So you have done the world spanning invasion epic in UNIT – Extinction, introduced a new UNIT team to battle alongside Kate & Osgood in the guise of Sam Bishop ( Warren Brown) and Josh Carter (James Joyce), where do you go next? Do you make the stakes even higher or do you do something a little different? Wisely Big Finish have done both – but whereas events were very public in Extinction, in Shutdown we are presented with a much more covert set of stories – yes they are world spanning and the threat level is huge but this is a story kept to the shadows and away from the gazer of the public – it is a lot more “black ops” than the last set.
It begins with a pub quiz and ends with a hologram and in-between takes in Geneva, an epic battle at the Tower of London and a final confrontation in the Antarctic – its a heck of a journey and not everything is as it seems to begin with. Big Finish have come up with a fascinating new alien race – the Kamishi and their Ninja Assassin servants the Tengobushi. They are an alien race obviously based on Japanes culture and another ancient race who have been around from when the Universe was your, they have god-like powers and technology that is almost indistinguishable from magic – and its this technology that drives the story, you see a piece of this technology has fallen in to the hands of Felicity Lyme (Alice Krige) CEO of Lyme Industries and they are determined to exploit it for maximum profit – problem is The Kamishi are not keen on their tech being used and they want it back – and the whole world is about to get caught in the crossfire.
The box set is split into four episodes:
1 Power Cell by Matt Fitton
A thriller, thats what this one is, an old fashioned hardboiled thriller. For Doctor Who fans, think of the first few episodes of The Invasion and you wont be far off the mark. This has it all – mysterious disappearances, a huge multi national with an arrogant yet charming leader – Felicity Lyme (Alice Krige), alien ninja assassins and before I forget Kate, Osgood, Josh & Sam. This is a very personal story for Osgood, she meets up with an old University friend Jay (Asif Khan) who is given the option of joining the UNIT team – problem is everyone who knows anything at all about the alien artefact that Lyme Industries have procured is going missing, because the alien Kamishi REALLY want their property back. From a slow start, this really builds in to something rather special with twists and turns you really wont expect and a far more gritty tone than I was expecting.
2 Death in Geneva by Andrew Smith
With no-one in the Government she can trust, Kate goes to Geneva to enlist the aid of General Grant Avary (Harry Ditson) but the Tengobushi with their leader Dokan (Dan Li) are already there and they have their eyes on Osgood. We go from hard boiled thriller to Hollywood action movie with incredible set pieces that wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond film, lots of explosions, deaths and a conspiracy that goes deeper than we first expected, and an astounding cliffhanger
3 The Battle of the Tower by Andrew Smith
The stakes just get higher and higher – with the Kamishi & their Tengobushi foot soldiers gunning for Kate and co, Kate decides to put the Tower of London on lockdown – but the Kamishi are determined to get their property back even if it means a pitched battle in London – and that is exactly what they get, because this is not an enigmatic story title, it really does what it says on the tin and presents the Battle of the Tower of London. Its incredibly visual, the sound design and acting really do immerse you in the happenings, we are talking a Rourke’s Drift level of being outnumbered and outgunned by a hugely superior force, and UNIT as always rise to the occasion. Epic.
4 Ice Station Alpha by Matt Fitton
Rounding off the set is a jaunt to the Antarctic – Lyme Industries make their last stand against UNIT, and time is running out as the Kamishi mothership is on the way to destroy the earth. High stakes but low key, a covert invasion where who the “bad guys” are is a very very grey area. What really comes across in this episode is the commitment that the UNIT team have not only to each other but to the safety of the planet – with some willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect the population.
Akin to a James Bond film from the classic era, Shutdown is very much the “difficult second album” not as immediate or as epic as Extinction but a deeper more satisfying experience, a sort of Meat is Murder after The Smiths debut if you will. Kate & Osgood are already classic fan favourite characters & this set allows them to flex their character development muscles more than they ever could in a 45 minute TV episode, we even get to see what Osgood does when she isn’t doing “Sciency stuff”. With the awkward second album out of the way its full steam ahead to November and an appearance by, um, hold on I have forgotten (see what I did there) – however back Shutdown & I shut down this review by awarding 8/10.
The Second Doctor really wouldn’t have been the Second Doctor without his stalwart companion James Robert McCrimmon. Lets look at him – he was companion in every single Troughton story apart from The Power of the Daleks – so thats nearly three full seasons – but Jamie and the Doctor had a very special sort of bond, not brotherly, not father/son or teacher/pupil – a real and true respect for one another, and as much as Jamie learned from his travels with The Doctor, the Doctor learned about humanity from Jamie, because Jamie embodied all that was good and brave in human beings, even The Daleks recognised this. What the new series has in spades that the old series sometimes shied away from or overlooked was character progression. This box set from Big Finish even though it is billed as a Second Doctor Box Set is really a Jamie McCrimmon box set – it gives us four very Jamie-centric stories from different points in his travels with The Doctor, from the early days with Ben and Polly to almost the end sometime between The Space Pirates and the War Games and they chart Jamie’s progression from bright yet uneducated fish out of water to very much his own man using all the things he has experienced to save the day. The four stories really emphasise the difference between intelligence and learning and go on to prove that travel really does broaden the mind and expand your horizons.
The Set is split in to four stories:
1. The Mouthless Dead by John Pritchard
Its the early 1920’s and the TARDIS team of the Second Doctor (played magnificently by Frazer Hines, its uncanny) Jamie (again Frazer Hines) Polly (Anneke Wills) & Ben (Elliot Chapman) arrive at a deserted railway station in the dark and in the fog – but there are figures waiting in the darkness, figures of the dead, of memories of long past and recent wars and there is also a signalman manning his signal box, because very soon a very important train is going to pass through. This is a very frightening story, part Dickens’ The Signalman, part Sapphire and Steel and with just a hint of Silent Hill – its a lot more overt horror than the Troughton era ever was on TV, and is a very welcome addition to the canon for trying something a little different with the era. As this is at the very beginning of Jamie’s time on the TARDIS he is portrayed as ignorant. Seen through Ben & Polly’s eyes his lack of knowledge and incredulity at steam trains and a whole world at war are quite parochial, like he is a noble savage that needs to be educated. But Jamie is much much more than this. The story itself is incredibly atmospheric and an interesting take on the Troughton era.
2 The Story of Extinction by Ian Atkins
I do like a good framing device – and this story has an excellent one. I also like a story that isn’t really about what the story is about (if you know what I mean) So where this story is dressed up as a typical Season 5 “base under siege” story it is actually a story about Jamie, his bond with Victoria (Deborah Watling) and how she finally gets some closure in their friendship. So the framing device is rather lovely – Victoria, now older and living in contemporary Britain has a break in, all that is taken is a piece of very special paper, and the thief even leaves a box in return……
The piece of paper that is stolen is Victoria’s only memento from her time on the TARDIS, its the piece of paper on which she taught Jamie to read and write. This is a lovely story, genuinely moving and another building block in the story of Jamie McCrimmon.
3 The Integral by David Bartlett
Now travelling with Zoe (Wendy Padbury) Jamie is rather adamant that all alien races are evil and out to destroy them, whereas Zoe has a more modern progressive attitude. Jamie is drawing on his (mostly negative) experiences of alien races from his time with The Doctor whereas Zoe comes from a more progressive enlightened era. But can their visit to Aspen Base change Jamie’s mind? The base is indeed “under siege” from its own inhabitants – as Aspen base is a secure hospital for people who have had their minds warped by a computer game – the base is overseen by “The Integral” who have the power to pacify and change the mind. As Hartnell once said “as we learn about each other so we learn about ourselves” and this is exactly what this story is – a journey of discovery and of expanding boundaries for Jamie, and a chance for him to witness life from another perspective.
4 The Edge by Rob Nisbet
Or where Jamie emerges from his chrysalis and gets to be the hero. Because this is what happens. The box set has been a loose collection of stories each dealing with Jamie progressing, and here he puts everything he has learned not only in this set but in all his travels with The Doctor in to practice to foil the plans of a drug runner and rescue The Doctor & Zoe.
A fitting end to the box set and proof positive that you really do not need learning to have intelligence or be from an “enlightened” age to have the power of mind.
Can I just say that Frazer Hines is fantastic – he has completely captured the vocal style of Patrick Troughton, all the throat clearings, pauses and quick jabber that Troughton did so well, he is also effortless as Jamie giving him a dignity in defiance and a pure determination and loyalty. I was expecting a set of stories about the Second Doctor – what I got was a set of stories from the Second Doctor era but about his most faithful friend Jamie and a very fine set of stories they are too. So please indulge me whilst I cry “CRAEG AN TUIRE” and award this set 8/10.
Only in Doctor Who could a story like “Lost and Found” exist. To begin with it is utterly bonkers and completely off the wall, it is also a very sweet tale of a child searching for a lost toy Bear…
Narrated by Anneke Wills (Polly Wright) she tells the tale of when she Ben and the Second Doctor arrived in 1948 London, a post war wasteland trying to rebuild, buoyed by the British Spirit of Keep Calm & Carry On, Polly reminisces about the time her mother brought her on a day trip to Henrick’s department store and she lost her toy bear. The Doctor on the other hand has become rather obsessed with a tin of baked beans that he has found in the bomb site. In no other show could you have a race of sentient baked beans, no other show would be brave enough to try it, no other show would even consider it – but in the context of Lost and Found, and especially the Second Doctor, it works perfectly, because the Doctor believes in them, no season 17 style lampoon, no Moffat era post modernism, just a truth and realism to a bizarre situation.
In Henricks’ department store the two plot strands come together beautifully as The Doctor tries to aid the Baked Beans, Ben & Polly go looking for Polly’s long lost bear. Anneke Wills is truly heartbreaking as Polly – what could have become a story about the perils of crossing ones own time stream is told as a story about acceptance of loss and giving it context to a child -its sweet and it is rather beautiful.
Another great release in the Short Trips range and further proof that not all stories in the much lauded “infinitely variable format” have been told yet. Bear with me old beans while I give this 9/10.
Where do I start? Step One: Take a production featuring Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, John Leeson, Ray Brooks & John Challis
Step Two: set said production in the bonkers Season 17
Step Three: sit back, relax and enjoy one of the best Fourth Doctor stories that Big Finish have produced
I could finish my review here, but maybe that would short change the production just a little, so I will ramble on a while.
Remember the TV episode Time Heist? Well this story is almost completely unlike that one apart from the fact it contains a bank robbery, a robbery carried out by The Doctor under the supervision of his old friend (now in his third regeneration) Drax (Ray Brooks).
Long time fans will remember Drax from the TV story The Armageddon Factor – hardly the crowning glory of the Williams era, but Drax was a fab character, played on TV by the late Barry Jackson – a mock cockney small time crook, a renegade (with a distinctly small “r”) Time Lord who was a school contemporary of the Doctor. It turns out that Drax installed a recall device in the Doctor’s TARDIS at some point during that story, and now he is in a bit of trouble with villain (or legitimate businessman) Charles Kirkland (Hugh Fraser) and has recalled the Doctor, Romana & K9 to help him out.
Drax being a crook has come into the possession of a map that leads to the fabled city of Altrazar – a sort of temporal Atlantis, an oubliette in time where the rich and powerful hide away their secrets, he has also got himself involved with the previously mentioned Charles Kirkland and his servant Rosser (John Challis) and has been cajoled in to going to Altrazar to retrieve the secrets of Kirkland’s rival Grunthar (John Banks) and so with Romana under guard on Kirkland’s ship, Drax, Rosser & the Doctor head to Altrazar – and then things get very very complicated…..
This story is a riot, a romp, a hoot – brilliantly put together and very very funny (but not necessarily in that order) it has twists on twists and crosses on double crosses but unlike a lot of TV Who it makes perfect logical sense. Lets look at the cast – when you are cast in a season 17 story you don’t underplay and all the actors are relishing their roles, from the suave Kirkland, to the gruff Rosser, to the chirpy cockney charmer Drax to the dour Inspector Fleur McCormick (Miranda Raison) each have their entrances and exits, and each in their time play many parts (to misquote Shakespeare) – put it this way, what could be a dull “timey-wimey” story about a bank robbery becomes a thing of joy, beauty and fun due to the wonderful synchronicity of the cast, the writer and the director – everything just works and the final payoff will have you taking your virtual hats off tho not only the writer but the ingenuity of the characters. And thats your lot, any more would be far too spoilery.
There are some actors that just gel together – Tom, John Challis and Ray Brooks are a fab triple act and I genuinely hope that The Doctor & Romana cross paths with Drax and co again very soon, because you can never have too many apparently inept time lord renegades (small “r”) in a season 17 pastiche. A classic. 10/10.
An idea so simple, I cannot believe it hasn’t been done before. The Doctor can meet his other selves so why not The Master? And this meeting of The Master (Geoffrey Beevers) and The Master (Alex Macqueen) is what this story is all about. Its also incredibly complicated – the sort of complicated that makes Moffat’s “timey-wimey” nonsense seem trivial by comparison, to quote Blackadder “it twists and turns like a twisty turny thing” and to misquote Eric Morecambe, this is a story with all the right words, but not necessarily in the right order. Ok, lets start at the beginning.
The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) is lured to the ship of the Rocket Men (remember them, slightly rubbish Space Pirates now even more down at heel and a bit of an intergalactic joke) by the Old Master (Geoffrey Beevers) . The Master then goes on to slaughter the whole crew apart from Jemima (Lauren Crace) who becomes the surrogate companion for this story and forces the Doctor to take him aboard the TARDIS – because the Master’s TARDIS has become inoperable due to travelling through an area of Space/Time that just doesn’t exist any more – in fact these null spaces are appearing all over the universe and are getting worse, they are even affecting the Doctor’s memories as he has no recall of the previous two stories in the trilogy (And You Will Obey Me & Vampire of the Mind) – the Master also informs the Doctor that he is locked in battle with an enemy worthy of his attention – a future version of himself, his enemy is none other than The Master (Alex Macqueen) . And this is where it starts to get REALLY complicated.
This is a story that really demands your attention, it needs to be listened to and digested and mulled over. It is also told out of sequence – after the events of the first two episodes, we segue back to the beginning of the rivalry between Master Beevers & Master Macqueen which is in fact a very clever bit of continuity – long time Whovians will immediately get the reference to the Old Master going to Terserus and being recovered by a certain Time Lord Chancellor….
While both incarnations of the Master and their machinations take centre stage, The Doctor is somewhat sidelined by proceedings which is a shame, as the underlying plot of a renegade Time Lord known as “The Heretic” and the cult following his teachings is a very McCoyesque story right in the “evil since the dawn of time” mould and maybe if this were a stand alone release rather than a culmination of a trilogy with only one Master & Doctor number 7 I would feel more invested in the story rather than having to re-listen to several sections to confirm what I had just heard.
So dense, complex and really quite confusing. After a stellar opening story in “And You Will Obey Me”, a second part, “Vampire of the Mind” that ticks all the right boxes to get you interested “The Two Masters” seemed to miss a few beats – it tries to do a lot, to tie up the threads from the previous stories whilst being a compelling story in its own right, and it is, it really is in parts. Macqueen & Beevers are both stellar as The Master and I was genuinely intrigued by the Terserus scenes and how they would pan out – but ultimately this feels like one enormous set up that doesn’t quite deliver on its promise. Sorry if I appear like a Heretic, but I award this 6/10.
Just when you think a series cannot get any bleaker, darker or nasty, something like this comes along. Yes dear readers we are back in the post apocalyptic world of Survivors for a fourth series – and what a series this is – from the beginnings of the Outbreak and the attempts to form a provisional Government to the “Belief Foundation” and its charismatic leader/Guru Theo (Ramon Tikaram) this really does go to some incredibly dark places and asks fundamental questions of right and wrong, justice and the rule of law and the nature of how society will function when the old ways have crumbled to dust – can the old rules of Law & Order, Democracy & Freedom still function or does there need to be a fundamental rethink of how society functions?
This is a very deep box set and very heavy going – but it needs to be, it needs to be brave and brutal and heartbreaking in order to tell the stories that it needs to tell and tell them it does in an uncompromising way – this is a box set that will haunt you long after the final credits have rolled.
The set is broken down into four interconnected stories:
4.1 The Old Ways by Ken Bentley
With the first story we go back to the beginning of the outbreak and experience it through the eyes of Evelyn Piper (Zoe Tapper) a low ranking civil servant and aide to Lewis Bartholomew MP (Jonathan Oliver). Chaos has broken out, the population are ill and dying, the Prime Minister is dead – Bartholomew takes the opportunity to evacuate essential government personnel including the late Prime Minister’s wife Mildred Sanderson (Jane Maud) to a secure bunker called Tartarus where he hopes to set up a regional provisional Government until the plague crisis is over. A great plan. On paper. Sit in a bunker, wait for it all to blow over and then emerge to reassert law and order. It was never going to happen was it? A pressure cooker environment with a scarcity of food, paranoia about the plague was never going to end well. This story serves as an introduction to the character of Evelyn and we get to know the sort of person she is through the episode, her friendship with Mildred, her revulsion at the extremes of paranoia that Bartholomew reaches and her spirit of survival – because the bunker is just the first step in her journey.
4.2 For the Good of the Cause by Louise Jameson
Nothing gives me more pleasure than the words “by Louise Jameson” there is nothing she cannot excel at – magnificent actor and director and a writer who has a depth of character and feeling for the people she writes about, their hopes and their fears. Louise as well as writing this episode plays Jackie, and Jackie is the hook for getting us to the main body of the story, that of Theo and the Belief Foundation. Jackie has tracked down her friend Molly (Fiona Sheehan) to the Foundation. But what is this belief foundation? On the surface a model society, guided by Theo, he and his followers are trying to remake society in their image, tearing down the old to make way for the old – destroying what was wrong with the old but learning no lessons from the good. Louise teases out doubt after doubt about the true nature of the Foundation, notes passed to Molly warning her, the almost godlike cult of personality around Theo, the fanaticism of his followers. This is also a story about the relationship between Jackie & Molly. Jackie has maternal feelings towards Molly, maybe out of love, maybe out of guilt but Molly wants to be her own person and not be stifled – Louise as Jackie and as writer perfectly captures the despair & the rejection that unconditional love can sometimes come from a one sided relationship. This is a very personal episode in the Jackie/Molly arc that has been simmering since series two and it needed the skill of a writer and actress of Louise’ calibre to make it work and make it work so well.
4.3 Collision by Christopher Hatherall
Fantasy writing is always at its best for me when it has something to say and I read this episode as an allegory for the refugee crisis that has been happening over the last year or so. There is nothing so contradictory as Human Nature. At best we are inclusive, outward looking, progressive, welcoming and willing to embrace differences as an opportunity to share and enrich each other. There has been a worrying shift of opinion lately to that of isolationism, dislike of the unlike, mean spiritedness and downright xenophobia all carefully stage managed by those with a vested interest in these views being held. In Collision the survivors of the Tartarus bunker (or those who would leave) are brought to the foundation and are viewed as outsiders, viewed as valueless interlopers, freeloaders with nothing to contribute in a situation that has been perfectly stage managed. This episode also gives Jenny (Lucy Fleming) centre stage as she goes back to Tartarus to persuade the remaining residents to leave – she is accompanied by Foundation hard man Stan (Enzo Squillino Jnr) and newcomer Michael (Laurence Dobiesz) and what Jenny witnesses at Tartarus is an atrocity born of xenophobia. A cautionary tale told in a fantasy setting but a tale that is being told in the world around us.
4.4 Forgive and Forget by Matt Fitton
And so we come to the end. Long buried ghosts from the past are brought to the surface. As Greg (Ian McCulloch) and Theo leave the Foundation to try to salvage something from Tartarus, Jenny is left in charge and she has a terrible decision to make. But is it her decision? is it the communities decision? is it anyones decision?
This episode examines the consequences of living in a world where suddenly the old ways do not apply – things that were done in the early days of the plague finally have retribution. Can I please pause for a moment as I do not want to give any spoilers, as this is all I will say about the actual episode – however I would like to praise two incredible actors – Louise Jameson & Fiona Sheehan, they absolutely own this episode. Louise gives a “pin drop/hairs on arms stand on end” performance as Jackie as she admits her darkest secret to the community and Fiona Sheehan finally becoming who she needs to be and exercising her right over her past tormentor as a heart in mouth moment, I really did not know what she was going to do and because these four episodes make you doubt your own moral compass I don’t know how I feel about what she did do. It will make sense when you hear it.
A dark and unforgiving run of episodes that gives some sort of closure to some of the characters. Greg’s plan for a united federation of communities is given a boost with the addition of the character of Evelyn and her organisational skills so no matter how bleak things have been maybe there is a glimmer of light at the end of a very very long nighttime for the spirit of humanity.
Tightly written with immersive sound design and top notch acting this is one to appreciate rather than enjoy – its just too grim to be called enjoyable in the conventional sense but through the characters and the situations they find themselves in we can see a version of ourselves and the people we may have the potential to become, from noble to ignoble, from progressive to isolationist, from pioneer to follower all human life and all possibilities are here. A harrowing and difficult 10/10.
Remember the 1980’s? And in this context I don’t just mean the decade I mean the LOOONG 1980’s that lasted until 1997. I would be fooling no-one if I said that Doctor Who was the most popular programme on TV during this era, so I wont even try. By far THE most popular show on TV for nigh on 15 years was Only Fools and Horses. Ok, he has finally lost the plot you may be thinking, this is meant to be a Torchwood review and here he is banging on about Only Fools and Horses – well, yes and it really is relevant so please bear with me. The reason that the antics of Del Boy, Rodney, Grandad (and latterly Uncle Albert) have transcended the mere title of “Sitcom” is that it could wrong foot you – it made you laugh out loud one minute and then you were crying along with the characters, if you have not seen the episode “The Russians are Coming” where Del, Rodney & Grandad build a fallout Shelter then check it out for Grandad’s soliloquy about the futility of war – comedy and drama hand in hand, two sides, one coin.
Which brings me to this months Torchwood release, and its an interesting one because this months lead character is Suzie Costello (Indira Varma) the original rogue element in the TV series whose demise makes way for Gwen Cooper. Obviously this is set before the events of the TV series and sees Suzie isolated and almost alone – almost the last woman left on Earth, because in this story Suzie Costello has to reluctantly become the hero. You know sometimes you have one of “those” days – well Suzie is having THE worst day, time has been stopped – literally. All life on Earth has been frozen, the rain frozen in its downpour and Suzie is almost the last woman left on Earth who is currently sentient. I say almost as Suzie soon teams up with Alex (Naomi McDonald) – and this story really is all about Alex. She is an ordinary girl who has been selected by an intergalactic corporate hunting cartel as a target – she is the proverbial lamb to the slaughter a hand picked victim. Alex and Suzie have other ideas and they continue to survive and fight back against the hunters this only raises Alex’s desirability as a target and sends more and more hunters to gain the kudos of the kill. This is no free for all though there is a robotic referee (Nicholas Burns) and there are rules to the hunt, Remember that, there are RULES.
What we have this month is another in a series of “Cardiff Buddy Movies” where a member of Torchwood is teamed up with a member of the public. Readers may remember that last month I got a little moany about the format, but this month it couldn’t be done any other way – Suzie is a reluctant hero at best, Alex is not a fighter but as they slaughter the hunters together they get to know each other and grow in to the people they need to be to survive. But how long can they survive? As Alex cache as a target improves with every hunter she sees off more and more queue up to try to get the kill. Remember the rules? There are always the rules.
Now then, I started off this review talking about Only Fools and Horses and how something goes from good to great by turning on a sixpence – and Moving target does just this. for 55 minutes we follow the adventures of Cardiff’s answer to Thelma & Louise done by Quentin Tarantino, we also spend 55 minutes forgetting what we know about Suzie Costello from the TV show. The final two minutes are simply astonishing and made me listen to the whole thing again and listen with new ears and with a full knowledge as to who was the main character in this story – because ultimately Suzie Costello really does play by the rules of the game.
A stunning release just stunning, an exceptional piece of writing, acting and character development and a glimpse into the mind of the most enigmatic member of the Torchwood Team. I urge you to hunt down a copy of this release listen to and listen well because Suzie Costello is back and she is ready. 10/10