Thursday 31 December 2015

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.

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