Thursday, 31 December 2015

Blog Finish - End of Year Awards.

As 2015 draws to a close, lots of sites take a retrospective look at the year - so to do something completely different, I will do EXACTLY THE SAME THING - My Lords, ladies and gentlemen, the red carpet is here (actually its my kitchen floor) the champagne glasses are full (actually its my mug of tea) and the awards are about to be issued.

1. Doctor Who - Best Main Range Release

The nominations are: 

201 - We Are The Daleks by Jonathan Morris

204 - Criss-Cross by Matt Fitton

206 - Shield of the Jotunn by Ian Edgington

And the winner is......

204 Criss Cross

Almost a reboot for the Sixth Doctor, a cracking Adventure introducing the sublime Miranda Raison as Mrs Constance Clarke, this really does feel like the beginning of something special.

2. Doctor Who - Best Non Main Range Release

The nominations are:

The Romance of Crime by Gareth Roberts adapted by John Dorney

The Fate of Krelos by Nicholas Briggs

The Sixth Doctor - The Last Adventure by Nicholas Briggs, Alan Barnes, Matt Fitton, Simon Barnard & Paul Morris

and the winner is.....

The Sixth Doctor - The Last Adventure

a true epic that really does have it all, four great stories and a wonderfully understated, heroic exit for Old Sixie.

3. Best Doctor Who "Spin Off" release

The nominations are:

Jago & Litefoot & Strax: The Haunting by Justin Richards

Torchwood - Fall to Earth by James Goss

The Diary of River Song Series 01 by Jenny T Colgan, Justin Richards, James Goss & Matt Fitton

and the winner is.....

Jago & Litefoot & Strax: The Haunting

Pure gold from beginning to end, a laugh out loud, stand out release - Henry & George play so well against Strax it really is a match made in heaven.

4. Best Drama Box Set

The nominations are:

Survivors Series 2 by Ken Bentley, Louise Jameson & Matt Fitton

The Omega Factor Series 1 by Matt Fitton, Phil Mulryne, Cavan Scott & Ken Bentley

The Confessions of Dorian Gray Series 4 by Roy Gill, Sam Stone, James Goss, George Mann, Eve Chown, David Llewelyn, Mark B. Oliver & Matt Fitton

and the winner is....

Survivors Series 2

A truly difficult and challenging listen, a cracked mirror held up to modern society and a stark look at how close we really are to barbarism. A truly stunning release.

5. Outstanding Release of the Year

The nominations are:

Damaged Goods by Russell T Davies adapted by Jonathan Morris

The Worlds of Big Finish by David Llewelyn

Doom Coalition 1 by Matt Fitton, John Dorney, Marc Platt & Edward Collier

and the winner is....

Damaged Goods

Quite possible THE best Doctor Who story in any format, this really is something special - it is RTD's mission statement for modern Doctor Who - all run down council estates, desperation and despair. The story is tinged with the sadness & melancholy that would come to fruition in post 2005 Doctor Who (heck it even has a character with the surname Tyler) Not an easy listen but a rewarding one, its almost as if Doctor Who had been made as a late night Channel 4 drama in the late 1990's - groundbreaking stuff and without a doubt my release of the year.

So there you have it, 2015 in review and it has been a cracker - I would like to offer my thanks to the owner of Planet Mondas, Mike Nuttall for giving me a platform for my reviews, to all at Big Finish - especially Ian & Nick Briggs for their support and to my lovely wife Hayley for all her proof reading.

The bar has been set VERY high in 2015 - 2016 should be a great year for Big Finish.

The Diary of River Song Series 01

Lets start with some hard facts – I absolutely ADORE River Song so may not be as objective as usual – consequently this review may be very short – here we go “River Song OH EM GEE – she so pretty, best box set ever 137/10”
 I showed this review to Mrs W and after the the “wifey tut and eye roll” I promised I would try to be a bit more objective and not mesmerised by the big hair & the sassy attitude, difficult when you are married to said Big hair & sassy attitude (i’ll get my coat) – but I promised to have another go and not review the box set like a lovesick teenager despite River having the second best big hair and sassy attitude in the universe!
 I really shouldn’t like the character of River Song – she is everything I don’t like about modern Doctor Who – all time paradoxes and “messing about with time travel” and do you know, with River I do not care – in fact its the inherent tragedy in her character that I like – she made me cry on Christmas Day, the Library story makes me cry every single time – her tragic and doomed marriage to the Doctor is one the the triumphs of post 2005 Doctor Who, and this is in no small part due to Alex Kingston – she makes what could have been a smug, annoying character into a tragic heroine – she is strong, intelligent, caring, tough, devastatingly beautiful, yet at the same time vulnerable and lost – her fleeting time with The Doctor that we witness is tinged with sadness because we and he know what her ultimate fate will be. But what about when The Doctor is not around? What does River Song get up to without her husband? This first box set (at least in part) explores this.
 Back in June 2015 Big Finish encouraged listeners to tweet pictures of themselves doing a “shush” (fingers on lips) intrigued I gave it a go. On the next Saturday it was revealed why – I was like Del & Rodney when they find out how much their old watch is worth in the last episode of Only Fools and Horses (OK last DECENT episode) I cheered lots, which was a bit embarrassing as I was in work at the time but hey ho :-) Not only was she in a series of her own but also going to be in Doom Coalition with Paul McGann – intriguing, how would this play out, The Doctor doesn’t meet her until The Library? This box set explores her relationship with earlier Doctor’s as well as Paul McGann makes an appearance in episode four – interested? well read on.
 As is the convention with Big Finish, this Box Set is split into four interlinked stories:
 1.1 The Boundless Sea by Jenny T Colgan
 I don’t know why, but River always makes me think of Art-Deco – all glamour and adventure, and this first story is set firmly in the early 20th century conforms to the art-deco feel. River is holding a position as a Professor of Archaeology at a British University when she is asked to investigate a Mesopotamian tomb – problem is the last person to enter the Tomb vanished without a trace.
Full on 1920’s style Indiana Jones homage boys own adventure is how I would describe this. River even gets her own “companion” of sorts on the person of Bertie Potts (Alexander Vlahos) a member of the British consulate – a real upper class twit, sort of Bertie Wooster-ish, to accompany her on her Tomb raiding. What transpires is a trip through “Mummy Movie” B-Movie horror given a suitable “New Who” twist. River is clever, very very clever – she tries to think like The Doctor but she really is more passionate than our favourite Gallifreyan and comes at problems with t much more worldly and human attitude. An interesting beginning with a clever hook into part two.
 1.2 I Went to a Marvellous Party by Justin Richards
 Continuing the “Art-Deco” feel, this episode is almost an homage to Agatha Christie – the events of episode one lead River to the  “marvellous party” of the title on a space liner. This is a never ending event for the super rich and super powerful – these “elite” delight in manipulating the fates of people, planets and star systems for amusement and profit. And then one of them is murdered. River takes on the role of detective, but not everyone is what they seem, and once the truth is revealed how will she deal with it? A classic “whodunnit” in pure Poirot style with a cliffhanger ending you most definitely will not see coming….
 1.3 Signs by James Goss
 If Art-Deco are the themes for part one and two, part three takes a more avant-garde approach. River is travelling with a handsome and mysterious stranger (I will say no more SPOILERS Sweetie) investigating mysterious Spore Ships – mysterious spaceships that appear and reduce planets to mulch. This story has a very surreal dreamlike structure with some exceptional narration from Alex Kingston, and her companion played by Samuel West is charming and intense – they have almost the perfect relationship, they were almost made to be together. This is a story you will get most out of if you listen to it alone with absolutely no distractions – it is multi layered and complex and demands your attention, much like the TV episode Heaven Sent it really will stand up to repeated listenings – to give away any more really would spoil the story.
 1.4 The Rulers of the Universe by Matt Fitton
 And so The Doctor turns up – but not the Doctor River may have been expecting – in fact she laments the choice of incarnation because there are some she is not allowed to play with. The seeds (or should that be spores) planted in episodes one to three all come together – River and Bertie on a crashing command deck try to help the Doctor to defat the menace of the spore ships without him finding out who she is. River really cares about the Doctor, all incarnations of the Doctor, and it is lump in throat time when she muses as to what she would say to Doctor number 8 if she could meet him face to face.
An exciting and rather melancholy end to the series.
 So there you have it – I CAN be objective where River is concerned, and it is a very very good box set. Alex Kingston gives River her all just as she does with the TV series, but as she is centre stage we get more layers to her character other than the wise cracking flirting we are used to – we get to see her as she is when not trying to impress The Doctor, but we also get to see the genuine love she has for him. Kingston is ably supported by the wonderful Alexander Vlahos as the cowardly and latterly loathsome Bertie Potts and Samuel West oozes charm in part three in what is a two hander with River and a very cleverly written one at that.
 So, perfect? Not quite. Charming – definitely, pathos – plenty of that, and do I want more – definitely YES. 9/10 Sweetie.

Black Dog

As Whovians we are so lucky to have an actress of the calibre of Louise Jameson continue to take part in our universe (and in the further Universes of Big Finish as a whole) she is a real renaissance woman, actress, writer, director, teacher – a true artist. She has a style that makes acting seem effortless and natural – Mrs W & I were lucky enough to see her as Miss Marple a year or so ago and the layers of character she brought to Jane Marple that hadn’t been touched on before were just wonderful – she made Marple a much more playful character than the usual bird-like old spinster we usually get, Louise brought us a Marple who had really lived just with a few facial expressions and sidelong glances.
Of course on audio we don’t have the actor to see, but it is such a visual medium and narration is another of Louise’s strong points – she creates an aural landscape with ease, and in the short 34 minutes of the play we were given a story that deepens the bond of respect and friendship between Leela and the Fourth Doctor, and this story really is an interesting Leela-centric story.
Arriving on a planet about to be given back to the natives by the Earth Empire – the Doctor and Leela are introduced to the legend of the planet’s God – “The Black Dog” of the story title, the legend goes that if you dream of the dog it will hunt you down and unfortunately Leela has the dream. What follows in the short 25 minutes or so remaining is the complete cultural and religious history of the planet and the continuation of the themes of science over superstition that characterised the Fourth Doctor and Leela’s time together. Louise’s narration makes the listener really care about the characters she portrays, no matter how minor and explores the reason for the Alphans ceasing to worship a pantheon of Gods and have only the avenging Black Dog as their God.
Of course the “Black Dog” is a metaphor for depression and in this story the metaphor is carried forward and expanded upon – it isn’t easy listening by any means, it is a dense and involving 35 minutes that demands attention from the listener – a story that works on many levels and for only 35 minutes long that is a lot of story.

The Confessions of Dorian Gray: The Spirits of Christmas

My first real exposure to The Confessions of Dorian Gray was last months series 4. Since then I have pretty much caught up, I only have a few episodes of series 3 to catch up with. You could say I was mesmerised by season 4, drawn in by the singular charm of Mr Gray and his sad lonely immortality – and you would be right. But series 4 was only a very small part of the picture – because in series 1 there was a rather beautiful story called The Heart That Lives Alone (available here) in which Dorian meets, for want of a better description his soul mate – a vampire called Tobias Matthews, played by Hugh Skinner. They have a beautiful heartfelt and moving relationship – two old old men, young beyond their time, sharing their immortality together. It ends, as it must in a bittersweet tragic way, in a way that only their relationship could.
But Toby came back – Love it seems is too strong to keep them apart and as these two special Christmas releases begin, Dorian and Toby have almost become a domesticated old married couple, happy and cozy and looking forward to Christmas – a nice quiet Christmas with whisky and frolics and Playstations. It was never going to happen…
This set is two distinct separate stories and give us the events that lead up to and take place at Christmas 2015 for Dorian and Toby
Desperately Seeking Santa by Tim Leng
Early December 2015 a suburban couple are found dead, horribly mutilated whilst putting up the Christmas decorations. A few nights later the killer breaks in to Dorian and Toby’s bedroom and tries to steal Dorian’s eyes – the thing is, the killer is none other than Father Christmas, albeit a strange, decrepit, smelly, horrific Father Christmas, but it’s Father Christmas nonetheless – and even though Toby saves Dorian this time, Old Saint Nick promises he will be back for Dorian’s eyes…
This is a classic, gruesome Christmas story, very Victorian gothic in its construction – and given gravitas and atmosphere by the note perfect narration of Colin McFarlane who fills in the gaps in the story with a cold seriousness with a touch of the avuncular – it really is the narration that gives the story that certain “Christmassy” feel that is so difficult to achieve – because the story of an immortal serial killer who may or may not be Santa is about as far away from Christmas cheer as you can get. Vlahos and Skinner are wonderful as Dorian and Toby – their relationship that spans the ages is deep and true, there is genuine love between the soulless immortal and the Vampire. Is it doomed for a second time, can love really transcend immortality? You will have to listen on to find out…
All Through the House by Alan Flanagan
It is Christmas Day and Toby has his Playstation – Dorian wants to stay in to watch Eastenders, but Toby persuades him to go for a Christmas night out. It really was a night where Dorian should have said no to temptation.
They end up in the mythical Brigadoon Hotel. Thing is this hotel disappeared almost a century ago and only appears on Christmas Day, and if you stay there longer than midnight then you are trapped forever.
This is a different take on a Christmas ghost story – it is more of a modern horror using the “Haunted Hotel” genre as used in The Twilight Zone or the film 1408. Dorian and Toby are trapped, with figments from their past like Dorian’s sister Dora (a brilliant Katy Manning) and with each floor in the hotel offering a fresh Hell for the lovers to suffer: World War II, The Lucitania, The Tundra, as they try to get to floor 13 and to the mysterious man in charge. They really should have stayed at home and watched Eastenders.
A much more adventure bound quest story (albeit set inside a hotel) but with a doom-laden atmosphere and a sense of creeping dread that even a Christmas Eastenders cannot match. This story will have a profound effect on Dorian for a very long time to come.
Two very different stories told in very different styles – one body horror, the other psychological horror, one literary the other filmic, both played with utter conviction from the cast Vlahos and Skinner who make a surprisingly sweet couple despite their innate arrogance. David Warner is chilling and somewhat pathetic as Father Christmas, Gabriel Woolf will make your blood run cold as The Man Upstairs – and the rest of the supporting are played by the great and the good of Big Finish. This is a real Christmas treat, different in style to the main series, more traditional in its storytelling, but no less enthralling for it.

207 - You Are The Doctor & Other Stories

In the 1980’s a huge craze with me and my friends was Fighting Fantasy game books, even now I have an almost complete collection, still have not managed to crack Crypt of the Sorcerer and my friend Bellis and I laugh about House of Hell with the ending no-one saw coming (spoiler: attack Franklins…). For those not in the know Fighting Fantasy was the ultimate ‘choose your own adventure” book – the reader played the hero and had to make choices by turning to specific paragraphs, solving puzzles and fighting monsters with a dice based combat system – usually there was one or two safe routes through the book, occasionally only one – they were the interactive adventures of their time and still fun by today’s standards.
But why dear reader am I reminiscing about a pastime from my past? Well this months main range release is another of Big Finish’s semi regular portmanteau series of four short adventures – this one is called “You Are The Doctor and Other Stories” and therein lies my Fighting Fantasy link – because in the first story the listener is invited Fighting Fantasy style to take on the role of The Doctor. Interested? then read on…
The stories for a very loose arc regarding The Doctor teaching Ace to pilot the TARDIS and the places she arrives, but as the set of stories progresses a particular line from The Doctors’ Wife regarding the TARDIS always taking the Doctor where he was needed will come to mind. As I said earlier this is split into four stories and they are:
You Are the Doctor by John Dorney
 This is a very interesting and very clever take on the audio format as you really can play it like a Fighting Fantasy book – The Doctor and Ace have landed on the airship of the dreaded Porcians – pig like creatures who are the worst invaders in the universe. Ever.Bar none… But this time something has changed, they have managed to succeed in invading and exploiting a whole planet? But how? You are the Doctor and you must find out. This one is best listened to on a CD as the choices that Chimbly (the Porcian leader) gives to you involve skipping to different tracks and I felt I lost a little bit of the fun by listening to it linear on my iPod whilst driving. It is a very funny story, a bit more Season 24 than 25/26 with a lot of whimsy even though the situation is quite horrific – the humour is very broad but this is counterpointed by the true horror of the Porcians’ secret. If you listen to this like an audio Fighting Fantasy book you will get a lot of replay value as you try to make the right choices to succeed. A brave, but not quite perfect experiment with the format.
Come Die With Me by Jamie Anderson
This is much more like Season 26 era Who. Even down to the setting. An old creepy haunted house, a murder (or 1,868) and a race against time. As a Who fan you will guess and second guess the resolution to the mystery – I suspected who the villain was at one point, I thought I had “Mr Norris” all sorted out only for this avenue not to be followed – its a very clever way of playing with fans expectations. At the heart of it this is a very sophisticated murder mystery set up by the mysterious Mr Norris – a guest is invited to his home to solve a murder, the prize being Mr Norris famed Library – the guest can investigate any room apart from the Library, then when they are ready, they go to the Library to solve the murder – if they are correct, they win. If they are incorrect the killer claims another victim. Proper edge of seat heart in mouth listening as the Doctor gets involved in Mr Norris’ games and is involved in a race against time to save Ace becoming the next victim. A very good short story.
The Grand Betelgeuse Hotel by Christopher Cooper
The third story begins at the end – Ace is on trial for acts of terror and murder, her life is at stake if she is found guilty. How did she get in to this situation, where is The Doctor and why did they ever arrive to the Grand Betelgeuse Hotel? Remember Time Heist? This is the audio equivalent with The Doctor and Ace involved in a gang trying to commit a robbery which goes horribly wrong and ends up with Ace on trial. I quite like the unreliable narrator genre of storytelling, and in this case there is a real sense of urgency as Ace is talking for her life – throughout this short half an hour we find out all about the Hotel and why it exists, about the indigenous species that have been suppressed and the desperate measures some will go to for their family. It’s a very exciting story and for its short length it really builds a complete world and society which would be interesting to revisit in a longer main range story.
Dead to the World by Matthew Elliott
Last but very much not least is Dead to the World. Again Ace pilots the TARDIS to a location that she does not want to be at. This location is the Daedalus – one of the first tourist spaceships from the Planet Earth, unfortunately the tourists have fallen victim to a mysterious space plague that is liquefying them, reducing them to primordial soup. This plays like a classic Doctor Who base under siege story – a small group of trapped people slowly being bumped off one by one, the Doctor and Ace get involved and are accused of being at fault. It even has a callous officious ships captain who is deaf to all ideas apart from her own. So far so classic What jars in this story is the villains of the piece – intergalactic estate agents – the humour is just too forced and almost whimsical and does not sit well with the tone of the earlier parts of the story. McCoy is excellent as the burgeoning “Oncoming Storm” and uses guile, cunning and his own reputation to resolve the situation (very much like a New Who Doctor) And then there is the ending and the hook for another series of adventures for Seven and Ace.
A very claustrophobic mixed bag of stories and some very interesting and very brave new takes on traditional audio story telling and whilst not always a success I applaud the vision and bravery of Big Finish for commissioning them and taking a gamble with the format. The McCoy era was a very experimental left-field era so there is no better Doctor to use these left-field story telling techniques with, they really suit his Doctor completely and through this set we get to hear the clownish Season 24 version all the way through to the Oncoming Storm of Season 26 and beyond. Overall an uneven mix of clever new ideas and I applaud the bravery.

The War Doctor - Only The Monstrous

The words “Eagerly” and “awaited” are often applied to some releases – like a certain Seventh Episode of a popular film franchise also released this week – or The Strictly Final or every single annual iPhone release.
Back in 2013 the words “eagerly” and “awaited” applied pretty much exclusively to the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary story, and its introduction of the hitherto unseen and unmentioned “War Doctor”.
For Eight years we had assumed that it was Paul McGann’s 8th Doctor that had fought in the Time War – but that was all changed – there was a secret Doctor, his sham and guilt so much that he didn’t even use the name “Doctor” – and in the guise of a lesser actor this may not have worked, but in the hands of John Hurt we really were given something very special – a world weary, or should that be a Universe weary portrayal, a man faced with an impossible choice, a man being the Doctor when it was impossible to live up to that name……
“Eagerly” and “awaited” are also two words that completely apply to this box set – Big Finish have pulled a blinder not only in getting the rights to the New Series, but also succeeding in persuading the wonderful John Hurt to reprise his role in not one but four box sets that tell the tale of the War Doctor.
How to describe this set? Hmm….
Using my usual flowery verbose method – imagine that Nick Briggs (all hail The Briggs) was an architect. Now imagine that he was the Doctor Who equivalent of one of the masters of the Brutalist Movement – a Peter Smithson with a ring modulator if you will. Looking from the outside Briggs has created a harsh, brutal, epoch spanning epic – the Universe has gone to hell, all chewed up and spat out again and again by the Time War – BUT get closer to the Brutalist Architecture, move in to the harsh, martial cold war era building and look outwards, look at the walls, doors, fixtures and fittings and imagine they were designed by a Pre-Raphaelite idealised designer like William Holman-Hunt with the lyricism of the romantic poets. Because what looks, harsh, brutal and functional has some really quite beautiful, lyrical, soft and sweet moments. In Who terms think of Pertwee’s “Daisiest Daisy” speech. In terms of design and counterpoint Briggs has got the balance perfect – the right mix of spectacle and sadness – and this box set’s story is told in three parts.
The Innocent
In a supreme act of self sacrifice The War Doctor defeats the Daleks at Omega One and is pronounced dead. But he is given a second chance of life on the Planet Keska where he is nursed back to health by a young would be companion called Rejoice. But he finds out that even this paradise has its demons.
An interesting beginning, after the initial grand scale battle this is a very very small scale character piece and serves for the listener to get to know The War Doctor. And what a Doctor he is. Or isn’t. He wont let anyone use his name as he has renounced what it means to be The Doctor – but he is still a good and moral man, but very much a man defined by the situation he is in rather than the man that defines the situation – this Warrior (for that is what he chose) is cantankerous, short tempered and brusque – very much like Hartnell and as Rejoice gets to know him more, we get to see the layers of his personality revealed and we see a caring, moral crusader who is more than willing to do the right thing for the right reasons.
The Thousand Worlds
Brutalism is personified in this episode – if part one was lyrical and sweet this is industrial and harsh. The Warrior is sent to rescue a fellow Time Lord called Seratrix from behind a temporal Null Zone – what he finds is the world of Keska obliterated by The Dalek’s – turned into a slave world as they have with the other worlds in this sector of space and a rather familiar Dalek master plan to turn not only Keska, but the 1000 planets of this sector of space into a moveable battle fleet.
This is a very political episode, who is manipulating who? – a real homage to boys own World War 2 fiction with a mission behind enemy lines, fifth columnists and a chilling re-using of the phrase “Peace in our Time”
The Heart of the Battle
If you do what you have to do even though it is the wrong thing, but the only choice – does that make the protagonist a monster? That is the question posed by this final episode. With peace in sight, only the Warrior doesn’t believe it can be achieved and desperately looks for another way apart from peace. This is the real difference between the Warrior and his other incarnations – the others would have looked for a peaceful solution at any cost, they are and were idealists – this one is a pragmatist doing what needs to be done to resolve the immediate situation. A moving and shocking conclusion to the set.
I started this review using two words “eagerly” and “awaited” I will bring it to an end using two further words “John” and “Hurt” – the man is effortless and an exceptional focal point for the series – his character grows throughout the three episodes, Nick Briggs imbues him with a real character progression and Hurt brings these observations to life – his outrage, his knowing cunning, his caring, his self-loathing. Briggs pitches and Hurt knocks it out of the park.
I feel a bit of an old meanie not mentioning the rest of the cast – sorry they all really rise to the script – Jacqueline Pearce as the arch manipulator Cardinal Ollistra, Beth Chalmers as the obsequious Velkin, Alex Wyndham as Seratrix, all provide light and shade to the proceedings. But best supporting actress goes to two ladies playing the same character Lucy Briggs-Owen and Carolyn Seymour as the younger and older Rejoice respectively – in different times with a different Doctor – she would have been a perfect companion, she has it all and is more than a match for The Warrior, this being the Time War, she isn’t given that choice…
So an epic, brutal, but sometimes beautiful set, wonderfully acted and written with an epic sweeping score and a great martial re-imagining of the theme song – and very much eagerly awaited. Cinema for the ears is a good description and in the week that a certain seventh episode of a certain franchise is released that certain seventh episode has a lot to live up to. Briggs and Hurt 1 – Lucas and Abrahams 0.

All Consuming Fire

For a few year now this has been top of the wish-list for many fans. And its not difficult to see why – the idea of Doctor Who meeting Sherlock Holmes is pure gold.
What a lot of fans don’t realise is that it has already happened
Lets rewind back to 1994 – the New Adventures are going strong, the Seventh Doctor, Ace and Bernice are busy having adventures to broad and deep for the small screen – some fans minds are being expanded by possibilities of life beyond a TV show, others are sticking their fingers in their ears and crying into their scarves (I was 80% one half 20% the other I will let you decide the way the split falls) anyhow, in 1994 a rather special pastiche of Sherlock Holmes called “All Consuming Fire” by Andy Lane was released – written in the style of Conan-Doyle, mainly from the viewpoint of Dr Watson, but with some chapters from the viewpoint of Bernice Summerfield, it was, and remains today one of the highlights of Doctor Who in book form – imagine my joy when I found out that Big Finish were adapting it for audio – to say I was pleased is an understatement!
As details began to filter through it was announced that the one and only Nick Briggs would be playing Holmes and Richard Earl would be playing Dr Watson, and if you have not heard this duo before I urge you to check out some of Big Finish’s Sherlock Holmes range here they are pretty near the definitive Holmes and Watson – Briggs is aloof and cerebral, Earl is heart and manners, the chemistry between them is immense – you can close your eyes and be transported to Baker Street with just a few phrases from each of them.
Surely there must be a downside – it all just seems too good. Let me think – McCoy, Aldred, Bowerman, Briggs, Earl – adapted by arch Holmesian Guy Adams, directed by Scott Handcock, it definitely has all the ingredients, and unlike Eric Morecambe attempting to play Greig – they all most definitely are in the right order.
This is a very faithful adaptation of the novel – yes some sections have been edited for pace and decency but it feels like a Holmes story that the Doctor has wandered in to – let me elaborate.
It begins not with the Doctor Who theme but with the Sherlock Holmes theme – we really are in Briggs and Earl’s world – Holmes and Watson are charged by the Pope to recover some stolen books from the Library of St. John the Beheaded, a repository for banned and dangerous books hidden away in the squalor of the St. Giles Rookery. Whilst investigating they encounter the Doctor who decides to get involved in their investigations…
The first meeting of the Doctor and Sherlock is interesting – Sherlock cannot read the Doctor, he cannot deduce where the mud on his trousers is from or any other traits which would leave you or I an open book to the great detective – Holmes is immediately suspicious of the Doctor and pairs him off with Watson to investigate other members of the Library whilst Holmes himself takes his investigation to the criminal underworld who provide the Library’s security…
Like all good adventure stories there has to be a  villain and in All Consuming Fire the villain of the piece is Victorian Empire builder Baron Maupertuis and like all good villains he has a henchman – the seven foot tall behemoth Surd, who as well as having fists like hams is also enamoured of some pretty special powers. Maupertuis has a plan to expand the boundaries of the British Empire into the stars – but how is this connected to the thefts from the library and to an incident in the past of the Holmes family?
The story itself is a fast paced roller coaster of a boys own adventure involving not only stolen books, but Sherlock’s older brother Sheringford a trip to Bombay, a stay at an Indian Raj’s palace, a trip to another world, spontaneous combustion and Cats! And if that isn’t enough for you it has Bernice “going all Shakespearian” and pretending to be a man “Bernard Summerfield” complete with comedy man voice, Ace all dressed in rubber, an Elder God, Professor Litefoot being name-checked and again Cats!
You may just get the impression that I enjoyed this one, and you would be right – its not quite perfect, the ending is a bit muddled but that can be forgiven as the actual journey to get there the interplay between Holmes and the Doctor, the coy flirtation between Bernice and Watson, Ace’s reports are superb. Also the music evokes Holmesian London and Victorian India wonderfully really drawing you in to the story and losing yourself in the plot.
So, for all you fans wanting a meet up of Smith and Cumberbatch I say pah! to you… Bow-tie and mind palace cannot compare to question mark brolly and deerstalker – if you don’t believe me episode one is free here give it a go, you have literally nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Overall an All Consuming dream come true for Whovians and Holmesians.

Theatre Of War

Where were you when Tomb of the Cybermen was recovered? If I remember correctly it was a dark night in January 1992, and a tiny stop press article was printed in Doctor Who Magazine. I cant really remember the months in-between, but I think it was released on VHS (remember them?) in May 1992, and I remember going to Woolworths (remember them?) in LLandudno (most assuredly still there) to purchase a copy and then going back to my home in Trefriw to watch this lost classic. And it was, well it was ok, it was good but maybe not the great holy grail we had been led to believe…
Then in 1994 a novel was released in the New Adventures range which consciously or unconsciously followed my Tomb odyssey, the novel was Theatre of War by Justin Richards and it involved a much heralded lost play called The Good Soldiers being discovered and a lot more to boot, because back in 1994 we didn’t realise what an important pivotal novel that this would be to the expanded Whoniverse.
This latest adaptation is an adaptation of Theatre of War and the story itself is part archeological dig, part mystery, part space opera and part foreshadowing of future events – no small feat for 4 episodes of less than half an hour each. The story begins with The Seventh Doctor, Ace and Bernice (my all-time favourite TARDIS team) seemingly trapped in a production of Hamlet and once they escape they find themselves on the planet Menaxus where an archaeological dig from the war torn planet Helatia is excavating the remains of a Theatre, it seems that the Helatians have a culture which values theatre and when one of their number discovers a seemingly lost play “The Good Soldiers” by Stanoff Osterling the stakes are well and truly raised…
What follows is a classic piece of space opera and deception – whilst Ace and The Doctor are left on Menaxus to investigate the site, Benny visits the legendary Braxiatel Collection. I will pause here for an historical interlude…
Cast your minds back to 1979 – Paris, Scaroth, Tom and Lalla and a throwaway line about the “Braxiatel Collection” – this is the Braxiatel mentioned in that line.
And we are back in the room – Braxiatel has played a big part in Benny’s life and in the events on Gallifrey but this is their first chronological meeting – and what a devious piece of work he is. Played with urbane charm and just a little arrogance by Miles Richardson – Braxiatel out manipulates the arch manipulating Doctor Seven and allows Benny into his confidence about the real reason for the theatre and lost play being on Menaxus – because Braxiatel has been playing a very long game…
For such a complex narrative, it fits nicely into the four part structure – it never seems over complicated and all the pieces fit together nicely – it makes perfect sense and as the layers of the plot are peeled back rather than infuriating the listener feels rewarded and drawn into the confidence of the writer. This really is Benny’s story and she gets to flex her brain in solving the mystery of Menaxus whilst forming the basis of a very long acquaintance with Braxiatel – Lisa Bowerman is note perfect as Benny and really steals the show and her scenes with Braxiatel are the highlights of the story.
It is a story of contrasts with the more cerebral “talky” scenes of Benny and Braxiatel contrasting with the action packed space opera that the Doctor and Ace find themselves in – the scale is grand, an interplanetary war that one side is inevitably going to lose, a despotic tyrant who is no more than a spoiled child and a long seeded plan coming to fruition.
Clever but not smug, convoluted but not confusing, epic but still characterful and definitely no tragedy.


Being both Welsh and a Councillor I really shouldn’t like this release. Really shouldn’t like it at all – because this story not only relentlessly lampoons certain traits of my nations capital, but also parodies Councillors as self serving parochial and small minded. If a story can succeed despite this then we must be on to a good thing, and with One Rule writer Joseph Lidster has crafted a great thriller that is combined with a fish out of water comedy and the return of the eternally beautiful Tracy-Ann Oberman as Yvonne Hartman (from the Doctor Who story Army of Ghosts/Doomsday).
Lets rewind a bit shall we – this story is set in 2005, a year or so before Torchwood launched on TV, so this is the pre Gwen Cooper era (even though she is very cleverly referenced at a bar room brawl) and Yvonne Hartman is on a visit to Torchwood 3 in Cardiff to retrieve a piece of alien tech but this sophisticated London Lady is about to end up in a completely alien situation – she is going to experience the horrors of a night out in Cardiff!
The Mayor of Cardiff is dead, killed in the Auton invasion seen in the TV episode Rose – and now the rivals for the position of new Mayor are being bumped off one by one, killed horribly by a seven foot tall blue alien, killed by having their heads bitten off – and when her hotel is burned to the ground Yvonne Hartman teams up with Councillor Barry Jackson (Gareth Armstrong) on a night out in Cardiff never to be forgotten. Yvonne has to try to keep Barry and Councillor Helen Evans (Rebecca Lacey) alive until the trains start again (last train to London leaves Cardiff at 21:30) so that she can get them to Torchwood One in London for safe keeping.
As I said earlier – I should be offended by this story – but it is hilarious, a parody of some of the less sophisticated, more provincial aspects of certain parts of Cardiff – from Yvonne having to down a pint of Diamond White, to her being mistaken for a drag queen, to being vomited on in the ladies of a seedy nightclub – this is new territory for Yvonne – (she has tea with the Queen twice weekly you know) but takes it all in the line of duty for Queen and Country.
Underneath it all, this is a story about identity – all the main protagonists – Yvonne, Helen, Barry are not the people they pretend to be – and it takes a night out from hell to strip away the facade they have created and for the real person to come out – Yvonne’s revelation, and her transformation from cool, calm, calculating right-wing people person to “something from Steven King” is shocking to behold. The public’s capacity for self delusion is again alluded to – an alien invasion a few weeks ago but all the citizens of Cardiff seem interested in is who is going to win Strictly (Obviously its going to be Anton and Katie) or maybe people just want to feel comfortable and not threatened so they retreat away from the horrors of the world into a safe place.
The performances are all excellent – Barry and Helen as parodies of parodies of local Councillors, the denizens of Cardiff’s more seedy parts all beautifully caricatured – but Tracy-Ann Oberman steals the show with her cut glass accent and withering barely disguised contempt for the situation she finds herself in – Tracy-Ann just has one of thosevoices like Nigella or Alex Kingston that make men of a certain age go weak at the knees – and I hope we hear more of her very soon as Yvonne’s story is nowhere near being told – any chance someone in Big Finish could commission a story about her rise to power?
Overall a rough night in a rough part of a beautiful City but a diamond performance from all involved and a polished script 9/10.

Monday, 30 November 2015

The Confessions of Dorian Gray Series 4

Where to start? where to start? Hmmm… The beginning was a long long time ago, Oscar Wilde wrote a book called The Picture of Dorian Gray, which went on to become a classic. In this book a young member of the upper classes called Dorian Gray, who is the epitome of male beauty, has a portrait painted – he muses that he would like to remain as un-ageing as the portrait, and he gets what he wishes for. As Gray leads a more and more debauched life it leaves no mark on him: the drinking, the indulgence in drugs, the womanising – all leave no mark on Dorian  - whilst his portrait bears the brunt of his excesses and grows more and more monstrous. The story is a fiction written by Oscar Wilde, but what if it wasn’t? What if Dorian Gray was real? What if he were a peer of Oscar Wilde and Wilde just wrote a sort of biography disguised as fiction? that is the theory that the Confessions of Dorian Gray presents and now in its fourth series we have another eight stories, another eight interludes from the immortal Dorian Gray.
Dorian is real, he lived and still lived and these are his confessions – and the title “confessions” is very apt – these audio stories are unlike any other series the Big Finish have produced.
First of all there is no title or closing theme music – now in itself that isn’t a big deal, but these stories don’t feel like stories – they are a lot more intimate than that.
Secondly, I have a feeling that Mr Gray is not the most reliable of narrators – that the stories he is relaying are merely his take on circumstances, that with hundreds, maybe thousands of years of hindsight from when these events happened to when he tells the story, certain embellishments may have been made.
No – this is a very unique series, in fact the listener is made to feel like a confessor or a psychiatrist as Gray relays his tales of terror and debauchery. The eight stories are in no particular order, they are not consecutive, they flit back and forth throughout Dorian’s long long life – it is almost like Dorian is in the room with you and is unburdening himself, and the stories all have one thing in common – they all deal with the theme of loss. Because as long and as varied as his life is, being immortal Dorian has to deal with loss – sometimes people die, sometimes they move on, sometimes assignations are only fleeting, people and times move on – parties, substance abuse, alcohol and womanising loses its lustre, but Dorian Gray goes on.
And bringing Dorian to life is the one and only Alexander Vlahos – narrating seemingly random tales from Dorian’s life he imbues Gray with a weariness of a man who has lived too long, a man trying to fill in eternity when life has lost its taste where people he has me sometimes become memories and then forgotten altogether – a man so bored of life that in one episode he books himself into “a very nice private hospital” to get his appendix removed just to remove the boredom of existence. Vlahos captures the weariness perfectly and at different points in his life he really does want to do the right thing (or maybe this is just as the unreliable narrator remembers it) but throughout his life he is plagued by demons of one form or another – metaphors for his guilt at the life he has led or literal monsters is up to the listener to decide but the demons are there.
Some audios are good to be listened to with friends or family – The Confessions of Dorian Gray demands  to be listened to as a solitary experience, because for the duration of the box set YOU the listener are the confessor and Dorian is talking just to you – give it a try episode one The Enigma of Dorian Gray is available free HERE and you will see what I mean.
I recommend that these reminiscences are accompanied by a glass of fine Shiraz, with the lights dimmed and for you to lose yourself in Dorian’s confessions – I for one will certainly be catching up with the earlier stories and I recommend that you do too. An uncomfortable, intimate and soul-bearing experience, superbly performed and leaving a feeling of loss and melancholy that maybe just one more glass of Shiraz may not take away… 10/10.

The Other Woman

The thing I like about the short trips is that they are just so characterful and this month’s release is no exception. In 38 short minutes it gives us a very Pertwee-esque “they come to us” story, but also examines the depth of the relationship between Jo and the Doctor. And who better to tell this touching story than Jo Grant herself, the wonderful Katy Maning.
Beginning with Jo reminiscing about a date she has been on (not with Captain Yates this time) and finishing with a reaffirmation of Jo and the Doctor’s relationship, this is another small story with big ambitions.
The “Other Woman” of the title is an alien called Callandra who has landed her escape pod in the Kent countryside – the home counties had a lot of that back in the 70’s (or 80’s depending on UNIT dating!), a striking woman with something of Circe about her, she seems to mesmerise all men into doing her bidding, and being stuck in the UNIT era, she has a lot of willing soldiers and a willing Third Doctor to do her bidding – it is only Jo that hasn’t fallen under her spell…
Is Jo jealous of an other woman becoming close with the Doctor or is there a hidden side to Callandra that only Jo can see?
Katy gives an assured, confident and convincing performance not only as Jo, but as The Doctor, Callandra and the Brig, her Jon Pertwee is rather good and she imbues Jo with such character that i forgot that her and Katy were the same person.
In strictly Who chronological time, this story is set prior to the Three Doctors so is many many years before River Song made her entrance in the Library – but the relationship the Doctor has with Callandra shows off his charm and his romantic side about seven (or eight) incarnations too early.
The Other Woman is another short trip that delivers a big impact and adds layers of depth to an already charming relationship between Jo and the Third Doctor.

The Early Adventures 2.3 - The Black Hole

It’s not often I find myself lost for words when writing a review. This is one of those occasions. The Black Hole is a very difficult story to talk about unless the person you are talking about it with has already experienced the story. To quote Blackadder “it twists and turns like a… twisty turny thing” and covers several different types of storytelling while still remaining faithful to the ethos of the Troughton era and making you view a certain Colin Baker story in a completely different way. This is a really important story, and skirting around the “twisty turny things” I will try to give you a flavour of what its all about…
Simon Guerrier is a brave man – a very brave man indeed – because, lets face it, Who fans are a (small “c”) conservative lot when it comes to established canon (QI Klaxon alert!) and continuity. So, me being the radical rebel that I am take my reviewer’s hat off to Simon for not only for going against established canon, but for going against it and winning – you see The Black Hole introduces the Time Lords to Doctor Who, and in terms of continuity they are introduced at least 18 month earlier than in The War Games. Now before you all start building Troughton sized Wicker Men to hold Mr Guerrier, you may also want to consider his second crime of – CENSORED TO PRESERVE “TWISTY TURNY” ASPECT OF STORY! – that happens during episode three…
So, what can I tell you about The Black Hole? Well, it has a Black Hole and this is causing time to keep standing still on a research station. Being Time Travellers, The Second Doctor (amazingly realised by Frazer Hines), Jamie (Frazer Hines, again) and Victoria (Deborah Watling) are not affected by the phenomenon. They meet up with Commander Flail (Janet Dibley) and investigate the cause. And it’s during these investigations that they meet Constable Pavo (Rufus Hound) a Time Lord and Constable of Chapter 9, and after a false start, the Doctor and Pavo come up with a plan to stabilise The Black Hole.
And that is really all I can say without totally ruining the story – it starts as a mystery, transforms into a time travel story and finishes with, well… I will let you find out for yourselves.
The sound design is pure “Troughton”, close your eyes and the images in your head will be in Black and White – for all its radical ideas it is very much rooted in 1968. It was lovely to hear Deborah Watling back as Victoria, she is a character I would love to hear more from on Big Finish. Frazer Hines is uncanny as Troughton, all the pauses, throat clearings and vocal mannerisms are superb, and he can now play Jamie to perfection in his sleep, he just slips back instantly into character. Janet Dibley gives a no nonsense performance as Flail, but the real star of the proceedings is Rufus Hound as Pavo. Take a look at his picture on the cover, imagine the sort of performance that type of character would give, turn it up a notch, and you are there. Hound is wonderful, fruity, snooty, dangerous, manipulative and vindictive – a magnificent addition to the pantheon of Time Lords, I do hope he shows up in another story very soon…
So vaguery rules the day in this review, but my vaguery is well justified – there is a link below that says “BUY YOUR COPY HERE” and I suggest you do because The Black Hole is a corker of a story that will make you revise opinions of several eras and of one of the central aspects of Who Mythology, and there are not many stories that I can say that about.
Overall a Cosmically balanced and Twisty Turny 10/10.


Though they are commonplace in the revived post 2005 series, the “classic” series didn’t really do “blockbusters”. I mean they did, but they were very few and far between. The thing is the set up of the series was different then – a series of serials rather than (mainly) standalone episodes, with a linking theme leading up to the inevitable series finale. Classic Who didn’t really do event TV – in fact the only times I can remember it being an event was when Tom Baker regenerated and when The Five Doctors was broadcast. Things were different back then, not better or worse, just a different style for a different era. But then we have this months release – Shield of the Jotunn – on the one hand it follows the style and format of “classic” Who, it features Old Sixie, is a four part serial yes but (and it is a big but) the scale is huge - Hollywood blockbuster huge, and what starts as Old Sixie and Mrs Clarke looking for a restaurant ends with a battle of the Titans.
So the aforementioned trip to a restaurant doesn’t really go to plan – in fact the Doctor and Mrs Clarke materialise in a Viking burial mound. This is no ordinary Viking burial mound though (as if it would be) in fact it is in Arizona USA (yes you read correctly) in the year 2029. And so begins one of the most tense, frantic and down right action packed Who stories I have ever had the delight to hear. This is Doctor Who with a Michael Bay budget – in my mind it was all being played out on big budget super Hi-Def cameras and I was watching it on IMAX, not on 625 line VT on a 22 inch Panasonic as it would have been in the 1980′s.
The plot is a little bit base under siege and a little bit giant monster battle – think The Thing meets Transformers and you wont be far from the mark. Part one sets up the story and introduces Dr Hugo Macht (Michael J Shannon) and his team Professor Lisa Zetterling (Nell Mooney) & Major Vincent Da Costa (James Caroll Jordan) – Dr Macht has devised a plan to save the world from climate change by cleaning the atmosphere with nanobots, but the discovery of the Shield of the Jotunn puts a huge spanner in his good works as the shield is in fact an alien artefact brought to the USA by the Vikings – and this shield brings with a a whole load of trouble, from killer snow to Frost Giants. It also brings with is a Viking Saga…
Oh the Vikings and their saga – their tale is told by Mrs Clarke (Miranda Raison) who continues to excel and is fast becoming a classic companion and foil to Old Sixie – she discovers the TARDIS gift for translation and recounts their saga, the narration here being taken over by the Viking leader Herger (also played by James Caroll Jordan) and is an excellent piece of direction as Mrs Clarke’s cut glass voice fades out and is replaced by Herger’s gruff tones and then fades back as we return to the here and now. It’s little touches like this that raise this story, and the story has a very special director you all may have heard of – Louise Jameson makes her Big Finish directorial debut on this release and does not leave the listener wanting. From casting to scene construction, Louise does not miss a beat and crafts writer Ian Edington’s script into a tense, action packed and characterful blockbuster.
So far so epic – and that is only part of the story, it just keeps getting bigger and bigger (literally) and finishes in an explosive denouement; it does not miss a beat, does not put a foot wrong, the cast are uniformly excellent, Colin Baker is exceptional as always – he has a few melancholic speeches to deliver and there are a few scenes where he almost outdoes his successor for manipulation – just listen to the climax of part four – Old Sixie does something almost completely out of character and it is all the more powerful for it.
So three stories in and I am already chomping at the bit for more stories of Old Sixie and Mrs Clarke – a classic TARDIS team, they just go together like, well Old Sixie and Mrs Clarke really.
Overall a saga worth listening to – stunningly written and acted, a brilliant “Season Finale” an exceptional debut for Louise Jameson as director and another classic release from Big Finish.
Overall a blockbusting 10/10.