Its been a bit of a long old wait between Series One and Series Two and getting a resolution to the cliffhanger. And we do and if you were expecting a few more “jolly hockey sticks” middle class adventures then I am sorry but you will be sorely disappointed as series two (for the most part) is a very un-Charlotte Pollard-esque experience, completely nothing at all like I was expecting. Series two is for want of a better description a contemporary urban thriller (for the most part) feeling more like a UNIT story and unlike the first Charlotte Pollard series this is one big story.
For the uninitiated Charlotte (or Charley) Pollard (played by TV’s voce of Master Chef India Fisher) is a self styled Edwardian Adventuress, she was rescued from the airship the R101 by the 8th Doctor and travelled with him on many of his greatest adventures before finally leaving him and being rescued by the 6th Doctor before resolving the paradox and going on to work for the Viyrans – an alien race dedicated to wiping out all disease. Charley is now accompanied by her companion Robert Buchan (James Joyce) who she may or may not be having a relationship with (its complicated, it was near death) and now they are trapped on contemporary Earth and things are not going well. Not well at all. We are talking Russel T Davies series finale level of threat and that is only the first episode.
Its as urban and as contemporary as it gets, and is very unnerving due to the familiarity for us if not for Charley & Robert, they are completely out of their time and out of their depth, and it all begins on Embankment Station….
Part 1: Embankment Station
So you are crashing, you are about to die and suddenly you appear in Embankment Station not knowing where or when you are, your arrival is noticed by a hacker called Rab (Ashely Kumar) and the strange non-explosion is investigated by TV journalist Naomi Davies (Deirdre Mullins) – can the day get any stranger? For Charley & Robert the answer is yes and this is only the beginning of the conspiracy….
Part 2: Ruffling
So if part one wasnt strange enough throw in a rogue Viyran whom Charley names Bertram (Dan Starkey of “hello Girl” fame) two identical assassins who’s touch is lethal and a spate of seemingly random deaths - there is something happening, the Government don’t know what it is , but it has to do with Embankment Station….
Part 3: Seed of Chaos
The situation deteriorates, the chaos seeded at Embankment station leads to a major state of emergency as a series of seemingly unconnected events leads to the breakdown of social order.
Part 4: The Destructive Quality of Life
An odd departure, a series of events and a lifetime of captivity, and a dawning realisation that everything may just be futile. That is all. It ends here.
Three episodes of dark, depressing political conspiracy thriller and then a final left-field off the wall free for all – Nick Briggs knows how to keep his audience waiting and wanting more and this box set most certainly does that, the ending is for want of a better word ambiguous and the fate of several of the major players is left unresolved – it is a brave move and a brave change of emphasis and pace in the final episode, I really could not fathom where the story was going thinking I had got a handle on proceedings in the first three instalments, it went from Torchwood to David Cronenberg in a heartbeat – the joins are obvious, but the intrigue so piques the curiosity that the listener is compelled to go along with this new style that Mr Briggs has freewheeled our way. And it works, it hangs together with no small thanks to the Briggsmeister himself directing and the exemplary performances of the whole cast. Charlotte Pollard has come a long way from the R101, and I think that she has a long way to go yet – an intriguing and disturbing 8/10.
As the old saying goes “you can never have too much of a good thing” and Big Finish seem to understand that because when the “good thing” in question are the adventures of Mr Henry Gordon Jago & Professor George Litefoot you can never ever have enough and this very special release in this new format for J & L is every bit as marvellous as I expected it to be.
Having starred in a Companion Chronicle, guest starred with the Fourth Doctor and headlined 12 (soon to be 13) series of their own this is the first time they have appeared in a Short Trips – and its a first for the format, two leads narrating a story and told in two parts with a cliffhanger in the middle. Trevor Baxter as Litefoot & Christopher Benjamin as Jago are immediately engaging as they indulge in a bit of banter about what the story should be called. Ah the story – told as a lecture to the Club for Curious Scientific Men originally to be delivered by Professor Litefoot, the proceedings are soon gatecrashed by the verbidextrous vaudevillian volte-force Mr Henry Gordon Jago who decides to inject some colour to the proceedings as they tell a tale of how, in a bit of a slump and in need of reinvigoration Litefoot takes up an offer to go to the Greek Island of Minos where he finds a very strange harmonica and meets up with a tall young man with a cultured cockney accent and a long brown coat (guess WHO) whilst Jago left alone in London has problems of his own – his theatre is infested by spiders and constantly draped with cobwebs, so whilst auditioning new acts he engages a strange new pest exterminator on the scene known only as “Exterminating Johnny”…….
This is only part one of the story and there is much set up that will be resolved in next months release, but there is so much to love about part one – the banter and camaraderie between Jago & Litefoot is the stuff of legend and with them being the only speaking parts they are given free reign to shine, in particular Professor Litefoot giving a speech when the penny drops as to who the tall brown coated man is really is a thing of beauty, one of those moments that make you go cold. Thats not to say Jago is overshadowed, how could he be, he is as verbose, pompous and buffoonish as he ever was and a joy to listen to.
The lecture ends on a cliffhanger and in true sophisticated style Professor Litefoot calls for an interval where fruit cake and port are served as we eagerly await the daring denouement of hellenic happenings & arachnid aversion. A joy from beginning to end imbued with a warmth and a depth of character, wonderfully performed with exceptional sound design. A triumphant new addition to the Short Trips range, April cannot come quickly enough. 10/10.
Weren’t the junkings of the season 19 stories an act of cultural vandalism, yes we still have Kinda & Earthshock but we also have Time Flight whilst classics like Zaltys remain only in audio form. Whats he on about? you may be (quite rightly) thinking – but Zaltys feels like a lost story from 1981, the structure, the friction between team TARDIS, the guest cast (more on them later) everything screams 1981. Very loudly.
Because Zaltys is a classic, its one of the best season 19 stories we will never see but can be glad it exists – but who or what is Zaltys? Well Zaltys is a planet where the bulk of the story takes place, a xenophobic planet where the majority of the population have gone into hibernation because of an impending extinction level event leaving only the narrow minded Talia (Carol Sloman), the progressive Perrault (Sean Barnett) and the Vulpine alien Gevaudan (Philip Franks) to keep watch over the population. And in to this situation blunders the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison in full “breathless enthusiasm” mode) and Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) who are looking for their lost companions Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) & Tegan (Janet Fielding) who have been teleported from the TARDIS to who knows where. Adric seems to be somewhere on Zaltys but Tegan is in an altogether darker and more dangerous place, she finds herself in the dark (literally) and being taunted by the deliciously arch Clarimonde (Niamh Cusack) and this is the interesting thing – Clarimonde seems to think that Tegan is Jo Grant and has encountered the Doctor in his third incarnation over 700 years ago….
And then if you think Tegan is in dire danger The Doctor and Nyssa encounter the mean, gun-toting and downright nasty scavenger Sable (Rebecca Root) on Zaltys who has come to the planet to recover the fabled “lost treasures”. And she is fabulous, completely amoral, selfish, greedy and slowly losing the plot as she finds herself in way over her head. But what a character and Rebecca Root walks a fine line between realism and scenery chewing, because it would be so easy to go the complete ‘Soldeed” with the character but Rebecca Root instills her with a grounded reality and depth – I think that behind Sable’s bluster, bravado and cruelty is a very frightened woman raging against a situation she is not prepared for.
The story evolves over the four episodes, what started out as a rescue turns into a very clever invasion story and harks back to the oldest and most deadly opponents of the Time Lords and a previous adventure of the Doctor which we have not heard yet – I hope Big Finish tell us the tale of Clarimonde & the Third Doctor in a forthcoming box set.
As I said at the beginning of this review, its a classic and it really is, from the TARDIS scenes at the beginning with Tegan wanting to get home to the foreshadowing of Clarimond through the book Adric is reading, to the performances from all the guest cast the production oozes class right the way to the melancholy final few words by Adric – I cannot recommend this release highly enough, best main range release this year so far and an essential purchase for anyone who is a fan of Season 19. 10/10.
Don’t be fooled by the morose face Tom has on the cover or the Season 18 theme music. Yes this may be dressed up as a season 18 story, but apart from the window dressing this is a pure season 17 romp of a story. No impending doom, no entropy, no 1980′s style incidental music – just a sense of joy and a lightweight runaround with plenty of laughs , corny gags and a scenery chewing villain with a madcap plan.
A minimal cast, just the regulars along with Pamela Salem as silent screen actress Loretta Waldorf, Andrée Bernard as studio owner Lulu Hammerstein and Alec Newman as the dastardly Dr Julius and we are transported back to the golden age of Hollywood, but something is not quite right – silent actors are being coaxed out of obscurity to screen test for a new epic “talkie” but the film is cursed – every one that has tested has had their voice stolen and tonight is the turn of Loretta Waldorf – but Loretta has a visitor, a fan with mad eyes, curly hair and a ridiculous scarf and he is not going to stand by while Loretta has her voice stolen. But unfortunately thats just what he does and soon the trail leads him to Lulu Hammerstein and her strangely futuristic camera – and when the Doctor decides to screen test and his voice is stolen too who is going to save the day?
This really has the feeling of a caper movie and rattles along at a fair old pace with everyone giving a “turn” rather than attempting realism (and why should they ) I can just imagine Dr Julius twirling his moustache as he enacts his rather silly plan involving giving silent film stars a sort of immortality. Dr Julius is a rather interesting character a collector who has lost the joy of collecting and just collects for its own sake, he almost seems to despise what his passion is and aims to critique just for its own sake……
Tom Baker is wonderful in this one, playing up to the script and most definitely having a ball with the material he has been given – you can just see him all teeth, curls and boggle eyed hamming up every single line to gain the maximum joy for the audience and for himself – no this is not the Tom of season 18, but who wants Mr Morose when you can have this force of nature who is clearly having the time of his life.
In the end this story is a failure, but only as a season 18 pastiche – as a jolly piece of Saturday teatime fun for all the family it succeeds. It may not be an earth shattering plot but it deserves a special place for the performances put in and the sheer unadulterated fun of the piece. This one cannot be silenced and really deserves 9/10.
Mum’s and their sons eh? An unbreakable bond, a fierce devotion, a force of nature that woe betide anyone tries to come between no matter who or what they are. And that is what this month’s Torchwood release – Visiting Hours is all about.
Rhys Williams (Kai Owen) is an everyman p he is the “us” to Torchwood’s “them”, down to earth, working class – likes a pint and a night out and loves his Mum, and when his Mum is in Hospital after a hip operation it is his duty as a son to visit her, even if he does cut it a bit fine, well 12 minutes until the end of visiting time isn’t too bad is it??
This story sees Rhys reunited with his Mum Brenda (Nerys Hughes) to give us another unique slant on what I have termed the “Cardiff buddy movie” (at least I assume the Hospital is in Cardiff) but you know what I mean.
Rhys & Brenda have that unwritten rule, that spark that only a Mum & a son have, I have it with my Mum a sort of exasperation mixed with love mixed with still feeling like you are ten and being told off. And Brenda does tell Rhys off, she is none too fond of his colourful language (which has an hilarious pay off) and like most mums Brenda NEVER STOPS TALKING!. I could have listened to Kai Owen & Nerys Hughes indulge in maternal banter for the whole 45 minutes of the production, they just work together (and as two of North Wales’ finest exports why wouldn’t they??) but on top of this new odd couple there is a plot – Big Finish, you are spoiling us
The hospital that Brenda finds herself in St Helens is state of the art, it also has a problem – patients keep dying and the bodies keep disappearing and guess who is on the list of patients to be disappeared? Yup, its Brenda, what the villains didn’t count on is that she would have her son with her. The action is frantic as Rhys wheels Brenda in her bed around the hospital trying to avoid his Mum becoming the next victim of, well I will let you listen for yourself, but its a bit grim – and all through this manic runaround we have the wonderful banter and Rhys constantly being told off by his Mum and Brenda chatting about the inanities of her life, its so well observed and its so Welsh. The story feels as a hook to a bigger conspiracy as to who were carrying out the kidnappings and where exactly they came from and it may just pay off further down the line – if it doesn’t I don’t mind so much, I will be revisiting this one for the sheer joy of the Rhys & Brenda show, they are pretty much my favourite pairing so far in all the Torchwood range and I really do hope there are further forays developed – Sunday dinner with Auton chairs that Brenda has bought by mistake, Rhys taking Brenda shopping and… Actually just Rhys taking Brenda shopping would work fine for me. A great start to the new series and a fantastic 9/10.
Lets start by stating what this is NOT. This is not for the faint hearted or indeed for those who have not heard Doom Coalition’s one through three as there is an awful lot of back story there and Doom Coalition 4 continues right from the epic cliffhanger that Doom Coalition 3 ended on, so I suggest you catch up before reading any more – Doom Coalition is available HERE and reviews for Parts one, two and three are accessed from the links.
Ok, so its twelve hours later and you are all caught up (with a slightly lighter wallet i grant you) but wow what a journey, and in a way it is sad that it has to end – there has been so much to enjoy - a new companion in Helen Sinclair (Hattie Morahan) a new villain to go down in the canon of classics in The Eleven (Mark Bonnar) – the rather wonderful interaction, or maybe non interaction between Doctor number 8 (Paul McGann) and his future wife River Song (Alex Kingston) and a genuinely epic universe threatening plot that shows the Time Lords at their absolute worst, as completely amoral beings willing to sacrifice everything to survive – and when I say everything I mean everything – because the aim of the Doom Coalition is for all life in the Universe to end to save Gallifrey from the fate that has been predicted, utter destruction.
Lets look at this “Doom Coalition” we have The Eleven, a Time Lord who still has all the voices of his past regenerations in his head and all are bad (apart from “The Eight”), then we have The Sonomancer (Emma Cunniffe) – a being who was once a Time Lord but has now transcended that state to become one with the Matrix, it is her job to create the resonance that will end everything and then there is Padrac (Robert Bathurst) Time Lord, old school friend of The Doctor and utterly convinced that the path he has chosen to follow is just and right and his plan has almost come to fruition but he hadn’t counted on the tenacity of The Doctor, Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker), Helen Sinclair & River Song. And the final act of this saga is played out over four stories:
4.1 Ship in a Bottle by John Dorney
After the grand finale of Doom Coalition three you might expect this set to hit the ground running, but no, Big Finish have done something rather different, they have given the predicament that The Doctor, Liv & Helen find themselves in time to breathe – as our heroes career forwards in time to a destroyed future where Padrac was successful we pull back from the frantic pace and slow right down to examine the predicament our heroes find themselves in and get to grips with their reactions to their fate. From denial to hope to despair to elation. But what would you do, trapped in an escape capsule, in a future that has been destroyed and slowly all the options for escape are dwindling away – would you despair? Or would you think that while there is life there is hope? Hattie Morahan really gets a chance to shine in this story, her tale of her Grandmother coming to terms with a terminal illness is moving and relevant to the situation – Liv on the other hand rages against the dying of the light, she will not give up even when all seems lost and then there is The Doctor who seems to have accepted that this is it and they will live out the remainder of their existence in an escape capsule. Not the beginning I was expecting, but definitely the beginning that the set needed.
4.2 Songs of Love by Matt Fitton
River Song is magnificent, just completely wonderful and left alone with Padrac and the Sonomancer on Gallifrey, what else can she do but play along and pretend she was on their side all along. The pace really picks up in this one, River is playing a very dangerous game and she is not the only one, it seems like Padrac’s plan has made him some enemies. A tense political thriller as Padrac manipulates the High Council of the Time Lords into agreeing with his insane plan by using patriotism, protectionism & fear of the unlike to make his points and gain support. River uses her position as newest member of the Coalition to try to aid The Doctor, Liv & Helen which leads to a rather wonderful scene which I cant tell you about due to the ever present “spoilers” but you will know it when you hear it. With everything turned up to 11 and the stakes genuinely never having been so high we head off to more familiar climes for part three…..
4.3 The Side of the Angels by Matt Fitton
Bit of continuity for those who listen to The War Doctor, but remember Cardinal Ollistra? well she is in this story but not as you expect her to be, she is not played by Jacqueline Pearce but by Carolyn Pickles for reasons that will become apparent.
The setting is New York in the early 1970’s – refugee Time Lords including Ollistra and The Monk (Rufus Hound) have been building a safe haven on earth to ride out the end of everything that will occur in about 500 years relative time. They have also done something very very foolish, they have done a deal with The Weeping Angels, and these are meant to be the “good guys” desperate times, desperate measures – the Angels are no one’s slaves and when The Eleven turns up things get a whole lot worse. Who would have thought that something as visual as the Weeping Angels work so well on audio – but the sound design is impeccable it give the whole episode an unnerving edge of seat feeling as things begin to inevitably deteriorate into chaos and death. Huge shout out to the amazing Beth Chalmers as Veklin in this episode too, really underplays it and nails the performance. And so on to the end.
4.4 Stop the Clock by John Dorney
How can it end? How will it end? The future is set in stone, every possible future leads to the destruction of Gallifrey. It ends like this – with cruelty and honour and hope and despair anything else would not do this box set justice. Of several stand out scenes there is one that sticks in my mind and you will know it when you hear it and you will be shouting at the character involved not to listen to The Eleven and to stand their ground. It stayed with me, it haunted me but that one scene more than anything gave an insight into the mind of The Eleven – the Second Doctor once said that there are some corners of the Universe that have bred the most terrible things, listening to The Eleven I can only assume he meant Gallifrey. Mark Bonnar was always incredible, genuinely incredible as The Eleven – but in that one scene he lifted the character to another level completely.
Over finished gone done out – the end of an epic journey with the seeds sown for another epic journey for the 8th Doctor to embark upon. No one has come out of this unscathed, the repercussions will be felt for a very very long time and I will be there with 8 and his friends to experience it. A clock stopping 10/10.
I do like a good whodunnit (not the Pertwee TV show from the mid 1970’s) but a bit of Agatha Christie or Midsomer Murders or Jonathan Creek or at the moment Death In Paradise.
I really enjoy trying to solve the mystery before the detective – one of my proudest moments was solving solving the Jonathan Creek episode “Jack In The Box” before Mr Creek, but writer David Renwick got his revenge by fooling me not once but twice with the episode “Satan’s Chimney”.
I love the structure of a good whodunnit, the rules that they all adhere to – the killer must have the means, the motive and the opportunity to commit the dastardly deed – and these rules are followed most excellently in this special reales from Big Finish entitled “Cicero”
Set in the ancient Roman Republic, Cicero sees two brothers Marcus Tullius Cicero (Samuel Barnett) – serious, bookish introverted but a brilliant legal mind at the age of only 26, and his younger brother Quintus Tullius Cicero (George Naylor) avuncular, womaniser, dinkier, man about town aged 22 charged with defending one Sextus Roscius (Simon Ludders) who has been accused of murdering his father – a most heinous crime which carries an horrific punishment if the accused is found guilty – truth is no one else would take the case so it leaves the brothers Cicero to save an innocent man.
And so follows a mere 56 minutes of intrigue, conspiracy and the three rules of the murder mystery being not only adhered to but used in a final and barnstorming speech to the forum by Marcus Tullius – if the build up wasnt worth the price of this release THAT speech most definitely is. Throughout the story we see Marcus Tullius’ inexperience but as he pieces the case together he grows in confidence and even has an inspiration moment as per Death In Paradise where everything suddenly falls in to place and the perpetrator or perpetrators are completely obvious. But the speech is a thing of beauty, a masterclass in growing confidence and character development, Samuel Barnett takes a nervous, bookish man who knows the truth and allows the certainty that he is right to outshine his few years and his lack of experience – by the end of his speech he has the forum eating from his hands.
56 minutes is a very short time to cram in a murder, an investigation, a resolution and character development but David Llewelyn and Scott Handcock have not wasted one line in this tightly written script, everything moves the plot along, every line is relevant and whilst listening you will have a fair few “penny finally dropped” moments, well I know I did
This release came out of the blue for me and it took me a while to get round to it, but I am so glad that I did – I really hope this is not a one off and serves as a pilot for a new range for Big Finish because the Roman Republic and the worlds of the brothers Cicero are a destination I would dearly like to visit again. An engaging 9/10.