Those of you who have not heard volume one may wish to catch up – its available to buy HERE and my review is HERE, because this is a continuing story a real season five and what self respecting fan of a genre series would come to it five episodes in??? Also there will be some mild spoilers in this review for those of you who have not caught up with part one.
So Cardiff has basically been invaded, already taken over by aliens led by Ro-Jedda (Rachel Atkins) who has become the City Mayor, tensions are running high in Cardiff, racial hate crimes are spiralling out of control and the whole city has an air of impending doom as if the end of days is only a few moments away the population are on edge, the aliens are among us and it is only going to get worse.
And then there is Torchwood, the new revamped Torchwood rebuilt by Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) and featuring new recruits Mr Colchester (Paul Clayton) and the alien Orr (Sam Beart) and ably assisted by Rhys Williams (Kai Owen), Sgt Andy Davidson (Tom Price) and the slimy and enigmatic Tyler Steele (Jonny Green)
But things are not quite right in Torchwood either, cracks are appearing and there is something just not quite right with Gwen Cooper. At a time that the team need to be more united than ever, at a time of impending crisis they seem to be falling apart.
Sounds grim? well it is, but in a good way if you know what I mean and the action really has stepped up a gear from the first box set, it seems more focussed, more character driven, more personal and more dangerous, this set comprises four stories:
5.5 Love Rat by Christopher Cooper
When Jack Harkness is killed by a frenzied man he picks up we know something is wrong.
When Jack Harkness tries to get intimate with everyone he meets this seems normal, but when Orr picks up all sorts of conflicting emotions from hime there is definitely something wrong..
What a very “Torchwood” story to open the set with, the sort of story that really wouldn’t have been out of place in the early part of Season One on TV involving a sentient alien STD trying to take over the world (the mind boggles) – What is amazing is that what could be played as a camp farce is played completely straight and that Torchwood are powerless to combat the threat on their own and have to go cap in hand to Ro-Jedda for a solution. The story weaves itself into and around the existing narrative of a city on the edge and plays on the desperation a disparate Torchwood beautifully – this new Cardiff is a world where Torchwood are not all powerful protectors…..
5.6 A Kill to a View by Mac Rogers
Bilis Manger (Murray Melvin) the creepy clock shop owner from Torchwood series One is back, this time as caretaker for the new apartment block that Mr Colchester and his husband Colin (Ramon Tikaram) have moved in to to keep Colin safe from racist attacks, a place of safety, a haven from the nightmare Cardiff has become. They couldn’t have picked a worse place, because Bilis has been nurturing the baser instincts of some of his tenants to become hunters and social climbers and the Colchester’s have the flat that Sandra (Diveen Henry) and Andrea (Ellie Haydon) are looking for and they intend to take it by force. A tense story reflecting the obsession we have of social climbing of being better than our neighbours, of having dinner parties where the participants are circling each other like sharks just waiting for the social faux-pas that will never be forgotten. This attitude is distilled into the psychotic Sandra & Andrea meaning Colin Colchester may never feel safe again.
Murray Melvin has not lost any of the oily obsequiousness that characterises him – he has a plan and he is using the resident to carry it out. A real classic of a story.
5.7 Zero Hour by Janine H Jones
There has been an exponential increase in couriers, they are all over the place in a way that they just weren’t a few years ago. One of these couriers is Hassan (Sacha Dhawan) a rather handsome young man who catches the eye of Tyler Steele. Hassan works for “Deliverables” an app based courier firm, delivers on the same route to the same places every single day sometimes more than once a day – Tyler finds this strange and contact Gwen Cooper and Torchwood to investigate and uncovers a monstrous conspiracy of virtual slave workers and the horror of the compulsory benefits package upgrade.
Torchwood is at its best when it takes the ordinary and makes it sinister and this is just what Janine H Jones does in this story – all those people, all those parcels all that repetitive movement all for a greater and far more sinister purpose than we could ever imagine.
5.8 The Empty Hand by Tim Foley
Sgt Andy Davidson is one of the good guys, the nice face of community policing, he would have been more at home as the village Bobby in the 1950’s than a city cop in the 21st century. So it is a massive shock when Andy wakes up in an interview room accused of shooting an innocent refugee in cold blood. And there is video footage to prove it. Thing is Andy really doesn’t remember doing it, and his left hand really hurts….
And just when Torchwood are trying to put a lid on this and investigate the video leaks it goes viral and there are protests on the streets. Andy is holed up in his home surrounded by press and protesters, but its ok because Rhys Williams is with him complete with crisps, dips and a six pack of beer, and Rhys also fancies sending out for a Chinese takeaway
Tom Price as Andy and Kai Owen as Rhys make a fantastic double act, bringing some much needed light relief to a very bleak, very believable story – it really is Rhys’ humanity that shines through, a no nonsense bloke who just knows his mate Andy is not capable of doing what he did. Until the takeaway arrives….
A grim ending to a grim set with the truth seemingly sacrificed on the alter of the greater good and a cliffhanger that made me go cold.
Vastly improved from volume one, Aliens Among US has found its feet, the new team are working well together and the individual stories let each character have their moment in the spotlight – the overarching story of the alien run Cardiff and the Gwen situation are also given time to develop at their own pace and don’t feel tacked on to the actual episodes of the story. And then there is THAT cliffhanger that ends the set leaving me chomping at the bit for Vol 3. A well deserved 9/10.
Well now, nobody did a base under siege story quite like they did in the Troughton era did they?
Oh yes, there were bases under siege before and there have been many a base under many a siege afterwards – but no era has been defined by one the of story than the era of Doctor number two, and this months Early Adventure takes the idea, runs with it and makes it work on an altogether grander scale than had ever been attempted in the 1960’s
Simon Guerrier (for he is the writer of the piece) has all the ingredients in place – firstly the Second Doctor, Polly, Ben & Jamie are all present and correct. Secondly he has the “base” which in this case is an asteroid which has been mined out. Thirdly you have a mining operation with a fanatical Project leader in Dr Richard Tipple (Alistair Petrie) and fourthly you have the threat. Heat in an oven on gas mark something or other for a some-such amount of time and stand back and watch (or listen) to the results….
People are vanishing in the mining project and the scale of the disappearances are being covered up by the authorities and when the Doctor and co arrive they are immediately suspected of being responsible for the disappearances, so far so Troughton but what really makes this different is the scale of the thing because the “base” in question is a gigantic asteroid the size of a small planet with a population that are housed inside whilst mining takes place, and though the cast of this play are relatively small you really feel as a listener that every person on the asteroid is in imminent danger of disappearing beneath the murky waters of the interior of the asteroid, because in the rising water is a presence – a presence that has foreseen a catastrophe created by the mining community and it will do anything it can to stop the future that looks almost certain.
In many ways this is a very traditional Troughton “Monster” story but it has so much depth (an that just isn’t the rising water either) because as with all the best stories there are shades of grey, there is right and wrong on both sides and both sides of the conflict can be said to be “monsters” in one way or another. Depending on your point of view. Traditionalist will love the fact that on the surface it seems to slavishly stick to a tried and tested formula and tread very little new ground whereas newer fans will like the moral dilemmas and the character development that we witness during the four episodes and the vagaries that the story offered regarding the future history of Ben, Polly and Jamie once they leave the Doctor – it seems that the future is very much up for grabs, and long term fans will enjoy the cheeky reference to Ben and Polly being chased by a Cyberman on a beach (is Radio Time Canon now?????)
A lovely story with something for everyone and not as traditional as it first may seem. 8/10.
Well, sometimes things just work. A load of disparate ideas and situations come together and a sort of alchemy takes place. The Behemoth is one of those rare things. It contains the following elements:
1 Bath in 1786
2 Old SIxie, Mrs Clarke and Flip
3 Two real historical characters Captain Van Der Meer and the mysterious “Lady Clara”
4 Society Balls and social injustice
5 a script that may or may not have been influenced by Del Boy Trotter….
AND it is utterly marvellous.
Oh, you want more? Ok then so Old Sixie (Colin Baker) Mrs Clarke (Miranda Raison) & Flip (Lisa Greenwood) are holidaying in 18th Century Bath, taking in the baths and the pump room and playing at being part of the polis society of the time.
When the Doctor rescues the dog of Mrs Middlemint (Georgina Moon) our TARDIS crew find themselves in the debt of her brother the renowned industrialist Sir Geoffrey Balsam (Glynn Sweet) and are the toast of society as they are invited to attend a gala ball in which the mysterious “Lady Clara” will make an appearance. And for the first episode this story is very much a society comedy of manners in the style of Jane Austen, but just when you think you have got the handle of what type of story it is Marc Platt pulls a stroke of genius and changes the tone of the story completely – as Old SIxie romances Mrs Middlemint, the veneer of Regency respectability is torn apart as Mrs Clarke befriends the Reverend Naylor (Wayne Forester) a committed abolitionist and opens all our eyes to the fact that the wealth of so called polite society is built on the back of the slave trade.
Never has a story gone from one extreme to the other but seemed so natural, because slavery seemed to be as natural part of high society as periwigs and society balls, and it is the casual acceptance by all but Captain Van Der Meer (Giles New) and the Reverend Naylor that is shocking to Flip and Mrs Clarke. The slaves are viewed as sub-human, as property to be bargained with, as nothing more than drones to keep the wheels of industry and commerce turning, and their nobility as personified by Mrs Middlemint’s slave girl Sarah (Diveen Henry) and her husband Gorembe (Ben Arogundade) is a privilege to hear.
The main cast are firing on all cylinders from Colin Baker taking a rare romantic interest to Miranda Raison as Mrs Clarke utterly outraged at the treatment of slaves, her speech regarding fighting fascism in all its forms is true punch the air stuff, and there is Lisa Greenwood as Flip who has her own sub-plot avoiding the amorous and unwanted attentions of upper class twit of the decade Titus Craven (Liam McKenna) – all parts played with utter conviction, an historical in the true sense of the word, our heroes are impotent observers in a past where injustices have and are happening.
Colin Baker has always been the star of Big Finish productions Doctor Who Main Range, and stories like this are proof positive that he deserves that position. A compelling drama from beginning to end and ever so slightly educational as well – I wonder if Del Boy Trotter looked up “Lady Clara” when he was writing his screenplay for Rodney’s community film? Probably not but that does not stop me from awarding a rip roaring 10/10 for a genuine classic story.
Comedy and tragedy are two sides of the same coin as The Seventh Doctor once said in The Happiness Patrol. And its true they are, no truer than this story because when the laughter stops the tragedy begins and we are taken back to Susan Foreman’s blackest day and to what just might be her Grandfathers blackest day.
Carole Ann Ford returns to narrate and to play the part of Susan in a story loaded with significance for the whole of her relationship with The Doctor, because in the Earth Susan lives in, where they have suffered two Dalek Invasions and are only just starting to build a working society and then the Time War intervenes. Not that it seems that the Time War is intervening but it is.
Susan Foreman, neither are the real names of the character we know but she has grown used to them and she is always on call when Earth authorities need a helping hand with a disaster or some alien tech. But lately Susan has been suffering from a sort of hay-fever feeling, a pressure that just wont go away and what with Dalek tech starting itself up for no good reason, asteroids on a collision course with the Earth and a plague of bio-mechanoid spiders she has a lot to cope with at the moment.
There is a lot of nostalgia in this story, Susan lives in a flat in the converted remains of Coal Hill School, in the courtyard there is a tree planted to commemorate Ian and Barbara and then there is an unexpected visit from her Grandfather, now in his Eighth incarnation and Susan’s world will never ever be the same again.
This is one of those stories that absolutely pulls the rug out from under you, it goes from hi-jinx with custard floods and hi-octane thrills with Spider cyborgs to a small scale conversation between a Time-Lord and his Granddaughter and a momentous decision to be made because this is the day that the Time War invades Susan’s life and the choices she makes on this day will shape not only hers but also The Doctor’s future direction.
It turns on a sixpence, and a great moment of stillness hits you and we are back at the end of The Dalek Invasion of Earth with over 50 years of hindsight, and the story told today is no less heartbreaking but is another paving stone on the road to Karn and everything burning in the aftermath.
Beautifully performed and written and directed with every ounce of emotion and sorrow wrenched from the source material this is a story of a right of passage and a choice and it is rather wonderful 10/10.
It is coming. Or it has already happened. Or it is happening now everywhere and every-when The Time War has haunted Doctor Who since it came back in 2005, and soon – very soon we get to experience it first hand with a new series of adventures starring Paul McGann as Doctor number Eight, but to whet our appetite there is this and the next Short Trips release, sort of Time War preludes or Time War cutaways, or even more so stark depictions of how the Time War has affected everyone The Doctor knows, has known and will know. And this particular cutaway features Nyssa of Traken.
Nyssa was always the most compassionate of the Doctor’s former companions and in this story she travels from world to world with her companion one “Doctor Foster” remaining steadfastly neutral in the horrors of the Time War, offering medical aid to those in need regardless of their allegiances. A very very Nyssa thing to do, until one day she lands on the planet very very close to Gallifrey, a fuel rich world which the Time-lords have tried to appropriate into their empire to which the indigenous population are very against, and then an atrocity perhaps perpetuated by a Time Lord takes place and suspicion falls on Nyssa and her companion. In times of war even the great and the good sometimes turn to the most abhorrent of methods in the pursuit of the mythical greater good….
Sarah Sutton draws the listener in to what is a very dialogue heavy piece – her voice aching with compassion for those innocents that the Time War has destroyed and only wanting to do the right thing in a universe where the ethics of right and wrong have become fluid at best. The role of the Doctor in the story is kept hidden from Nyssa but not from the listener, he is in fact hidden in very very plain sight – but it is the effect that the Time War has had on the once noble and non interventionist Time Lords that is explored here, and the extremes that they will go to to gain even the most minuscule of advantages. And in contrast we have Nyssa who is resolutely an humanitarian and The Doctor who’s resolve and determination to do the right thing are being sorely tested and we see the beginnings of a path that will lead to Karn and his resurrection as a Warrior.
A tense cutaway, a short prelude, an excerpt from a greater and much more calamitous happening but a window into the seed of good that still exists somewhere in all the tragedy. 8/10.
Big Finish, with these Bernice Summerfield releases you are spoiling us!
Well they are. Not one but two releases featuring the universes premier archaeologist and alcohol consumer within a month, I never get tired of listening to the adventures of Bernice Summerfield, and this release is a delight to listen to.
Completely different from the full cast audio drama set of Ms Summerfield’s latest adventures with Unbound Doctor David Warner, but set in the same “Unbound” universe this set of tales has Bernice having her own misadventures whilst The Doctor is off being President of the Universe and trying to work out a way of preventing its total collapse.
The stories told by Bernice herself Lisa Bowerman under duress, as Benny is in a spot of bother, she is up in court and to her neck in bother and to calibrate the jury she has to tell six stories, three true and three false, a rather clever framing device for six stories of bizarre happenings, archaeology, drinking, dating, invasions and a rather fetching blue-rinse hair do. Its that sort of set of stories.
In my experience there are two types of science fiction fans, those who take the Arthur C Clarke route and those (like me) who take the Douglas Adams route, and I think it is safe to say that the C Clarke faction will find this set not entirely to their taste, but the Adams crowd will lap it up because it is supremely silly and has a sense of scale and wonder on the one hand and a wonderful obsession with the mundanity of existence and the ordinariness and frustration of existence on the other none mores than the fifth story in the set Stockholm From Home in which Bernice finds herself trapped in an old peoples home, subjected to the indignity of having a hairdo having missed Bingo night, is constantly spam messaged by an alien from a dating app and has to contend with a rather sub parr invasion plan. You get the idea.
The stories are given life, shape and colour by Lisa Bowerman, no one else could be Bernice, she just inhabits the part her synchronicity with the character is such that you can just see Benny’s withering looks and raised eyebrows through her narration, the best companion that The Doctor ever had and we are so fortunate to have her continuing adventures.
A joy from beginning to end, a madcap mix of misadventure and mirth as Mr H.G Jago may say and a very true to form 9/10 from me.
Indulge me if you will, before I review this at times exhilarating at times downbeat, at times frustrating and at times utterly wonderful box set while I start with a musical interlude dedicated to the one and only, the greatest companion The Doctor has ever had, this song never fails to make me smile and raise a glass or three of Shiraz to Benny:
Good isn’t it? And so, now I have that out of my system on to the box set, and what a set – as I said it has it all, highs, lows, excitement, dullness (mid numbing dullness I will have you know – I mean you cant expect The Doctor NOT to be bored as ruler of the Universe can you?) Yes you read that right The Doctor is the ruler of the Universe, but its the wrong Doctor and the wrong Universe – this is the “Unbound” Doctor played with grumpy petulant disdain by David Warner and this Doctor doubts he is up to the job of saving the whole universe, but maybe he can create a safe zone to protect some of it, this is a Doctor crushed by the weight of his responsibility and bored with the inanity of politics, a Doctor who wishes he was somewhere ANYWHERE else, but doesn’t have the option to quit – and by his side is the wonderful effervescent, intelligent sarcastic expert drinker Bernice Summerfield (Lisa Bowerman) – an unstoppable force for doing the right thing with a wry smile, who is being brought down by this Doctor who isn’t really the Doctor doing something that the Doctor really shouldn’t do.
Sounds a grim really doesn’t it. And it is a bit grim really but you cant really have a situation where the Universe is contracting and the stars are going out without it being grim. We are not talking grim on a Scandi-Drama scale but this really is new territory for Bernice, she is usually so up, so wry, so downright sarcastic and drunk and witty and clever and here she just seems a bit, well, downtrodden – this new take on her personality is wonderfully played by Lisa Bowerman who just so IS Bernice, she has to be the hero while the Doctor is wallowing in the enormity of the task he has to undertake. And then of course there is Sam Kisgart (see what they did there) as The Master added to the mix, just what you need as the Universe ends. But the story begins with a clock, a special Clock called the Apocalypse Clock, a clock that may be able to avert the destruction of everything:
1) The City And The Clock by Guy Adams
Bernice is back to doing what she does best – a bit of archaeology to try and unearth the mythical Apocalypse Clock as the time the Universe she is in runs down. Its great to hear Bernice again, so enthusiastic about doing what she does well, and then her and her team run in to some rather nasty ghosts, and then there is the matter of keeping The Doctor and his publicity machine under control. This story really sets up the dynamic for the rest of the set – Bernice as the go getter and doer and The Doctor as a morose curmudgeon hating every second of his existence as President of the Universe, an existence where everything is controlled by soundbites and buzz words and the Doctor is in danger of forgetting what being the Doctor actually is….
2) Asking For A Friend by James Goss
There have beena few stories that are actually about what it is to be The Doctor and examine the person him (or her) self. We have had stories about the absence of the Doctor (Human Nature), stories about longing for The Doctor (Love and Monsters) and stories about breaking The Doctor (Heaven Sent) but not many about what makes them who they are. Then we have this. Its unlike any other Doctor Who story before and it is such a simple idea that I cannot believe its not been done before, this is the story where The Doctor goes into therapy and lays his soul bare to therapist Guilana (Annette Badland) – but The Doctor being the Doctor nothing is really as it seems, his fundamental lack of understanding of the situation that he is in sees tragic personal consequences. Beautifully written, sensitively performed – Badland and Warner both underplay perfectly and give the material the respect and gravity that it deserves. A classic.
3) Truant by Guy Adams
Bored of his time as President, working on equations to make the use of the Apocalypse Clock viable the Doctor takes off on an impromptu adventure to relieve the tedium leaving Bernice sent off after him to retrieve him like a naughty truant schoolboy – but The Doctor is trying to stop an invasion but it turns out he is several generations too late. A bit of a morality play mixed in with some Pythonesque absurdity (you will know it when you hear it, just listen out for the ward “Liberals”) – because when do invaders stop being invaders? should the grandchildren be made to pay for the warlike nature of their grandparents and what if the person entitled to rule does not want to rule? all these questions and many more will be addressed as will the question of what happens to the ruler of the Universe when he runs away from the responsibility of his job? that ones easy and is answered in the final part…..
4) The True Saviour Of The Universe by James Goss
When the Doctor gets deposed as ruler of the Universe, there is only one man who can take his place – The Master (Sam Kisgart), all smarm and sneer and as arch as they get, The Master will be the one to save the Universe, The Master will be the one to start the Apocalypse clock and the Master will be triumphant. Anyone see any flaws in that plan? A roller coaster of an ending where everyone seems to get what they deserve and a rather lovely coda leading on to hopefully more adventures for Mr Warner & Ms Bowerman.
Loved that – a different sort of story arc for Bernice and a long dark night of the soul for The Doctor – a real journey of discovery and character development with silliness and bleakness in almost equal measure, a downbeat Bernice a dour Doctor and a dangerous Master, a Universe in peril – what else could you want? 10/10.
This is a bit of an odd one, and do you know I really cannot decide if it is odd good or odd bad or just plain odd, its a puzzler.
First of all the tone – the Davison era wasnt really known for its comedic tone, but this is a very funny story, or to be more accurate set of stories, this actually feels like a mini series rather than a complete story all written by the same writer set in the same place and telling of a time in the Doctor’s life rather than an adventure in the Doctor’s life.
So Time in Office sees the Fifth Doctor the up the reigns of office and finally become Lord President of Gallifrey and it is a light hearted look at what those times were, almost being told by an unreliable narrator – because this set of tales does not paint the Time Lords in a very positive light, they are presented as a bunch of conniving incompetent power hungry xenophobic back stabbers who are slaves to pomp and tradition. A race of all powerful beings stagnant and insular – but to the mix Eddie Robson adds the Fifth Doctor at his most wry and Tegan Jovanka at her most acerbic, lights the blue touch-paper and retires.
Never was there a more unwilling President than The Doctor – and the feckless Fifth seems to view his appointment with wry amusement siding with student revolutionaries against the establishment, sulking when he has to go on diplomatic missions and generally shaking things up a bit in the dusty dry old corridors of the Panopticon. He of course isn’t alone, he is accompanied by Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding) who to avoid deportation as an undesirable alien is made Earth’s ambassador to Gallifrey – and boy does she enjoy it. Also making a welcome return is the wonderful Louise Jameson as Leela who we have not heard paired up with the Fifth Doctor before and it is a joy to hear.
When this release was announced I was expecting a tense political thriller, fort of The West Wing on Gallifrey, what we got is more Yes Minister with big collars and endless relics “of Rassilon” – sort of four stories about one story about a time when The Doctor was in charge but didn’t really enjoy it, where he had all of time and space at his command but the biggest enemy was inertia and protocol rather than Daleks and Cybermen.
A very different take on a Doctor Who story, an experiment that while not producing quite the results I was expecting I am glad the experiment was attempted if for nothing else for the fact that the “thimble of Rassilon” is now part of Who Lore and for that alone it deserves a 7/10.
Long time readers may remember that I lament the loss of the “pure historical” – and while I enjoy the pseudo historical and celebrity historical nothing really matches the drama of the pure historical from the first couple of Hartnell seasons. Even the sole Troughton entry into the historical sub-genre “The Highlanders” was more an amalgam of historical novels and folklore of the time rather than a true historical. This months release, the first in the fourth series of The Early Adventures redresses the balance somewhat and gives us a true Hartnell style “ordeal historical” and also educated me. so bring on “The Night Witches”….
Featuring the season four TARDIS team of The Second Doctor (voiced superbly by Frazer Hines), Jamie (Frazer Hines), Polly (Anneke Wills) and Ben (the late Michael Craze being replaced by Elliot Chapman) sees the TARDIS heading for The Winter Palace at St Petersburg. Well, they get the right country but unfortunately the right time, our heroes find themselves just north of Stalingrad in 1942, not a great place to be – World War 2 is in full swing and the Germans are advancing. Rescuing a young Russian pilot Lilya Grankin (Kristina Buikaite) when her plane crashes the team are taken to the base of the fabled Night Witches, a crack team of female pilots who carry out silent night raids on the german lines and are very soon taken as German spies by the leader of the Night Witches Nadia Vasney (Wanda Opalinska) – and to top this all off Polly gets the shock of her life when the best pilot in The Night Witches Tatania Kregki (Anjella Mackintosh) is her double – Tatania can even mimic Polly’s voice as before the war she worked on stage as a mimic.
So far all the ingredients are there for a classic historical – and unlike the more “larking about having fun” style stories that the Troughton era this goes back to the gritty ordeal style historical of the Hartnell era – the team are split up, forced to go through terrible experiences and are used as pawns in the war that the Night Witches are fighting against the Germans, in war even the good guys lose their morals in the pursuit of victory for a greater good.
The story plays out as you would expect and the fact that Polly has a double is used as a plot point that really reminded me of The Enemy of the World, but the fact that the double is Polly who is separated from The Doctor for the majority of the story leave Anneke Wills as the star of the show and allows her to give us much more of the Polly that remained hidden in the few TV episodes that survive – Polly is brave and resourceful and plucky and really does have grace under pressure and an instinct to survive and do the right thing.
I also need to mention the rest of the regulars who really do knock it out of the park and the production, though set in the vast snowy wastes of Russia does feel claustrophobic and somehow “studio bound” close your eyes and you can probably see the fake snow and painted backdrops and filmed inserts – it is that authentic.
A cracking start to a new series and a fab reboot of one of my favourite genres – a well deserved 9/10.
When we left Romana (Lalla Ward) last month she was abandoned on the surface of the planet Funderell, abandoned by her erstwhile classmate Sartia (Joannah Tinsey) and left to die. It was the shock at the end of a rather uneventful first part of a season finale, but enough of a shock to make me want to hear more and find out how Romana fared – being one of my favourite companions it was upsetting to see her haughty, confidence picked apart from the bottom up by Sartia, to see what we as viewers see as charming quirks seen as negative spoiled brat arrogance and superiority is quite jarring – and the relationship between Romana and Sartia really does remain the high point of the story, in fact the story depends on it.
As I said last month this feels very “Bidmead” – all high concept sci-fi of the sort that I find incredibly dull. Sorry, but I just do I am much more of a Graham Williams man. However there is a very interesting story in this denouement and Tom Baker plays against the tone of the story to supply most of the laughs as he investigates the great book of Funderell and its relationship to the time-lords and any strange artefacts that may have been left behind. And there is a very strong story here its just swamped by whole stodginess of the production, it just seems a bit too worthy and po faced.
However not wanting to end on a downer, because no one likes a party pooper and this IS a season finale after all and I really don’t like it when I don’t enjoy one of Big Finish’s releases what this story is is an excellent vehicle for Lalla Ward, she shines, she excels – hearing her self doubt and witnessing her brought low and to the point of despair is new territory for her, and in giving her her own arch enemy in Sartia then SURELY this can be seen as a back door pilot for a series of Romana in E-Space adventures? Because you really cant have enough of Romana the Second.
As a season finale the story comes together at the end with a satisfying pay off, there is even a very funny literary joke (you will groan) but overall the four parts seem a bit lacking focus and meandering 6/10.
If I were to say that Warriors of the Deep was not the most popular story in the world then there would not be too many of you who disagreed with me. So WHAT ON EARTH was the pitch meeting like when Matthew J Elliott (for he is the writer of this release) sat in with Mr Briggs et al and said “guys, I have a plan for a sequel to Warriors of the Deep. Not only that I may just have the very best title for a Doctor Who story EVER. AND it is going to be a bit of a classic”. Gauntlet well and truly thrown down. But it is and it has and it is in that order.
And that most fantastic title is “The Silurian Candidate” which says pretty much all you need to say about the tone of this episode, but for those of you who don’t get the reference it is a tense political thriller set in a futuristic Cold War setting where a third party is trying to provoke world war three for their own ends. Add to that The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) at his devious best, Ace (Sophie Aldred) being stroppy and Mel (Bonnie Langford) knocking every scene out of the park and becoming the companion she was never allowed to be on TV and you really do have a modern classic.
As a sequel to the much loathed Warriors of the Deep it made me want to dig out the old dust covered DVD and give it a rewatch, the writing of the Seventh Doctor is just perfect – he is in his dark brooding and manipulative phase here and McCoy seems to relish the material he has been given to work with, but this really is Bonnie Langford’s finest four episodes. Separated from The Doctor and Ace for the majority of the story we get to see the sort of woman she really is as she exhibits grace under pressure, plucky resourcefulness and a strong moral code that will not be corrupted.
So the story has a modern cold war, set in 2085 one year after the events of Warriors of the Deep the world is split in to two power blocs, one led by the boorish Australian Chairman Falco (Nicholas Asbury) and one by the cool and collected Director Shen (Mai Newberry). The world is on the brink of war and the leaders have a summit to plan peace treaty, however some of the original inhabitants of the earth have different ideas, they want their world back from the upstart apes who inhabit it and have a plan to bring about armageddon to achieve it. In to this world of paranoia comes the Doctor who has some unfinished business to attend to, and the humans may not like the solutions he has developed to the ongoing situation with the humans and SIlurians – this dark seventh Doctor always sees the bigger picture, always has a plan and always plays to win.
The “Silurians” are presented again not as monsters or aggressors but as people with different points of view to us, as a genuine race rather than a generic mono-culture and the politics of their ruling triad are fascinating to listen to.
Tense political thriller sums this story up, but does no justice to the layers of story telling, the character development and the scope and scale of its ambition. It has the best name for a Doctor Who story ever and is on course to end up top of the pile for this years main range releases. A classic that needs to be heard. 10/10.
If I were to pick two words to describe the Troughton era those words would be “charm” and “Whimsy” and this months Short Trips release “The British Invasion” has both charm and whimsy in abundance, its as if writer Ian Potter has distilled the essence of the era into one short story, which to a great degree he has. In fact for three quarters of the story this is nothing more than a charming interlude where The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe lark about at the science exhibition at the Festival of Britain. Sorry, I should have mentioned this story is set in post war London – a London recovering from the horrors of World War 2 and, as the Doctor puts it the country is channeling their energies into into looking outwards.
But in all this positivity and looking forward Jamie sees a sinister side, where the Doctor sees a pioneering spirit and a new scientific dawn Jamie sees nothing but propaganda wrapped in the Union Flag where the Highlanders and their clans are consigned to the dustbin of history. And herein lies the cleverness of the story and how it acts as a metaphor for the whole of the Troughton era, pull away the charm, the whimsy and the general larking about and the stories themselves were pretty dark with an edge to them sometimes softened by focussing on the camaraderie between the three leads, and this story does just that, there are just enough smoke and mirrors to make us take our eye off the ball and not notice the little clues that something altogether darker may be going on.
Wendy Padbury narrates the story and gives life to the regulars and the lady scientist they meet and try to help fix her radio transmitting device.
I do like a story that makes you think it is one type of story and ends up being a completely different take on a Who story when it ends, and the clever thing is you done even see it coming.
A very satisfying little story and on repeated listens a lot darker than its original whimsical approach, a little gem 9/10.
How to start? I was going to start with one of my semi regular musical interludes but that won’t work any more (thats not to say there WON’T be a musical interlude) But no, the song I had selected is totally inappropriate for the opening salvo of this second volume of reinterpretations of The Prisoner so I had to have a rethink and I will start by tipping my metaphorical hat and raising my real glass to Mr Nicholas Briggs – a true auteur, a visionary who has taken a much loved and much discussed enigma of a source and made it more compelling, more confusing, grander in scale, bigger in ambition whilst remaining utterly respectful to the 1967 original.
And this box set is just that and very very much more. Last year we had volume 1 (review HERE) which introduced us to the world of The Prisoner, let us know how the world of The Village works, added a few Briggsisms (for that is what they are) to make it new and fresh and different and darker and then Volume 2 is released and the rug is pulled completely out from under the listener’s feet as Mr Briggs attempts the seemingly impossible and adapts the episode “Many Happy Returns” to open the set. For those of you unfamiliar this episode sees Number 6 escaping from the Village and getting back to London but the first twenty five minutes or so have pretty much no dialogue at all.
Any how, I get ahead of myself – this is a very different beast to the first more “out there”, more Free For All than Arrival or in Twin Peaks talk more Season three than Season one and two. Nick Briggs is a man with a story to tell, a definite take on McGoohan’s masterpiece and he tells it over four linked stories:
2.1 I Met a Man Today (adapted from Many Happy Returns)
So as I said earlier Mr Briggs begins this set with an adaptation of Many Happy Returns. Beginning with Number Six (Mark Elstob) already having escaped from the Village and back in London hanging around outside his old flat he meets with its new owner Kate Butterworth (Lucy Briggs-Owen) and despite himself begins to trust her and tell her of his time in The Village. Kate is a beautiful character played to perfection by Lucy Briggs-Owen, she is just so real, so relatable, so believable and so genuinely a good person – but in the world of The Prisoner is everything as it seems? Six even visits his old colleagues and is subjected to an interrogation – has he defected? is he a plant? is is all going to end in tears? There is a feeling of fatalistic inevitability about this episode all the way to its utterly crushing last minute or so. Not an obvious choice to open a set but done so well and with so much passion that with hindsight I couldn’t wish for a better opener.
2.2 Project Six (adapted from A, B and C)
VERY loosely adapted from A, B and C. Six believes that he can no longer trust any food or water supplied by the Village and goes on a self enforced hunger strike viewed with glee by the new Number 2 Played by ***REMOVED FOR SPOILERS*** who takes a detached joy in witnessing Six drive himself insane through hunger. This episode is one of those very strange and nightmarish episodes that The Prisoner does very well, the listener really cannot tell what is real and what is an illusion as Six relives incidents that happened to him last series and is given a chance for a final escape from The Village….
If you enjoyed Fall Out from the original series then this will be right up your street – this is a surreal kaleidoscopic nightmare of an episode with a shock ending that I really did not anticipate. This is a brave bold and different take on a TV episode and is as much as anything a mission statement for Briggs take on The Prisoner.
2.3 Hammer into Anvil (adapted from the TV episode of the same title)
A slightly more traditional retelling of a TV episode where Number Six takes a dislike to a particularly nasty and vicious Number 2 (John Heffernan) and proceeds to dismantle him piece by piece. It follows the general plot of the TV episode but the emphasis are different – Six uses Number 26 (Helen Goldwyn) one of Number 2’s trusted aides against him, by making 2 think they are conspiring and that Six has been sent to the Village to assess 2.
A portrait in paranoia in which the world the inhabitants of the Village occupy are used against the Village chairperson. After the mind-bending events of Project Six here we see a strong confident Number 6 using the apparatus of his oppressors to destroy the system from within.
2.4 Living in Harmony (not adapted from the TV episode of the same title)
Difficult difficult episode to even discuss without ruing the myriad surprises, twists and indeed turns that Mr Briggs has written for us. Unfamiliar surroundings, an old friend, a daring plan and a choice pretty much sum it up but that is all you are getting from me. And then it ends, with a statement from Number 6 reaffirming his status as the outsider, the man with the secret never to be told who is learning very quickly how to beat the system from within – or is that just something those in charge want him to think?
There is just so much to praise about this set, the acting, the sound design, the writing, the direction all ooze class, care and attention to detail, the Village is safe in the hands of Big Finish and Nick Briggs and long may number Six remain there.
A definite contender for Big Finish release of the year and an unreserved 10/10.
I will start at the end and work backwards. Maybe. But just to begin by saying that these stories are VERY Pertwee – they drip nostalgia for about 1973 and could easily slot in to season ten just after Planet of the Daleks. Yes indeed dear readers this is just like a trip down memory lane to a long distant Saturday teatime with fish-fingers chips and beans for tea Doctor Who on the telly and the Generation game to follow – pure authenticity.
And talking of authenticity lets muse a bit on Tim Treloar as the Third Doctor. Not exactly an impersonation of Pertwee, not exactly a sound like but Treloar utterly captures the essence of who the Third Doctor was – the vocal inflections are completely authentic and his interaction with Katy Manning as Jo Grant is exactly as it should be and exactly as it was on the Television. Tim Treloar completely embodies the essence of Jon Pertwee and allows suspension of disbelief in the same way as Peter Purves does fro Hartnell and Frazer Hines does as Troughton.
But what of the stories? well therein lies the million dollar question and depends what a fan of the era that you are as the two stories are incredibly traditional adventure yarns and utterly authentic. If you were expecting a twenty first century take on the early 1970’s you have come to the wrong place, on the other hand if you are a fan of the Pertwee era then you will be overjoyed. Played out over four episodes each the two stories have a distinct ambiance of 1973 about them, one earthbound, one set on an alien planet so lets take a closer look:
The Conquest of Far, by Nicholas Briggs
Now of the great things that the Pertwee era did was to build a future history of the Earth Empire, Earth alliance interplanetary wars etc – it showed us humanity breaking out into the stars for better or for worse and showed us that greed and power survived alongside the all conquering spirit of humanity of pioneering of goodness and camaraderie and building a better future survive as well. Set on the Planet Far The Doctor wants to attend the opening of a hyper gateway – a stunning achievement of humanity that will drastically reduce the time taken to travel vast distances. Unfortunately he lands in the wrong time period, Far has been completely subjugated by The Daleks. What follows is a real rip roaring “boys own” adventure with captures, escapes, traitors, heroism, self sacrifice and an utterly bonkers plan by the Daleks to turn all of the Earth Alliance forces in to Robomen. The whole thing has a very 1930’s RKO feeling, very Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers old school sci-fi where the bad guys wear black hats. Almost. There is a particular character who does the wrong things for the right reasons and it is difficult not to appreciate the shades of grey that the character brings (no spoilers) to a very traditional story. Nick Briggs knows his Doctor Who and knows his Daleks and this story is a love letter to the era of Who he grew up watching.
Storm of the Horofax, by Andrew Smith
And this story brings us right back down to Earth, well almost, it actually begins on the sea but being a Who fan I am allowed a certain pedantry But we begin on a Royal Navy ship that has found a capsule, and in that capsule is Arianda (Robin Weaver) and alien historian studying the history of the earth who foretells of the coming of Jo Grant and that they will be great friends – she does not foresee the arrival of The Doctor and then her capsule begins leaking particles of time disruption and THEN things start to go very wrong as certain soldiers are taken out of time having never existed. Is Arianda as innocent as she makes out or does she have a plan? Well of course she is the villain of the pieces and what a deliciously subtle performance – Robin Weaver could quite easily have slipped into default arch camp panto villain but is a lot more subtle and her plan is an interesting one – she is the Provost of the Horofax – not a race but a collection of like minded joined together to forma an all conquering army, she is a time sensitive and forces a time when humanity will defeat the Horofax so has decided a pre-emptive genocidal first strike. Feeling partly like a cold war thriller and partly like a morality play Andrew Smith has captured the essence of the earthbound Pertwee era stories, even Captain Yates gets a namecheck. Massive plaudits to Katy Manning her performance as Jo, especially in this story is exceptional and her compassion is heartbreaking.
Two very traditional stories with just the slightest hint of modern sensibilities, but Third Doctor era to their foundations and I wouldn’t have it any other way. A season 10-tastic 8/10.