What a long six months since Series 11 and all the shenanigans (love that word) that the Master brought to the world of Jago & Litefoot. We were promised that things would never be the same again and unfortunately this was born out by the influence that The Master had in series 11. The following review contains major spoilers for series 11 so if you have not bought it and listened to it already you had better do that now by clicking here – and I will see you all in four hours or so….
All caught up? Marvellous – then I will continue.
Poor Ellie Higson (Lisa Bowerman) the chirpy cockney barmaid who (to quote Encore of the Scorchies “may not make the titles but is vital to the plot”) because in this series Ellie really is vital to the plot, in fact she is the “big bad” – because the Master has tampered with her DNA and reactivated the Vampire gene inside her and now she is on a rampage across Victorian London – CORKS!
After the grand epic of having the Master as the villain, this is a much more touching, human and emotional set, in fact listening to it from the beginning I really do believe that Jago (Christopher Benjamin) & Litefoot (Trevor Baxter) really do know in their heart of hearts that Ellie is the Vampire that they are looking for but they really don’t want to admit it to themselves. The threats are also more intimate and small scale (apart from the threatened Vampire revolution) in fact they are a lot more fairy tale like in their threat and a lot more disturbing and nightmarish – from the threat of being trapped in a painting forever to the distressing “Flickermen” who do and don’t exist in our world and make their victims the same and also the Vampires and their relentless hunting of the dissenting Vampire families who want to coexist peacefully with humans. But this set is really about Ellie and her relationship with Henry & George and ends not with the traditional cliffhanger to series 13, but a more contemplative scene about, well, I’ll let you hear for yourselves.
It doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs does it – and compared to some of the previous sets it isn’t – but there are some absolute classic J & L comedy moments especially in the third story where Jago ends up as a school caretaker. I kid you not. But this series really puts the Gothic into the Victoriana to use a musical comparison this is the one where it went “emo” (is that still a thing?)
This set also has a stellar supporting cast with Ronan Vibert as Mr Ravener, Ronald Pickup as The Old One and Forbes Masson as Kindred to name a few and they all rise to the challenge of the writing being just arch enough to add a level of unreality but not tipping it over into farce.
As is the tradition with Jago & Litefoot the set is split in to four stories:
12.1: Picture This by Justin Richards
A picture is stolen from the mysterious “Scarlet Gallery” and the curator is murdered by a Vampire. But why has this particular picture been stolen? what is the reason? and what is the secret of the gallery? This is a story (as is most of the box set) where the listener knows more than our heroes – the picture that was stolen is the picture that The Master instructed Ellie to steal and Ellie is the thief and the killer. Like all of the stories in this set the opener has an autumnal feeling, a sort of end of term melancholy. I can just imagine the faded glory of the late Victorian era permeating the colours of the gallery, the faded flaking canvasses that are left behind from the victims of the mysterious gallery and a feeling that the fate that befalls the victims is almost better than the world that they live in and the awful truths that our heroes will soon be confronted with…
12.2: The Flickermen by Paul Morris and Simon Barnard
Henry Gordon Jago is nothing if not a traditionalist and when his takings are down at the New Regency Theatre due to a new fangled contraption called the “cinema” he decides to take matters in to his own hands and confront the purveyor of the pernicious pass time (couldn’t resist the old alliteration there) but on visiting the fairground Jago & Litefoot get more than they bargained for – they encounter the terrifying Flickermen – but even worse than that they are captured on film looking like buffoons and are about to star in a film called “Two Frightened Gentlemen”.
There is a lot of humour in this story, but also a sense of regret and a lost childhood as Ellie recalls a tale of the Flickermen taking away a childhood friend of hers and another friend being blamed. Tonally very similar to the first story as this is also a story of loss and of a wasted life, but also of progress and the effect it has on Henry as he struggles to accept that the times they are a changing in the world of entertainment.
12.3: School of Blood by Paul Morris
Our heroes realise that Ellie is behaving rather oddly and think that they should keep an eye on her. They also get a tip off that the Vampire that they are looking for is hiding out at a local school for girls – Litefoot accidentally takes up the role of a science teacher at the school while Henry takes on the role of school caretaker & part time Hockey referee!
In many ways the most lighthearted episode with an horrific last minute or so that will make your blood run cold. This is a tale of a good Vampire hiding out and attempting to survive without taking a human life and of the Old One (Ronald Pickup) sending his faithful to wipe out the heathen who does not conform to the traditional vampire ways. Its a race against time which leads to a breathtaking finale.
12.4: Warm Blood by Justin Richards
With Ellie now under outright suspicion from Jago & Litefoot she leads them to a house which she claims is the hideout of the old one so that they can defeat him. Is Ellie playing a dangerous double game? Can she come back from the darkness? Our heroes are finally confronted with the painting stolen in episode one and have to confront their past deeds but do they have to pay the price for a crime committed out of kindness and a secret kept out of love and friendship? The chickens really come home to roost, the seeds planted way way back in season one episode one “The Bloodless Soldier” (Series 1 available here) now bear fruit and I really don’t think things can ever be the same again. Chirpy cockney Ellie Higson has embraced the darkness and the light is a long long way away….
Lisa Bowerman as Ellie is a star, this is her box set and her story and she owns it completely – the often comic relief character becomes a fully fledged tragic heroine and not an arch “i vill drink your blloooood” style Vampire a complete and believable decent into the maelstrom of evil for believable reasons (egged on by The Master’s manipulation) and what becomes clear through this set is how much love Jago, Litefoot and Quick have for her – they have confronted terrible evils through the last 12 series or so but never one so close to home and never one they have almost been wilfully blind to because of love and friendship. Will things ever be the same again. Only season 13 will tell.
Not a set for those new to the worlds of Jago & Litefoot but a fantastic rewarding set of stories for the long time listener. A downbeat series but a story that could only be told in this way – without a doubt 10/10.
We do like a good old anniversary us Who fans don’t we? And I think 10 years of Torchwood is a good a reason as any to celebrate and to release the obligatory anniversary story. Torchwood – back in the heady days of 2006 when Doctor Who dominated the TV schedules, where perennially popular character Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) got to lead his own team of alien fighting experts AND it was based in my home country of Wales – it put Cardiff on the map and has made said capital city of Wales the venue for many a mini break for my family with the obligatory picture taken each time at the “Torchwood Tower”. Torchwood didn’t exactly hit the ground running. I lie. It did, the first episode was superb and introduced us to Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) her fiancé Rhys Williams (Kai Owen) and the rest of the team Owen (Burn Gorman) Toshiko (Naoko Mori) Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd) and Suzie Costello (Indira Varma) – yes there were a few dodgy episodes in season 1 but with the likes of Countrycide & Random Shoes it was a winner. Season 2 built on the success with Season 3 “Children of Earth” being a week long TV event in 2009 that everyone seemed to be watching. Then the rather poor “Miracle Day” and Torchwood as a TV show was over.
And then in September 2015 Big Finish started to release a monthly range of stories. All character based with a major player in Torchwood taking the lead in each and the quality was spot on – with 12 stories released so far at least six are classics with the last release “Made You Look” being a strong contender for this reviewers Big Finish release of the year 2016. This two series of six stories each had a loose linking theme of a conspiracy involving a group of mysterious aliens known as “The Committee” or “The Committee of Erebus” and this brings me rather nicely back to the “Torchwood Archive” as this is very much about the Committee.
There is an asteroid in the middle of a war zone, it has a visitor – one Jeremiah Henderson (Richie Campbell) who has come to learn about Torchwood and its links to The Committee and the mysterious Object One.
Set far into the future – Torchwood is almost forgotten, or a proscribed organisation much like we think of the Knights Templar now, but the Archive contains its secrets and the secrets of those who worked for it. And it is very cleverly done. The interface of the archive is based on P.C Andy (Tom Price) and he answers Jeremiah’s questions and replays flashbacks from Torchwood’s past – all our old friends make appearances and contribute to the overall story of Torchwood & The Committee – we also meet some never seen before members of Torchwood like Alex Hopkins (Julian Lewis Jones) former leader of Torchwood Cardiff and the tale of his fatal meeting with a fortune teller and his tragic fate – all the plots intertwine backwards and forwards – from Queen Victoria (Rowena Cooper) to Yvonne Hartman (Tracy-Ann Oberman) to Jeremiah himself and how he gets involved in the plot and the shocking events that follow.
Anniversary stories can fall in to the trap of being a “gang show” all the principal character turn up, act their part, say catchphrases that they are know for and drink in the adulation. This does something a little bit different – it involves everyone that has been part of Torchwood over the last 10 years on TV & Audio – carries on an ongoing plot, pretty much wraps up that plot AND is a nail biting thriller that wrong foots the listener several times during the over two hour running time. It really is the story of Object One or The Bad Penny as Torchwood nickname it and how it has plagued Torchwood since its inception and the reason why it is so important, what it is and who The Committee actually are.
This story will reward the long term Torchwood fan, and by fan I don’t just mean those who have dipped in to the TV series – you really have to have followed the Big Finish series (and if you haven’t then WHY???) and is not for the casual listener. This story is a reward, a pay off to the fans – a superbly acted, plotted and directed gift that will stand up to a lot of repeated listening as there are a lot of hidden gems in there that may not get noticed on first listen (Big up the mention of Torchwood Wrexham again – yay North Wales) and really does leave the door open for a lot more adventures for team Cardiff because the 10th anniversary is the end of Torchwood chapter one and the beginning of whole new world (not the Aladdin one ) a celebratory 9/10.
All the ‘i’s” dotted and all the “t’s” crossed, do everything by the rules follow them blindly and to the letter. Rules are not there to be questioned or interpreted, they are there to be followed – this way we have order any other way leads to anarchy. Doctor Who has been many things over the years, and one of the things it has done very very well is satire, more often than not satirising bureaucracy and this months Short Trips release follows in the footsteps of The Sunmakers, The Deadly Assassin & Paradise Towers in being a satire on a rather silly unthinking form of bureaucracy and also reiterating the thought that if you can change only one mind you can change a society.
New writer Tony Jones paints a world of pen pushers and civil servants where the fact that the rulebook states that someone is legally dead means they are dead even if they are standing in front of you and arguing that they are not! And it is in to this world of red tape gone mad that the Fifth Doctor and Peri have fallen. After saving the Ellani people of planet Beadledom 3 from the invasion of the Valtor our heroes are keen to leave. Unfortunately the TARDIS has been requisitioned and placed in a museum because the Doctor & Peri are technically dead – the technicality being that they used a transmit which is only meant to be for freight goods, that their original bodies were disintegrated & what are now walking & talking are nothing but copies…..
Nicola Bryant does a fine job of narrating going from exasperation to disbelief at the insane world of rules and regulations that is being described, a world where a rescue mission of soldiers sent to combat the invasion of the Valtor (which has been defeated by The Doctor) is more concerned about who to invoice for their wasted journey than the fact that there had been an invasion & that it was beaten. This as I said earlier puts me very much in mind of the Robert Holmes style tirades against petty bureaucracy and also in real life a conversation my wife told me about just the other day when almost a whole meeting was taken up deciding what “up to five” actually meant…..
To a new Doctor Who writer there can be no greater accolade than to be compared to Robert Holmes, but this story really is a Holmesian pastiche with all the wry hallmarks of his frustration at the small minded ho have an over inflated sense of self importance. In accordance with rule 345/3 subsection a paragraph c I award this 8/10.
There you go, that was rather good wasn’t it? first single for Marillion with new singer Steve Hogarth after original singer Fish left the band and very very relevant to the review of this months Early Adventures release – “The Fifth Traveller”, because to quote Marillion it deals with a “banquo at the banquet & a cuckoo in the nest” this is the story of when The first Doctor, Ian, Barbara & Vicki traveled with Jospa (James Joyce) an orphan from the Earth’s future – the team encountered him when he picked The Doctor’s pocket and they took him away from the toxic slums into Time and Space. We all remember good old Jospa don’t we? how he and Vicki fought like brother and sister? How he had adventures in Rome & on Vortis? Surely we all remember Jospa because our heroes most definitely do……
Yes its one of THOSE stories, where the viewer immediately knows more than the characters, where the established order has been subverted and something is not quite right – those of you familiar with the Torchwood episode “Adam” or the Buffy episode “Superstar” will know what I mean – there is a character that the regulars treat like he has always been there but the audience is wrong footed by this change in dynamic and is constantly trying to figure it out.
The story plays out on the Jungle world of the Arunde, but is is really about Jospa and his place in the TARDIS team – James Joyce plays him perfectly as a bright, breezy and an innocent – a foil to Vicki almost the brother she never had and when on a trip to the planet Vavidic Joppa discovers an organic control device that will allow the Doctor to control the TARDIS and allow him to get Ian & Barbara home they could not be happier.
The Fifth Traveller is one of “those” sorts of stories – it is also a very very good Hartnell era story down to the incidental music, the way the characters talk to each, the setting and the world that writer Philip Lawrence has created. The world building is superb a whole culture of ape like Arunde who communicate through telepathy and almost have a hive mind – the listener knows the structure of their society, their place in the world created for this audio and how they perceive the wider universe outside their sphere of experience thinking that the TARDIS team are from “another jungle”.
The actors are on top form with William Russell doing double duty as both the First Doctor & Ian Chesterton, Maureen O’Brien being Vicki and narrating & Jemma Powell capturing the essence of the late and much missed Jacqueline Hill as Barbara.
Russell & Powell really do capture the joy of Ian & Barbara wanting to get home, & the possibility Jospa has given them of achieving this – Ian promises to take him to a football match and longs for a drink at the Cricketers Arms – its these little touches that really do make Ian & Barbara two of the most believable, likeable and well rounded characters in the shows history & Big Finish really have served them well with this script.
With jungle sets painted in shades of monochrome, period sound design & period style acting and lines and a believable recreation of the season 2 TARDIS teams motivations this really is an excellent release for pure nostalgia junkies – but it also has a beating heart of danger that is very very modern because to come back to Marillion there is a Banquo at the Banquet & a Cuckoo in the nest – and because this story really is about the Uninvited Guest and gets a very well deserved 9/10.
I may have regaled you with this tale of my youth in a previous review, but what the heck – I will tell it again. When I was about 10 years old they showed the “Late Night Horror Double Bill” on BBC2 – an old 1930’s/40’s or 50’s to begin with followed by a more modern 70’s offering – I was terrified to distraction by Theatre of Blood and still to this day cannot watch the film – I had to sleep with the light on and the door open for months. But as always I digress – the reason I refer back to my wasted youth is that I really used to enjoy the “Portmanteau” style films like Dr Terrors House of Horrors or From Beyond the Grave – a bit of a something for everyone mixed bag of short stories – and thats what we have in this months Main Range release from Big Finish – yes its one of the semi regular four short stories releases – this one called “The Memory Bank & Other Stories” four short stories thematically linked the theme being memory. But what is memory, is it reliable, can it be overwritten and are we made with certain “race memories” that shape us as people – all these questions are posed as The Fifth Doctor & Turlough attempt (unsuccessfully) to go on an art retreat……
The Memory Bank by Chris Chapman
The Doctor & Turlough arrive on a world where if you are forgotten than you cease to exist, where being remembered actually sustains the person that you are and as Turlough is given the job of being the archivist for the memory bank – the Doctor with his new friend (and barely remembered) Max (Suzann McLean) discover the horror of the situation, of what happens to people that are totally forgotten and the gap that they leave in the world. Short, snappy and to the point, this story sets the scene for the release it has intelligence, wit and warmth and a disturbing monster (who to be fair pronounces DOKK-TORRR fantastically)
The Last Fairy Tale by Paul Magrs
We all have childhood memories of Fairy Tales, wicked witches, evil dwarves, beautiful Princesses (you are probably all picturing your favourite Disney film right now) – but memories of Fairy Tales are part of what makes us and our culture, we are so used to the place that certain types of character has in a tale that we automatically think we know who is good and who is evil – but isn’t life more complex than that? The Doctor & Turlough arrive in the village of Vadhoc the denizens are expecting the appearance of the mythical “Storyteller” – surely it must be the Doctor? Surely we all know how these stories pan out? How wrong can we be? Because the tale about tho be told will change your perception forever. A great little tale that really does mess with the listener’s preconceptions and is laugh out loud funny in places with all the best lines given to the old wanderer Grayling Frimlish (Duncan Wisbey), but I must also praise Peter Davison & Mark Stricken for their comic timing – its funny, its intelligent & its challenging and may not end with a “Happily Ever After”
Repeat Offender by Eddie Robson
The shortest story on this release sees the Doctor & Turlough in Reykjavik in the future – overpopulated as refugees from warmer climates flee from global warming – the Doctor finds himself accused of a crime and the Police Officer that turns up Inspector Jill Sveinsbottir (Mandi Symonds) is not only arresting officer but also Judge and Jury (like an Icelandic Judge Dredd but slightly more reasonable). A mind bending time twisting tale involving edited memories and a brilliantly named villain the “Bratanian Shroud” this one will keep you on the edge of your seats.
The Becoming by Ian Potter
And so to the last tale, a tale of race memory, of evolution and of destiny. Reminiscent in many ways of the TV story Full Circle this concerns the various evolutionary states of a very alien species – the story has a dreamlike quality as the heroine named only “Waywalker” (Kae Alexander) tries to obtain a special fruit to take to a cave so that she can “become” her destiny. A very surreal story to end the set, quite unlike any of the other stories in tone and very experimental and brave – it may not be to everyones taste and does need repeat listening but its a little gem.
Four bite sized morsels of Who and a pick’n’mix of styles and tones – each has something to offer depending on the mood of the listener and I do like the “portmanteau” style of story telling – the arc may be a little obscure but it is there for those who want to find it – for others just sit back, relax and enjoy a memorable four stories 7/10.
There have been a few game changers in the history of Doctor Who, mostly to do with the Time Lords if I am honest – the first regeneration, the introduction of the Time Lords in The War Games, the insight into their society in The Deadly Assassin all changed the nature of the show – but the Time War trumped all that, a mythical war that was the backdrop for Doctor Who since 2005, and then another game changer – the introduction of a secret Doctor who fought in the war played by none other than John Hurt – YOWZERS.
I know that you are all more than familiar with this but I like to give context to my reviews and this being the third box set of adventures for the War Doctor tries to do something a little different from the first two – very “Boys Own” on one level with stories of treason, daring escapes, plucky resistance fighters and super weapons this is a lot more scaled down, a lot more personal. Its still epic and has a universal and trans temporal level of peril but at the heart of it is the sense of loss and devastation that a war can imprint on a person and what lengths those affected people will go to to try to put things right, or more accurately, what they see as right.
This set also addresses the throwaway line from “The Sontaran Stratagem” about the Sontarans not being allowed to join the Time War – because this set features everybody’d favourite comedy Sontaran actor Dan Starkey, playing someone Sontaran General Fesk who, to be fair, sounds just like Strax, but without the comedy!
From the streets of cold war Berlin to the battle fields of the planet Rovidia the War Doctor volume three takes us to places and situations not touched on in the Time War previously, and it all begins in Berlin…..
3.1 The Shadow Vortex by David Llewellyn
The new series of Doctor Who, especially the Moffat era has given us the concept of fixed points in time, and times where the future is in flux – one such flux point is the year 1961 on the planet earth. Earth is shielded from the Time War by a quantum shield, but this has been broken by Dalek agent Lara Zannis (Neve McIntosh) and the War Doctor is sent after her to retrieve the “Shadow Vortex” and preserve earth’s non intervention in the Time War – unfortunately both the War Doctor and Lara Zannis are captured by the East German secret Police and what follows is a sort of cold war espionage thriller as the Doctor and Stasi agent Kruger (Timothy Speyer) team up to prevent Zannis activating the Shadow Vortex and allowing the Daleks through the Quantum Shield. A fat paced beginning to the box set that deals with the themes of loss and the damage caused to once decent people by being involved in an horrific war, because like all the other stories in this set, behind the bravado, the thrills & the explosions are people who will never be the same due to their War experiences…..
3.2 The Eternity Cage by Andrew Smith
Cardinal Ollistra (Jacqueline Pearce) has been kidnapped by the Sontarans and is being held on the planet Rovidia – the price for her release is simple, the Sontarans want to form an alliance with the Time Lords and enter in to the Time War. Unfortunately they have also kidnapped the Dalek Time Strategist and have made the same offer to The Daleks.
And so we reach the explanation as to WHY the Sontarans were not allowed to join the Time War – its basically because they are not equipped for a war on a temporal front. However the Sontarans are not taking this as a reason and have their very own Time Weapons and this story tells the tale of how they acquired them and the terrible cost that using weapons that you should not have. John Hurt is incredible in this story, giving the Sontarans chance after chance to back down and back out of their position of wanting to join the war before doing what he has to do rather than what he wants to do. The Eternity Cage itself is an horrific device – it should preserve life but is being used to deal death. This story sees the introduction of Josh Bolt as Rovidian freedom fighter Kalan – a pseudo companion who names the Doctor “Grey-Beard”, he has instant chemistry with John Hurt and they are a delight to hear together, somewhat like the Fourth Doctor & Leela – Kalan is intelligent but not educated and his knowledge of Rovidia is invaluable. We also have Dan Starkey as General Fesk – all brimming with overconfidence, arrogance and swagger as he is in complete control of the situation, his plan has layers and is a trap for both Time Lords & Daleks. With crosses, double crosses, treason and tragedy this for me is the strongest episode in the set
3.3 Eye of Harmony by Ken Bentley
After the cliffhanger from the previous episode the traitors plan is put in to action – its a universe changing strategy for a very small personal reason and could change the nature of the Time Lords forever.
Hurt & Bolt are simply exceptional in this story, a true classic Doctor/Companion pairing and with the threat level ramped up to 11 anchor the story in believability and add an extra dimension and reality to the threat. Not a lot more I can say about this episode as there are too many spoilers – but the payoff is magnificent and really is quite moving and small scale, because wars, no matter how massive and epic they are really do have an affect on the participants, their loved ones and on innocent bystanders.
A very good box set with a slightly different emphasis that the previous two sets. John Hurt again shines, he effortlessly inhabits the universe weary battle scarred Doctor but Josh Bolt as Kalan for me is the star of the box set – a genuinely good person who’s world and life are ruined by the Time War, spouting more wisdom through his short experiences of life than any Time Lords possess. Universe and Time spanningly epic, but also very close to home and in the end about people and relationships – a very well deserved 8/10.