Anyone seen The Sound Of Music? Your silence speaks volumes…. However there is a song in it that springs to mind when writing this review, its “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” Why you may ask, well dear reader, please read on and I promise this will be the last time I mention singing nuns, Lonely Goatherds, Edelweiss, or being 16 and going on 17. I promise. So (in the style of Julie Andrews) “How do you replace a legend like Jon Pertwee?” (yay odelay odelay hee hoo!). Stop it!
But how do you?
I am sure it was a very difficult decision for Big Finish to make. Pertwee is an icon, a hero to a whole generation of Who fans, anything less than respectful could have giant Wicker Men in the shape of Wurzel Gummidge erected outside Big Finish Towers with Mr Briggs playing the part of Edward Woodward…
In Tim Treolar Big Finish have got things just right – you can breathe a huge sigh of relief. Tim is not “doing a Pertwee” in the same way that for example Jon Culshaw “does Tom Baker”, his interpretation is more subtle, more real, and more engaging. Tim Treloar has captured the essence of Pertwee – the cadence of his voice, the tone, the inflections, the Pertwee-isms. He is no mere sound-a-like, but genuinely channels Pertwee. Listening to this box set I could just see the man himself standing tall, hands on hips, cape flowing. Give it a listen, there is even a free episode on Big Finish’s website HERE. Give it a listen and you’ll see what I mean.
So on to the stories, there are two four-parters here and a new style of storytelling. They are full cast audio dramas but there is a central narrator (also Tim Treloar) who frames the episodes and keeps the story moving along. Joined by the ever wonderful Katy Manning as Jo Grant and the stalwart Richard Franklin as Mike Yates, the two tales are typical Pertwee affairs but very different.
Prisoners of the Lake by Justin Richards
An archaeological site deep beneath Dunstanton Lake is hardly the usual scene for UNIT to investigate, but when an ancient structure is discovered a long lost, long buried threat to Earth is discovered. Listening to this reminded me of the underwater ballet of Thunderball with the Third Doctor in full James Bond mode as a great chunk of the story is set under water, I can just imagine Pertwee utterly loving the opportunity to don scuba gear and film underwater. It is a very typical Pertwee era story and would probably have fitted in well in season 9 – it has the Third Doctor being diplomatic with some, sarcastic with others, an action man with cries of “Hai!”, and always but always trying to find a peaceful solution.
Katy gives us a wonderful pitch-perfect performance as Jo Grant, with Richard Franklin giving a commanding performance as Captain Mike Yates. The cast are ably assisted by Caroline Seymour as archaeologist Freda Mattingly.
It is a perfectly serviceable story, and as I have previously stated very mush a product of the early 1970’s, but it really does not get out of second gear; it is quite slow paced and tells a perfectly acceptable story, but it is never going to set the world on fire. It really is more of a character piece than a plot-driven blockbuster but showcases Tim Treloar’s astonishing performance as Jon Pertwee.
The Havoc of Empires by Andy Lane
Where Prisoners of the Lake was a Season Nine story, this is set in Season Ten. The narrator tells us this, and it begins with The Doctor taking Jo and Mike in the TARDIS so they can go on a date to the Cavern Club in Liverpool 1962 – or is it to see WG Grace play cricket? In fact it is neither. The TARDIS takes the Doctor once again to where he is needed rather than where he wants to go – and this time he is needed on a space station where an arranged diplomatic wedding between the Chalnoth Hegemony and the Teklarn Incorporation is about to take place. However a saboteur has different ideas…
This is a cracking whodunnit story in the style of The Curse of Peladon and really is a brilliant showcase for Katy Manning as Jo, who gets to impersonate security expert Alex Filton and investigate the bombings and expose the perpetrators. This really is good stuff, familiar yet edgy, and Tim Treloar gives us a diplomatic Pertwee, always looking for a third way, abhorring violence, and believing utterly in the calibre of his companions. But the star of this one really is Katy Manning who’s superb as Jo. She’s vulnerable, sometimes needing reassurance from The Doctor and Mike, but when she is left on her own, is more than capable of rising to the challenges of her assumed identity.
So a very safe start to a new range for Big Finish, but a Third Doctor box set really has to be what it says on the tin, and this really is. t follows the format and structure of the era, has the warmth and camaraderie of the “UNIT Family” era, and in Tim Treloar an excellent homage to the essence and legacy of Jon Pertwee.
So before I say “so long, farewell, auf wiedersehn, good bye”, I will say It was okay in the 1970’s, and it is most definitely okay now. 8/10.
Oddball. Now there is a word. Oddball – What is an Oddball story? To my mind it encompasses everything that isn’t normal in Doctor Who storytelling, be it The Web Planet, The Celestial Toymaker, The Macra Terror, Kinda, Paradise Towers, The Happiness Patrol or Big Finish’s own pantheon of oddities like Creatures of Beauty, and The Pirates, Brotherhood of the Daleks or The Fourth Wall to name a few.
These left field stories in a way define what traditional Who stories are by being themselves not traditional (if you see what I mean). As always I digress – and my pomposity levels are rising! – and in my usual roundabout way I come to this months Short Trips release – Etheria.
This one most definitely falls in to the Oddball category. It’s a tale of the First Doctor, Vicki and Steven, told by Peter Purves (Steven Taylor) the story concerns The Doctor and Vicki (having lost Steven in an ambush by Pirates) traversing the strange “Etherlands” of the world they find themselves on, a strange world where the Ether alters the perception, where they have to tether themselves to the ground at night for fear of wandering off possessed by the Ether – and where their guide may or may not know the way through the increasingly treacherous environment.
Peter Purves gives a great rendition of Hartnell, you can just see him standing there all imperious, clutching his lapels as events unfold around him. It really is an oddball story and relies on the fact that not only could the narrator be unreliable but also what the characters perceive is unreliable too. It’s a very clever piece of writing that really uses the audio format to its advantage. Long time listeners of the Big Finish Main Range will understand what I mean when I say it reminds me of Scherzo. The story may not be atypically Hartnell, but it is very much in keeping with the off the wall oddities that Doctor Who sometimes throws up. I perceive that this one will go down well with the more out-there fans. 8/10.
It’s been a bit of a Colin-Tastic month at Big Finish, what with his final bow The Last Adventure and now this very special two disc release in which Colin discusses his life and his career.
Colin is interviewed by the ever enthusiastic Nick Briggs – they are obviously good friends as this sounds more like a couple of old mates putting the world to rights.
Last year’s Tom interview was marvellous, but I did get the impression that Tom was wheeling out the old anecdotes and we were not seeing much of the real man. With this release, nothing could be further from the truth. There is a real truth and honesty to the proceedings, whether discussing his upbringing, his schooling, his career, or answering some pretty difficult questions from Nick, Colin is honest, truthful and direct.
Colin is not a person who tends to wheel out the old anecdotes so all his stories are fresh and vibrant. This release feels like an audio Who do you Think You Are as it moves chronologically through Mr Baker’s life, from his birth during the blitz, to the family’s move to Rochdale, to his not going to University, to acting, and at each point we get a frank reflection on the building blocks that made Colin the man he is today.
The interview isn’t always pretty and sometimes brings up painful memories but it is always truthful & candid. Nick Briggs teases out a lot of information from Colin, sometimes asking a question and letting him get on with it, sometimes probing further when the subject demands it, but always pitches it just right and whilst he may not always get the answer he expects, he always gets the answer that the listener needs to hear.
There is a old saying that all power corrupts, but that absolute power corrupts absolutely. There is another saying regarding the road to hell being paved with good intentions.
Both are very relevant in this months release, the first in a new series of Early Adventures. Whereas last years releases concentrated on the Hartnell era, these are from the Troughton era. Time and BBC archivists have been particularly cruel to seasons 3, 4 and 5 of Doctor Who, this story set in Season 4 features Doctor 2 along with Ben, Polly and Jamie. It is narrated by Anneke Wills who also plays Polly, has Frazer Hines as Jamie & the 2nd Doctor (and boy does he do a good Troughton). Instead of having the narrator or Jamie voice the lines for Ben (who was originally played by the late Michael Craze) Big Finish have taken a very brave decision in recasting Ben for the audios. The unenviable task of trying to fill Mr Craze’s boots goes to newcomer Elliot Chapman. He really has respect for the era and the mantle he is taking on – he watched and listened to all the episodes featuring Ben Jackson to pick up the nuances in his vocal performance – in the special features that follow episode four he even comments on how Craze’s performance changed during his time on the show – his performance was lauded by Frazer and Anneke. Whether you think it is ok to recast or not, Elliot Chapman gives a fab performance as Ben & I look forward to hearing more of his interpretation.
So the plot – set during the original Season 4 the story really plays homage to the early shows “sci-fi” ethos of far out worlds, city states, everything controlled by Robot, consumerism gone mad – you can visualise the denizens of New Houston all wearing jump suits and everything being silver and functional. It is so authentic to the era that I actually imagined it in Black & White.
New Houston is a Colony Planet, the Doctor decides to look up his old friend Meg Carvossa, but he arrives too late – Meg is dead, but how did she die? Conflicting reports lead our heroes into a conspiracy and a very odd revolution. The era specific atmosphere is helped by some very authentic incidental music, all bassoon if you know what I mean. It also feels like the sort of story that should be listened to in 25 minute chunks rather than in one go – it does feel like a serial rather than a story, and herein lies the problem – the story feels a little disjointed and a little inconsequential. Its not a bad story but just a bit, well, “robotic” and lacking pace. There is a tense political thriller in there somewhere, but it is buried in the trappings of mid sixties sci fi serial, which is a shame – as there is a great deal to explore about the effect a prior visit the Doctor has on a planet and the influence he has on the people he meets. Loathe as I am to paraphrase a Matt Smith story but the Doctor really does make people want to impress him and to me that is the crux of the story.
A great recreation of the era, Elliot Chapman is a revelation as Ben – but the story just didn’t engage me. 5/10.
Some stories have a particular purpose – Deep Breath needs to introduce a New Doctor and set up a story arc, The Time Warrior is there to introduce us to Sarah Jane Smith.
Most beginnings and endings are usually there to introduce or to say goodbye to a much loved character, the fact that there needs to be a story is almost secondary to the need to get the story from point A to point B. But sometimes a story serves a purpose as well as being a fantastic story – look at The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Spearhead from Space and Old Sixie’s debut, The Twin Dilemma (no I am not being contrary, I genuinely love it – a truly operatic and commanding performance from Mr Baker), they serve a narrative purpose but also are great adventures.
This month’s second main range release ‘Criss-Cross’ falls in to the latter category. Ostensibly it serves to introduce us (even though we have met her before in End of the Line) to new companion Mrs Constance Clarke (Miranda Raison) – but the tale of 1944 Bletchley Park, code breaking, spies, double agents and aliens is utterly compelling. The story really does have a “start of term” feeling that you get with a new season of Doctor Who (at time of writing we are 8 hours away from the first broadcast of The Magicians Apprentice, so two new seasons in 1 week) it even has a pre-credits sequence. So after last months apocalyptic ending for Old Sixie, we jump back a bit in his timeline to a point where his TARDIS is a bit under the weather and he has become a fixture as “Doctor John Smith” at Bletchley Park – the top secret cypher breaking base of World War Two – he is no longer wearing his coat of many colours, if the cover is to believed he is wearing a similar outfit to Matt Smith’s Doctor (but Old Sixie wears it better) – he is helping to crack codes and has a particular interest in the movements of one Agent Spark, whose name keeps coming up in cyphers with references to “Golden Eggs”… It’s not long into the story before The Doctor’s cover is blown – he is suspected of being a German Spy and he is forced to do a runner along with two Wren’s Sylvia Wimpole (Charlotte Salt) and the wonderful Mrs Constance Clarke. And then it steps up a gear, a huge step up involving said double agents, German spymasters, aliens, codebreaking – it almost features Alan Turing.
The story does not let you pause for breath, it’s a true roller coaster ride of a story (in fact you could say the characters are riding a wave… #spoilers). It’s one of those stories, one of those “where were you when you first heard/saw sort of stories, it’s a bit of a classic. No story though, however good is complete without its characters – and this story being a very special story gives us a proper introduction to Mrs Constance Clarke. Sometimes, just sometimes you know a companion is “right” from the moment you first see or hear them and instantly Miranda Raison is a note perfect companion for Old Sixie – like Evelyn before her, or Ace with Seven, or Donna with Ten, Sarah Jane with Tom or Jo with Pertwee – Mrs Constance Clarke is a perfect foil for Old Sixie. She is obviously upper class, but not annoyingly so and in no way a caricature of a plummy voiced Wren. She is capable, independent, has an overwhelming sense of fairness, duty and decency and insists that the Doctor call her Mrs Clarke for fear of impropriety. Her reason for joining the TARDIS is very interesting, she has a specific time that she wants to return to England – and I am eagerly anticipating the adventures she will have on her journey. All praise to Miranda Raison for making Mrs Clarke such a well rounded character – Mrs Clarke is brought to life by her performance and is a joy to listen to, she instantly joins the list of the all time great companions. In summing up I can confirm that this is no “Imitation Game” its the real deal with no fakery, a real classic story with a classic companion introduced and the beginning of a new chapter in the ever continuing life of Old Sixie – a best of British 10/10.
What’s in a name? Good question. In Doctor Who they fall in to two categories, the “does what it says on the tin”, names like Genesis of the Daleks and Tomb of the Cybermen, and more experimental names like Kinda and Human Nature. This month’s Short Trips release probably falls into both categories, but will only fall into the first if – and it is a big if - my hunch is right concerning its links to a certain other box set being released quite soon…
Confused? You will be until you listen to the story, and it’s a story that could ONLY work on audio and ONLY as a narrated talking book rather than a full cast drama.
Read by India Fisher (Charley Pollard) it concerns quite a low key adventure for the Eighth Doctor and Charley involving them both being captured at an army base and being interrogated about why they were there in the first place.
India Fisher gives a great performance as Charley and captures the cadences of Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor perfectly. It is a very visual reading full of atmosphere India imbues the proceedings with a sense of urgency & flippancy that characterised her relationship with Doctor Number Eight. And it ends on a question, a question which I hope will be answered in the near future. Sorry to appear confusing, but any further information would really spoil the story and it really does need to be heard “blind” so to speak for the full impact. A small story with big ramifications, a perfect Foreshadowing of The Doctor’s past & a release yet to come. Intriguing 10/10.
English is a wonderful language. The same words said with different emphasis, or in different contexts, can have completely different meanings. Terror of the Sontarans is a case in point. On the one hand it means Sontarans being terrifying, and on the other, Sontarans being terrified. And they are both of those things in this story.
It’s a very odd story, written by John Dorney, and new series Sontaran stalwart Dan Starkey, and has a number of boxes to tick. First of all it has to fit in with the atmosphere of Season Twenty Four. Check!(for the most part). It feels claustrophobic like Paradise Towers, has a collection of larger than life caricatures as the supporting cast, has the Doctor as slightly bumbling rather than the omnipotent Seventh Doctor of Seasons Twenty Five and Twenty Six. It also has several quite disturbing scenes which would be quite out of character in Season Twenty Four. Also the Sontarans need to be got just right, and here they are hilarious because they are so humourless and literal. Check!
The problem I have with this story is that it takes way too long to get going. The Sontarans do not arrive until the end of Part One and not a lot really happens in Part Two. But Part Three is a cracker and Part Four does what is necessary to end the story.
The plot itself involves the Doctor and Mel picking up a distress call from a deserted mining station that the Sontarans have taken over and are using as an experimentation centre to find out the weaknesses of “lesser creatures”, like a factory version of The Sontaran Experiment. However it turns out that it wasn’t the victims that sent the distress call, but the Sontarans – and what can induce enough terror in a Sontaran that would make them commit an act of cowardice like sending a distress call?
Dan Starkey is superb as Skegg, the Sontaran whose mind has been destroyed by the horrors he has witnessed. It’s a great portrait of post traumatic stress and the way he is treated by his superior officers is horrifying. I like it when we see different aspects of Who characters and to hear a traumatised Sontaran is strangely fascinating.
There is a large supporting cast with a standout performance from Daniel O’Meara as Ketch. He is pretty much in the mould of Pex from Paradise Towers, and as the Doctor and Mel are separated for most of the story, like Pex, he becomes a companion to Mel. It’s a very different story, possibly hampered by the four-part story structure – but it doesn’t seem to “flow” all that well, and while Part Three gets it just right and ramps up the sense of mystery, horror and tension with the best of them, this isn’t a game of two halves, more a game of four quarters that may have played better as a game of two halves. There are some excellent performances but doesn’t quite hit the spot in all areas. 6/10.
Arriving in 2006 on the Sunday before I moved house, Torchwood’s tag-line was: “The 21st Century is where everything changes” – and it did. Sort of. Well not everything, but certainly the Whoniverse got a lot bigger with new characters added who would make an appearance during the finale of Season Four.
Torchwood started well. Episode one was very good, but overall the first season was patchy. For every Countrycide or Random Shoes, there was a Cyberwoman or Combat. Things got a bit more consistent with Season Two, and Children of Earth was a bona fide classic, dripping quality and full ofwater-cooler moments everyone seemed to be talking about. Then came Miracle Day. Oh dear. It was about seven episodes too long – and that was just the start of it’s problems.
Torchwood seemed to be loved and reviled by Doctor Who fans in equal and after 2011 was slowly fading into obscurity. Yes there were rumours of reunions, but the cast had moved on. Then in 2015 Everything Changes – Big Finish picked up the licence to produce audio adventures and Torchwood was back. A six episode first season has been commissioned followed swiftly by a second, and what better place to start than with the man himself, Captain Jack Harkness, played by John Barrowman, in a story called The Conspiracy, written by David Llewelyn.
Not full cast, but not really Companion Chronicle two-handers – a small cast with lots of narration, this story sees Jack (the rest of the team do not appear) investigate ex journalist and conspiracy theory superstar Wilson (John Sessions). You see, Wilson’s predictions and revelations about a mysterious alien “Committee” and the fact that they have been controlling the world from behind the scenes for as long as there has been life on earth, ring eerily true for Jack. He meets Wilson’s daughter Kate (Sarah Ovens) and conspiracy theory nut Sam (Dan Bottomley) in the course of his investigation, and these four are the total cast in the production.
Barrowman gives us a very different Jack to the one we are used to seeing on TV; he has a harder edge, is less charming – more Daniel Craig than Roger Moore, if you get my drift – we also get no indication of when in the Torchwood timeline the story takes place.
It’s quite a slow-paced story for a season opener, and unfortunately it feels a bit familiar, we have seen stories like this many times before. In fact it feels very much like an episode of The X Files – grand conspiracy, aliens that have always been here, crosses and double-crosses, but it isn’t all that original. I hope I am proved wrong as the series progresses and the seeds planted in this story flower into great towering oaks of Torchwood legend.
It is very well acted, with John Sessions utterly convincing as Wilson, and Sam could so easily have been an annoying stereotypical conspiracy nut, but he is imbued with real character and depth. So, not the best start to the series, but several hooks which I hope will be played out over the next few months.
I would like, if I may, to start with some music. Ever since this release was announced back in February, I have associated the song This Is the One by The Stone Roses with this release, and here it is. Give it a listen – it says it all for me, because this really is the one I have been waiting for.
Colin Baker, Doctor Number Six, Old Sixie –the most underrated of Doctors, cruelly denied the one thing all his fellow Doctor’s were given: the chance to be at his best; the chance to be utterly heroic, stoic, heartbreaking and self-sacrificing for the good of all. He missed out on a regeneration scene. Until now, because twenty-nine years later Big Finish have finally put things right by giving Old Sixie the swansong he truly deserves. After twenty-nine years of waiting we finally have The Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure – and what an adventure! A final lap of honour for this most operatic, avuncular, verbose and moral of Doctors. For continuity aficionados, everything makes sense, it ties in perfectly with the beginning of Time and the Rani, and no longer will the cause of the Sixth Doctor’s regeneration be “falling off an exercise bike”. Absolutely not – Colin gets the regeneration he deserves, a stoic acceptance of this is how things have to be, noble and understated. But I am getting ahead of myself…
Such an epic momentous story needs an epic and momentous foe, and they don’t come more momentous than The Valeyard. A distillation of all the Doctor’s negative impulses taken from somewhere between his penultimate and final regeneration. Interestingly, the episodes in this story are set at varying points during Old Sixie’s era, but for the Valeyard they happen consecutively – a sort of Valeyard’s master plan – and what a plan it is. But again, I am getting ahead of myself…
Being a special release, Big Finish really have really pulled out all the stops to give Colin a fitting final hurrah. The story is broken up into four different chapters, each with a different companion, each giving us a little insight into the Valeyard’s plan and each edging the Doctor a little closer to his fate on Lakertya. Also as this a special release my better half Hayley will be adding her thoughts and musings to the proceedings.
The End of the Line by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris.
An interesting place to start. We are introduced to new companion Mrs Constance Clarke (Miranda Raison) with whom the Doctor has been travelling for a while, but this is the first time that we meet her, similar to meeting Mel for the first time in Terror of the Vervoids. Constance is a Wren from Bletchley Park during the Second World War and is a no nonsense, capable and independent woman. The story sees a broken down train lost in the fog and has a tense claustrophobic base-under-siege feeling. Tensions really start to rise when a murder is committed, or is it two murders – or three? The tension is fantastic, a real classic whodunnit feeling, for a while at least. And then the rug is pulled out from under you not once but twice. The emphasis and the tone of the story changes. Any more would be way too spoilery, but you will know what I mean when you hear it. As I said an interesting and brave place to start a story, introducing a hitherto unseen companion and also sowing the seeds of the Valeyard’s plans. Very good indeed.
The inevitability of this release made it a tough listen. I was eager for the journey, but reluctant to see it end. The opener was wonderfully uncomfortable – a familiar setting taken to the unfamiliar and distinctly sinister. Passengers on a train lost in an unfathomable fog gives it a very claustrophobic atmosphere and their sense of bewilderment and fear was palpable. There are plenty of open-mouth surprises along the way and there’s a great addition of a new companion in Constance. It’s almost irritating when the Doctor has a new companion and it all needs explaining again – bigger on the inside, blah, blah, blah. With Constance we’re starting on the tenth date (so to speak), she knows the Doctor and she knows the form, so we’re spared the introduction for now. It also gives us the hope we need, that Old Sixie will be back with new adventures – albeit retrospectively.
I was delighted to hear Michael Jayston return as The Valeyard. I didn’t expect it as I went into this without reading the synopsis . I remember him well from the Trial season (yes, I am that old) and always enjoyed the relationship between the two very different aspects of the Doctor.
A fab start to the end. The Red House by Alan Barnes
The most frothy of all the stories. This one takes place whilst the Doctor was travelling with Charley Pollard. They land on a planet where the laws of Lycanthropy have been turned on their head. The denizens are Werewolves pretty much all the time, but transform into violent thuggish humans when exposed to sunlight. Police Officer Werewolves go about in daylight in what sound like Red Riding Hood costumes to protect them from the transforming power of the sun. Add to this the mix of an amoral Doctor experimenting on the Werewolves to extract their essence, the Valeyard making a further move in his master plan, Hippy Werewolves having illicit parties where they indulge the transformation into humans, and you have a bit of an odd melting pot of tomes and ideas – but it really works. The scenes where Charley verbally spars with the Valeyard are exceptional, and again the tone completely changes when Charley realises (with a little prodding from the Valeyard) that the path that the Doctor is taking will lead to disaster. It’s one of those stories where the Sixth Doctor’s morality and desire to do right could be everyone’s undoing.
I’d almost forgotten that Charley travelled with Old Sixie. I’ve always liked Miss Pollard with McGann’s Doctor so it was nice to hear her featuring in Sixie’s swansong. This started well (I love a curfew!) and gave us a different take on lycanthropy, where the wolf state is preferable to being human, as well as cruel experimentation and further plotting of the Valeyard. An enjoyable story with great pace.
Stage Fright by Matt Fitton
They are Back – oh yes indeed! The premier practitioner of pathology, Professor George Litefoot, and the jocular genial gent Mister Henry Gordon Jago. The Doctor, now travelling with Flip (Lisa Greenwood) decides to take her on a trip to the New Regency Theatre, however it is closed so they make their way to the Red Tavern and meet the investigators of infernal incidents. They discover that Jago’s theatre has been hired by a certain “Mr Yardvale” to practice a play – obviously such an obvious pseudonym is a trap, and our heroes rush in to investigate.
The Valeyard is recreating scenes of the Doctor’s former regenerations on stage and absorbing the emotions which are being generated. The re-enactment of the Third Doctor’s regeneration with Jago playing the part of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Ellie Higson (Lisa Bowerman) playing Sarah Jane Smith has to be heard to be believed! The whole story revolves around using negative emotions, and the denouement is actually very sweet, relying on one of Flip’s most frightening times as a child. It is always a pleasure to hear Jago and Litefoot, and they are never better than with Colin. I really hope that they make Flip’s acquaintance again as Jago and Flip make a really excellent double act. I was sad when this ended, as inevitably we reached the final chapter…
I love Messers Jago and Litefoot. I have a tremendous fondness for them – the best of the spin offs! They work so well with Sixie, as we heard during their fourth season. Sixie seems very at home with their their particular style of avuncular adventure and this episode is a joy to listen to. A dark story tempered as always by the good humour of George and Henry, it shows the Valeyard at his most cruel, using people and dispensing with them like rubbish. This was my first foray into the the match of the Sixth Doctor and Flip and I didn’t warm to her immediately – too street – but so much happens in this episode that it allows for great character progression, and eventually young Flip grew on me.
My favourite of the four, but with George and Henry, how could it not be?
The Brink of Death by Nicholas Briggs
And here it is, a Time Lord who’s time has run out… The Valeyard enacts his plan, leaving the Doctor with only six minutes to live, and he is determined to go down fighting aided by Time Lord demolition expert Genesta (Liz White) who really plays the part of companion in this story as Mel is in the TARDIS with the Valeyard (who she thinks is the Doctor). The Fateful name Lakertya is mentioned a few times in the narrative so fans will know the end is near – and what an ending! Colin nails it perfectly, he absolutely gives it his all, and has a true Sydney Carton moment – he really does do a far far better thing. It’s not the bombastic railing against the dying of the light you might expect, it’s more stoic, quieter and more dignified. Colin Baker, I salute you sir.
“Shall we listen to the last part?”, asked Ed. I knew it was coming but wasn’t sure if I was ready for it. Like Ed re-watching Logopolis – if he watches it often enough he hopes that Tom will hang on in there - I thought if I avoided it then Sixie would hang on in there too. Time to get a grip and say goodbye to the Doctor that I remember with the most clarity from the classic series (forgive me). It’s always hard to see the Doctor not being in control and showing fear; usually you know that he’ll triumph and fly off to his next adventure, but this time you feel the fear with him, because the end is coming. He bows out with dignity and bravery – just as he lived.
So there we have it, an end for Old Sixie, and most definitely the end he deserves – but also a few new beginnings… a whole new life as Doctor Number Seven and a new friend to get to know in the form of Mrs Constance Clarke. But we will always have Old Sixie… from a far too brief era of the classic TV series, Big Finish have helped Colin propel his Doctor right up there with the greats. In my mind Tom is the “other Baker”, Colin is the real deal. This is one of those releases that shows Big Finish at it’s best. They have done Colin, the era, and the fans proud, and I can do no more than to score this a much deserved 10/10.
There is an unwritten rule in Doctor Who that it has an “infinitely variable format”, a show where literally anything is possible. It’s a show with boundaries that should be constantly pushed.. problem is when boundaries are pushed like for example with Love and Monsters or The Horns of Nimon – fan reaction tends to be lukewarm at best or incandescent with rage at worst.
Season 24 was a difficult season but through Seasons 25 and 26 Sylvester McCoy became my favourite Doctor, and in last months story, We Are The Daleks, we saw a Season 25/26 McCoy in a Season 24 story, and it really worked. This months story, The Warehouse, is pure Season 24. If you close your eyes you can see the 1987 production values, the garish colours, the studio bound story with the set shot from different angles. You get where I am coming from. Some stories push boundaries, this one plays it safe. To put it in film terms, this is more of a Disney than a David Lynch. It however pure season 24, and for that it must be commended.
So the plot… The Doctor and Mel on their way to the Opera turn up at the Warehouse, a huge storage facility (like Amazon in Space) where clone families made up of Fred (Barry McCarthy), Jean (Anna Bentinck) and Ann (Clare Buckfield) continually perform a stock take – there are a Fred, Jean and Ann for every section with the letter of their section after their name to designate them: Fred E, Fred F, Fred G, etc). The Warehouse has also been invaded by apparently deadly carnivorous giant space rats, has strange mould growing almost everywhere, is run by a mysterious Supervisor (Phillip Franks), and then there is the planet below that has not received any deliveries for over 300 years…
Very much a by-the-numbers Doctor Who story, reminiscent of Paradise Towers, Face Of Evil and Big Finish’s own Spaceport Fear – it’s a story of a culture degenerating, worshipping technology as divine, and following rituals made of half-remembered customs of the past. There are a few twists and turns to keep the plot trundling along, but it all seems a bit too familiar. Of course, familiar is not necessarily a bad thing and it is a solid story with great performances – Phillip Franks is delightfully arch as the Supervisor and the sound design again is a great homage to Season 24. As a pastiche of the period it is a great success and also explains why McCoy’s umbrella changed between Paradise Towers and Delta and the Bannermen. Definitely one for traditional Who fans and those nostalgic for the late 80’s.
Since listening to last month’s release, The Fate of Krelos, I have been wondering to myself, “How on earth do you follow that!”because it really is a bit of a classic.
I was reminded of Doctor Who Series 3 back in 2007 (cue strummy harp flashback music) and Paul Cornell’s wonderful two-parter Human Nature and Family of Blood – how do you follow the greatest Doctor Who TV story? You have Blink, then the Master Trilogy. You don’t give the audience enough time to breathe and to reflect that perhaps it will never reach the heights of Human Nature again, you keep on putting on classic episodes – and with Return to Telos that is exactly what Nick Briggs has done.
This is a difficult release to review without giving away spoilers, but essential listening is The Fate of Krelos which forms the first half of this story and ends on a cliffhanger and is available here.
Okay, listened to it? Read on and expect mild spoilers…
K9 is under the control of the Cybermen and takes the TARDIS to their adopted home planet of Telos. Now then – and this is the clever part that will make you want to watch Tomb of the Cybermen again – at the same time the Second Doctor and Jamie are also there exploring the Tombs. With both Frazer Hines and Bernard Holley reprising their roles as Jamie and Peter Haydon it’s almost like deleted scenes from Tomb have been discovered on audio and have been slotted in to the story. The incidental music perfectly captures the feeling of Tomb but this is no mere nostalgia trip, the incidents in Tomb have a massive effect on the rest of the story.
Now longtime readers will know that I am not a fan of “timey-wimey” (or as I call them “cheat endings”) and Nick Briggs has avoided this cliche and crafted a perfectly logical series of cause and effect begun in the Tombs leading to the Cyber Invasion of Krelos. It’s one of those wonderfully fatalistic Who stories where the Doctor is literally battling against the forces of cause and effect and is bound to lose. The cliffhanger to part one seems completely hopeless – events that happen have to happen. It is a really atmospheric, melancholy and exciting story, and the denouement will have you punching the air.
Tom Baker and Louise Jameson are as wonderful as ever – Frazer Hines is astounding as Jamie and DELETED FOR SPOILERS, Michael Cochrane returns as the old but savvy Geralk, Veronica Roberts is tragic as his housekeeper Relly, the irony of her fate is not lost. A great cast, a great story, a great way to make you want to watch Tomb again and piece in the “deleted scenes” unearthed by Nick Briggs.
Is it as good as its predecessor? Difficult question. The Fate of Krelos was a quiet character based build up. Return to Telos is the plot-based blossoming of the seeds planted in Krelos. It’s unfair to compare the two as they form a whole. As for enjoyment, I tend to prefer the character based stories, so Krelos has it for me – but Return To Telos is just fab, like Blink following Human Nature, or to be more accurate, like Tomb following Evil of the Daleks – a different emphasis as is required by the plot.
Isn’t Katy Manning fab! She really is one of the nicest Who celebs I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, a joy to follow on Twitter, and a fine actress, so when Jo Grant and Iris Wildthyme meet in the Companion Chronicle Find and Replace you forget they are played by the same person.
Iris Wildthyme. Where do I start? She couldonly be played by Katy, that’s a given – such a colourful broad character; part Bet Lynch, part Hilda Baker, part Margaret Rutherford and part Anna the inebriate woman, but allIris Wildthyme, and I was delighted when this new series was announced, more of the same jolly gadding about through time on the number 22 Bus to Putney Common, gin in one hand, fag in the other, Panda at her side…Stop!… Wildthyme Reloaded is just a little bit different.
First of all, no Panda. I miss the pompous little 10 inch stuffed toy I really do, but his replacement is very interesting and brings out a new side to Iris’ character. The new companion is Captain Turner played by Geoffrey Breton – a square jawed, side-burned gentleman soldier from the late Victorian period, a true romantic. Secondly the theme tune has changed, not a massive change, but it does alter the feeling of the episodes. Thirdly there are more episodes but they are shorter and more character based exploring Iris’ past, building on her character, exploring more facets than the happy go lucky intergalactic bag lady we have come to love.
So eight new episodes and here they are:
Comeback of the Scorchies by James Goss
Iris takes Captain Turner to Margate to see a concert by one hit wonder (and old flame) Brain Bonamy, however they hadn’t counted on his new management – the Scorchies! 80’s music, Scorchies, Margate, Iris, Captain Turner singing a rude song… what more could you want?
Dark Side by Nick Campbell
Iris takes Captain Turner to visit her house – Pink Gables – a house Iris built around a ghost to keep it trapped like a genie in a bottle, however other forces have also taken up residence.
Oracle of the Supermarket by Roy Gill
On a trip to pick up supplies at a Scottish supermarket, Iris and Captain Turner meet Cassie Burdock, a checkout girl with the ability to predict the future, an ability given to her by a children’s ride in the shape of a duck (honestly).
Murder at the Abbey by Mark B. Oliver
Iris and the Captain turn sleuths in this sideways take on Agatha Christie, a Manor, a Murder, a host of suspects – what more could you wish for!
The Slots of Giza by Hamish Steele
On a trip to the Casino planet Giza, Iris and the Captain encounter Seth The Sensational, a magician who has a macabre way of ensuring guest keep on gambling and his show keeps on running…
High Spirits by Cavan Scott
In a garden centre, Iris and the Captain are expecting peace and tranquility, but have arrived a bit too late. The Garden In the Clouds is now the scariest place in the Universe and thrill seekers are dared to try to spend the night there, Iris meets up with an echo of her own future.
An Extraterrestrial Werewolf In Belgium by Scott Handcock
Landing in Flanders Iris and the Captain investigate an alien Werewolf, Iris’ dress sense is the key to the mystery that leads to a change of circumstances for both our heroes.
Looking For A Friend by Paul Magrs
Iris has been waiting a long time for a long lost friend to turn up, but is this what she really wants, is it closure, or is it a new beginning?
A very very different series than the usual Iris shenanigans – yes there are jolly japes, laughs and larks, but this series is tinged with a sense of wistfulness and melancholy – Iris is explored a lot more and comes across as a much more rounded character, the cosmic bag lady is painted in slightly different shades than in the past and much of this is due to Captain Turner. The Captain is an innocent, bewildered by his travels and constantly in awe of the situations he finds himself in. He is a classic gentleman, always looking for the best in people always doing the right thing and is a sobering influence on Iris. Whereas the wonderful Panda was a cartoonish parody of a cod intellectual snob, the Captain wears his heart on his sleeve in his sincerity.
Katy is wonderful in these adventures, really exploring a hitherto unseen side of Iris; she takes her from joy to despair and back again, with bluster and bravado, her broad character cracks a little and we see her loneliness and how much Panda really meant to her. A stellar guest list backs them up too – Nicola Bryant, Lisa Bowerman, David Warner and Tracey Childs to name a few.
A great jumping on point for newcomers to the world of Iris, this left me wanting more and the ending hints at a whole new series of adventures on the Number 22 to Putney Common. Much better than a punch up the hooter, preferably enjoyed with a glass of splishy splashy 9/10.
There is a much maligned film that myself and Mrs W really enjoy, and that is Vanilla Sky, I really don’t understand why it gets such a hard time from critics; I think it is rather beautiful and I have just found out it is out on Blu Ray!
Anyhow, how is this relevant to the latest Big Finish release, well, dear reader, please read on. Vanilla Sky is an adaptation of a Spanish Language film called “Abre Los Ojos” – or in English, “Open Your Eyes” and this phrase is repeated in the remake. So thinking of all the new worlds I have been introduced to whilst reviewing Big Finish releases, I have opened my eyes, my ears and my mind to these worlds and embraced them wholeheartedly – and the latest of these worlds is “The Omega Factor”.
I will admit, until Big Finish started advertising it, I had never heard of The Omega Factor, possibly because I was only seven years old when it was broadcast, never repeated, never released on VHS, then on DVD to little fanfare, so I came to it without any expectations at all, had no frame of relevance to the original series – I was ready to have my eyes opened by Big Finish once again.
The Original series starred the late James Hazeldine as Tom Crane and Louise Jameson as Dr Anne Reynolds, they worked for Department 7 and investigated paranormal occurrences. Tom Crane discovered throughout the series that he had psychic abilities.
The Big Finish box set picks up 36 years later, Department 7 is “under review” (read being shut down) as it is not productive. Dr Anne Reynolds finds herself and her life’s work being rendered redundant, and then she bumps in to Adam Dean and things get interesting. You see Adam is the son of Tom Crane and he has been reading his late fathers reports into the cases he and Anne were involved in in the 1970’s…
The Set is made up of four loosely linked stories:
From Beyond by Matt Fitton
This story sets the scene and the tone for the box set, one word “OMINOUS” – a real sense of dread and impending doom pervades the proceedings. Desperate to keep Department 7 going, Anne revisits an old investigation she has had on the back burner. Mary McConnell is trying to contact her brother Malcolm from beyond the grave through the medium of recordings and believes she has made a breakthrough. Adam’s emerging psychic powers reveal a long hidden tragedy and force Mary to confront her past. Really heavy stuff for a season opener. Both leads are not initially likeable, Anne is obtuse, Adam is argumentative but through the events that they experience together they form a bond. The subject matter is also harrowing and it takes the more worldly experienced Adam to notice what the academic Anne cannot see, or is too caught up in her research to want to see. Interesting, but very grim.
The Old Gods by Phil Mulryne
Following a lead from Tom Crane’s investigations leads Anne and Adam to a remote community ruled of by Edmund Fennick (Terry Molloy) that has been stripped of the trappings of the modern world. Adam poses as a sufferer of electrosensitivity and is admitted to the community to investigate further. This one is pure Amicus – remote community, cult trying to summon an ancient god, psychic powers – basically the horror kitchen sink. Terry Molloy is superb as Fennick, not evil, worse, a fanatic who truly believes his world view is the right view. Really exciting stuff, again doom laden in atmosphere, but a different less personal take on horror than the previous story.
Legion by Cavan Scott
I got the feeling from listening to this one that it was a sequel to a TV episode (I looked it up, it is) and features a catatonic lady called Morag in an institution, an exorcist called Wanda Maccrum. This is good, really really good, so good that I want to see the original episode it is based on. Morag has been catatonic for over 30 years, but she is becoming active, her mind is reaching out to Adam for help. This episode is worth the entry price alone it has it all, brilliantly acted, very visual, full of genuine danger for the characters, a winner.
The Hollow Earth by Ken Bentley
Investigating disappearances of homeless people at an Edinburgh church Anne and Adam along with the Vicar and church warden are trapped in the church as a portal into hell is opened. A suitably maudlin, but compelling episode to end the set, death, murder, sacrifice, faith, revenge and a big explosion . A really deep story and thematically very similar to the first, exploring the darker more base side of human nature, not for the faint-hearted or the easily disturbed…
So four doom laden tales; I felt that the characters didn’t experience the stories but suffered through them, boy do they go through the emotional wringer Louise Jameson and John Dorney don’t put a foot wrong – world weary, panic stricken, desperate, intelligent, compassionate and that is just Louise in her first scene – this really put the actors through their paces, the material demands nothing less than a real human performance and we get it in spades from all the actors. With material that could lend itself to scenery chewing it is played completely straight and is teated with the respect that it deserves making the drama real and believable.
If I had to criticise at all, maybe it is a little slow paced, especially the last episode, but maybe this slow ponderous pace is part of the atmosphere building…
So eyes open, ears open and mind open – and wallet open as well as the DVD has been added to my wish list on a well known site named after a South American river – a great first box set and hopefully many more to come I factor in a score of 9/10.
Saturday afternoons in the 1980’s, remember them? If it wasn’t World of Sport or Grandstand then it was Open University on BBC2 followed by a classic war film. The Cruel Sea seemed to be on almost every Saturday (on a related note, there was ONE weekend in 1984 when Operation Crossbow was on the BBC on a Friday and ITV on a Sunday. Definitely!). So World War two films were as much part of growing up for me as Doctor Who (we only had three channels…) and this months Short Trips release is a great homage to those films – especially the naval ones.
Read by Sophie Aldred this short trip is a rarity for the Seventh Doctor, it is a pure historical. The TARDIS materialises on board the Submarine HMS Thunder, it is on a rescue mission to save another allied sub, but is caught in a game of Cat and Mouse with a German U-Boat. The Doctor helps with the radar whilst Ace befriends some of the crew and volunteers for a rescue mission to collect survivors. Wow, another cracker from Big Finish, this, and massive kudos to writer Mark B. Oliver, director Lisa Bowerman, and Sophie Aldred for performing the play.
In my head I saw it as a grainy black and white Saturday afternoon film and was transported back to my teenage years watching The Cruel Sea with my Grandfather. This release gets it just right, small scale, not a wasted line, yet so much happens and you really do care for the characters, you see them through Ace’s eyes, and even though they are all performed by Sophie, she instills them with a sense of reality, camaraderie and honour which typifies our servicemen in World War 2. The end is shocking, but very very realistic – not all war stories have happy endings and even the shortest amount of time can see people forming bonds in adversity.
July has been a magnificent month for Big Finish and this release continues the level of excellence.
Overall, a dark portrayal of a dark time for the world but the light of bravery and defiance in the face of adversity is wonderful, another 10/10.