
Go out on a high and leave them wanting more is a good philosophy to live by and by jingo do Big Finish agree if this release is anything to go by. Just when you think the quality of the Main Range cant get any better after the superb “The Behemoth” and the sublime “The Middle” they release “Static” and ladies and gentlemen we have an instant classic on our hands. There is something rather special about the team of Old Sixie (Colin Baker), Mrs Clarke (Miranda Raison) and Flip Jackson (Lisa Greenwood) they are one of those classic TARDIS teams like Tom & Sarah Jane or Troughton with Jamie & Victoria or McCoy with Ace and Bernice – they just work as a team and are a joy to listen to. But what of the story, well dear readers, read on and prepare for a tale of terror…..
For thats what Static is at its core, its a good old fashioned Horror story imbued with a feeling of creeping dread – it has all the tropes of the genre – a small group cut off from civilisation, a creepy old man, and a warning. And of course being a horror story the warnings are not heeded one little bit.
Doctor Who has a great Horror pedigree and this story puts me in mind of Image of the Fendahl, The Satan Pit and The Chimes of Midnight with a liberal addition of computer game horror Silent Hill, classic TV series The Omega Factor and a David Lynch inspired nightmare, its all about the atmosphere and it is the atmosphere that really drives the plot along and never feels derivative.
So about the plot – arriving at a caravan site in the middle of nowhere Andy Clover (Scott Chambers) and his partner Joanna (Pippa Nixon) are greeted by site owner Percy Till (David Graham), its a grim drab old place with a surrounding mist, and Percy has just one rule – no radios, no TV’s, no cassette recorders, the story is set in the early 1980’s so everything is pretty analogue :-) being a horror story and seeing that there is a football game on Andy ignores the rule and sets up the TV from his car battery. And then the static starts, and then the voices start, and then the phone rings and then the clocks stop and then….. well, that would be telling but the tension is ramped up and up I was actually holding my breath listening. And I haven’t even touched on The Doctor and his relationship with Percy Till because when he along with Mrs Clarke & Flip arrive Percy is expecting them and Mrs Clarke thinks the area is very familiar and that there was a top secret RAF base in the area, or there used to be during World War 2.
As Doctor Who stories they don’t come much more visceral and dangerous than this one, as an audio it is one of the most “visual” pieces of drama I have heard in a long time, I just imagined it filmed on early 1980’s faded film stock looking ever so slightly muted and washed out – it has that sort of feeling driven by the dialogue and the score. All of the cast are at the top of their game realising they have something rather special in this script by Jonathan Morris given the life it needed by director Jamie Anderson and the performance he elicits from the actors. Main Range Release of the year? oh I think so – 10/10 without a doubt and hooping for a sequel to tie up the many intriguing loose ends. Superb.


Thats twice now in this series I have thought the thought “Hartnellesque”, which is odd as the Troughton and Hartnell era’s were completely different beasts. But this release along with The Night Witches (review HERE) have a distinctly “first Doctor” feel about them, its probably that they are adventures in the recent history of the planet earth rather than base under siege creature features that we associate with Troughton – so a little discombobulated I mulled over what I had heard for a few days before writing my review.
The Morton Legacy is very much a sixties story, a take on the Victorian era that is a pastiche rather than looking at the social realism of the era, the “lower orders’ are seen as conniving and avaricious with comedy cockney accents whilst the gentry including Josiah Morton (David Sibley) and his daughter Jemma (Kerry Gooderson) are seen as thoroughly decent victims of circumstances even when the evidence points towards their involvement in the crimes that have taken place, oh yes, the crimes, you see being set in Victorian London there are a couple of impossible murders a la Holmes.
The story involves Mr Morton who having stolen the TARDIS as he found it lying around on a street corner (as you do) to put into his private museum. Problem is the museum cannot be opened as there is a court case regarding a disputed will, so Morton has stored the TARDIS in his workshop until such time as it can be put on display and will not tell anyone where his workshop is. And when the other claimant in the court case is found dead it seems all is lost and Morton will be going to prison unless The Doctor and co can prove his innocence.
What Justin Richards does in his story telling is very clever at playing with our expectations, there is a strong indication that there is an alien influence with another mystery surrounding a mysterious necklace that amplifies thoughts that has gone missing from Morton’s museum and also two workhouse ruffians who see Morton’s collections as easy pickings and a way out of poverty.
This is a picture postcard look at Victorian England with all the cliches that you would expect, in fact it would seem very at home in the Jago and Litefoot range, but as a Doctor Who story it feels very much like a fish out of water, a throwback to a previous era – maybe its that the second Doctor doesn’t exude the authority that his immediate predecessor did but he really feels alien in a Victorian drawing room in a way that other Doctor’s just wouldn’t so it is a credit to Justin Richards that he decided to use this particular TARDIS team, the feeling I get from this story is one of a story that is slightly off kilter and not quite as it should be, our heroes feel on the back foot and reacting to circumstances rather than shaping them. With nods to Sherlock Holmes, Bleak House and Oliver Twist it drips atmosphere but is not quite for me the sum of its parts – a respectful 7/10.

232 - The Middle

I really like this one, it feels like a Doctor Who story should feel (if that is a thing) has a definite beginning, middle and end with very natural feeling cliffhangers (the ending of part one is a particular treat) it is also one of those stories that has inspired one of my semi regular musical interludes – so sit back relax and enjoy Birthday by The Sugarcubes.
That was rather pleasant wasnt it, if a little melancholy – but thats what birthdays are, a celebration but a reminder of our mortality and birthdays play a very important part in The Middle as the story is set on and around Mrs Clarke (Miranda Raison) and her fast approaching 35th birthday and Flip Jackson (Lisa Greenwood) attempting to arrange a “Wren Party” to celebrate much to the dismay of Mrs Clarke & The Doctor (Colin Baker).
Landing on the colony of Formicia Flip is desperate to find an all night party or at the very least a pampering session for Mrs Clarke. It seems like an ideal place, but something doesn’t feel quite right – posters claim “The End is the Beginning” and The Doctor is eyed with suspicion by the oddly very young population…
Already in the pre credits sequence we have witnessed a member of the population facing “The End” – its what happens when you reach 70, and the Doctor is ever so slightly older than that, but also Mrs Clarke is fast approaching her 35th birthday and that leads to “the Middle”.
Doctor Who does this sort of story very well – cautionary tales, cracked mirrors held up to our world, stories like The Sunmakers, Vengeance on Varos, The Macra Terror etc, stories where society has gone up a blind alley and has plainly got it wrong. On Formicia the young get to be young, the middle aged get to do all the work and the elderly face “The End” on their 70th birthday – but being Doctor Who it is not as simple as that and as our heroes find out maybe the end really is the beginning.
The main cast are joined by comedy stalwart Mark Heap as “The Middleman”, basically a middleman, a mid level manager who seems to be in complete control of the colony, played in a typically passive/aggressive Mark Heap style, we also have Sheila Reid making her return to the Colin Baker era as Janaiya.
Colin Baker is pure class in this story relishing every twist and turn that the plot brings – no Doctor does moral outrage quite like Old SIxie and he is on top form confronting the injustices he uncovers on his crusade to see things put right. Miranda Raison and Lisa Greenwood are a fabulous and unlikely pairing as Mrs Clarke & Flip, separated by 60 years in time and an almost infinite chasm in social status they have just clicked with Mrs Clarke showing almost maternal concern for Flip when they are separated – fabulous character development and I hope they have many more adventures together.
The Sixth Doctor releases are always surprising and always rather special and following on from The Behemoth (review HERE) was always going to be difficult but The Middle hits it straight out of the park and on towards The End and fully deserves its 10/10.