Change is the essence of life, we never stay the same, we move on, fast friends become ghosts of memories, new friends are made and can any of us truly say we are the person we were 20 years ago?
Polly Jackson (Anneke Wills) that one time companion of The Doctor is going trough a change – she is moving house with all the apprehension and uncertainty that brings and as she sifts through her old forgotten belongings on the morning of the move she uncovers a keepsake from her time with The Doctor, she finds a green feather and this unlocks a plethora of hitherto forgotten memories about the time just before the antarctic and Cybermen and regeneration – she remembers a time when she met an Angel.
The ending of this story is described by Polly as an interlude – and that is exactly what it is, not a great adventure but a small amount of time that foreshadows a great change to come – in a way this is The First Doctor’s Watcher or her will knock your times moment because the Angel foretells the Doctor’s regeneration…..
Anneke Wills brings a world weariness to Polly, a woman uncertain about where her new phase in life will take her perfectly mirroring the events that happened to the Doctor on that unnamed planet. The Angel obviously isn’t an Angel in the religious sense, but is a being almost as old as the universe itself, a being who can see beyond the dimensions that bind us calling the young Polly by her married surname years before she married Ben, but it is the effect that this encounter has on the Doctor that defines the encounter, her seems to visibly age and become more frail as the Angel describes his fate and the inevitability of what must happen to him.
A rather poetic lesson in balance and symmetry given life and context by Polly’s apprehension at something as everyday as moving home told beautifully and lyrically by Anneke Wills as she draws you in to Polly’s world and makes the listener hang on her every word. A rather poetic 9/10.
Oh now this one is rather good, I may go so far as to say that it is the jewel in the crown of this particular series of Pathfinder Legends. I don’t know what it is but this one sort of “flows” wheras the other entries in to the series so far have really betrayed their roots and felt like a series of set pieces, this one feels like an organic developing story where the outcome has not been pre-decided, there is a sense of real as opposed to staged danger and the characters really are allowed to breathe and develop.
So whats happening in The Skeletons of Scarwall? Well our heroes Harsk (Ian Brooker), Valeros (Stewart Alexander), Ezren (Trevor Littledale) and Merisiel (Kerry Skinner) are continuing their quest to find a weapon capable of defeating the evil Queen Illeosa and have been directed to Scarwall Fortress, home of Undead Lord Kazavon and his horde – this dread fortress is said to hold a magical sword that may just have the power to defeat the Queen. So far so generic RPG? Well you would be right in thinking that, it sounds just like an RPG romp that folks like me used to play in the 1980’s – but it is the presentation that makes this stand head and shoulders above its peers. The danger seems real, the characters feel truly out of their depth and then things step up a gear when possibly my favourite character in Pathfinder Legends Laori Vaus (Ashleigh Loeb) shows up.
Laori is a complex multi layered dangerous and rather sad character. A Forlorn Elf, that is an Elf brought up by humans and spent her life watching them die of old age as she lived – she became obsessed with pain and death and fell in with the worshippers of the “Midnight Lord” – Zon Kuthon, God of evil, suffering and pain. Laori delights in the suffering of others and of herself and has a disturbing sing song innocence to her voice, she and her companion Siel (Fanos Xenofos) are also on their way to Scarwall to take out the “heathen” who have defected from their fealty to Zon Kuthon. Can an alliance between Laori and our heroes work for mutual benefit? The answer is to be found by listening and it really is one shock revelation after another. The story really feels it is building to a climax and that the victory over Queen Illeosa (if it happens) will be earned by adventures like this one where no one is quite the same again, characters act out of character and the rules are constantly changed.
Ending on a cliffhanger which will lead us into next months finale, this episode feels like the dark before the dawn – tonally very different from what has come before and all the better for it. 9/10.
Nostalgia can be a wonderful thing. That wonderful warm glow you get whilst remembering “better times” that were probably no better or worse than now, but have become the stuff of legends because of the time that they happened, the person you were then and the people that were around you at the time. Ah the stuff of legends. The UNIT “family” are undoubtedly the stuff of legends holding sway over one of the most fondly remembered eras of “Classic” Doctor Who – The Third Doctor, The Brigadier, Jo Grant, Captain Yates & Sergeant Benton defending the world (or at least the home counties) from weekly invasions from Autons, Axons, Daleks, Chronovores and Giant Maggots. Just those words conjure up images of simpler, happier times, of Saturday evenings sound the TV with the family, of the three day week and power cuts and strikes….
But times change and so does UNIT, no longer the make do and mend outfit from the 1970’s (or was it the 1980’s….) UNIT are now an ultra modern, ultra efficient force headed by Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) ally assisted by scientist Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) – but sometimes, just sometimes it is time to call the old guard out of retirement and this box set UNIT: Assembled is just one of those times.
Time has not been kind to the original UNIT family, we have lost Jon Pertwee and Nicholas Courtney, but this box set honours their memory in style and hearing Sergeant Benton (John Levene), Captain Yates (Richard Franklin) and Jo Jones (Grant) (Katy Manning) team up with the new boys and girls of UNIT should warm the cockles of even the most cynical “New Who” critic as UNIT old and new team up to battle a new threat from a particularly vicious and single minded bunch of Earth Reptile (Silurians in old money) with call backs a-plenty to their glory days in the 1970’s (or was it 1980’s ) the old guard fit right in with NU-UNIT and their story is told over four separate but connected episodes:
4.1 Call to Arms by Matt Fitton
“A roister-doister of a barnstormer of a beginning” is how I would describe this one, though it begins with an ending as Mr John Benton is retiring from the pub game, this is his last night as Landlord of his pub, he and his wife Marjorie are about to give it all up for a world cruise, friends have gathered, beer has flowed and tensions rise as old wounds are opened and THEN – Kate and OSgood turn up and the whole thing loses its rosy glow and becomes a tense base (or Pub) under siege that not everyone is going to get out alive from. Featuring militant Silurians in the form of Jastrok (Richard Hope) and Kalana (Neve McIntosh) rousing the more right wing factions of their species against us uppity apes – UNIT old and new make their stand in Benton’s Pub. There is a genuine warmth to the performances from UNIT regulars John Levene & Richard Franklin as their characters go back to what they did best in the 1970’s (Or 1980’s – sorry its getting boring now ) make do and mend against an overwhelming force, but this time they have Kate and Osgood to help out. A fabulous beginning, completely visual and has the tension ramped all the way up to eleven – its great to see the old gang back together, well not quite as Jo is absent, but the next story makes up for that.
4.2 Tidal Wave by Guy Adams
What is there not to love about Katy Manning and her character Jo Jones? She is just fab, utterly fab and when Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) meets up with her Jo is dong what she has dedicated the most of her life to, she is protesting against animal testing and use of chemicals by a faceless corporation – but Kate has a mission for her…. Jo and Osgood are a pairing made in heaven, Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) is a Jo Jones fangirl asking her all sorts of questions about her time with UNIT and the Doctor and their adventures almost like a fan at a convention, so it is fortunate for Osgood that she and Jo are charged by Kate to check out an environmentally friendly tidal power generator codenamed “Project Charybdis” and are bound for the sea bed – can you see where this is going yet…. Yes indeed we are about to meet up with our old friends The Sea Devils and find out that the Earth Reptiles are not a mono culture monster but a genuine species with different views and values as we humans have. Unfortunately with Jastrok on the march, he wants the Sea Devils biological weapons, hybrid monsters which he is going to unleash on the humans, but Jo sees that there is a peaceful solution to be had. Katy Manning shines in this one and is wonderful as Jo trying to be like The Doctor and achieve peace between the species. A steady episode that forward the plot and gives Jo a lot of character development.
4.3 Retrieval by Guy Adams
With Jo, Yates and Benton back at UNIT HQ in the Tower of London it falls to Kate and Osgood to follow up on leads to control the impending doom that the Silurians have unleashed, and they are lead to a Silurian nest in the Mediterranean, unfortunately they are not alone and the fanatical Silurian Tryska has other ideas for apes that do not know their place. After two almost euphoric episodes in which UNIT old and new team up, this is a different beast altogether. Darker and more dangerous with Kate And Osgood being pushed to their limits by the sadistic Tryska and her fear inducing device. A tense thriller that plays with the listeners expectations as Tryska torments our heroes. Slower paced but no less of a scale than episodes one and two – a slow burner.
4.4 United by Matt Fitton
And finally the gangs all here – London has fallen to Jastrok and his hordes, the UK is cut off by air and sea by prehistoric monsters (no not UKIP ) and UNIT are told the terms of surrender by Jastrok. The Silurians have won, the human race will be slaves or have their minds destroyed be fear. We have lost. Until UNIT say NO – united they stand, maybe for the last time. An epic end to an epic box set – high on adventure, high on action, high on scientific impossibility, as Alan Partridge might say “lovely stuff”.
That was immense fun, it felt in parts like UNIT’s greatest hits but as a nostalgia piece it ticked all the right boxes and had some genuine “punch the air” moments – fast paced like an action movie with very few small character moments, but when they do come the light and shade they add to the proceedings are all the more pronounced. Katy Manning is as superb as ever and totally adorable as Jo, Yates’ keeps his head and John Levene as Benton gets all the best comedy lines – just as it should be while the new guys are duly reverent to those that have seen it all before, the old guard don’t feel like token nostalgia, they feel like the victory would have been impossible without them. A lovely box set and a well deserved 9/10.
Question: what looks like 1980 but feels like 1975? Answer: The Haunting of Malkin Place. Put simply – the cover tells us this is a 1980 story – Burgundy coat for Tom, star field round his face, Romana the second by his side, but absolutely EVERYTHING else screams HINCHCLIFFE. The setting, the sound design, the plotting. There isn’t a Bidmeadian innovation apparent, not charged vacuum emboitmments, no creeping entropy, no chronic hysteresis, just a darned good spooky yarn.
We catch up with the Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana (Lalla Ward) relaxing at the Doctor’s house on Baker Street and an ensuing discussion regarding the novel The Turn of the Screw coupled with a noise in the attic which the Doctor has been warned NOT to investigate at any cost leads them to try and track down the author M R James and discuss his character motivation in The Turn of the Screw. “Another celebrity historical” was my first thought, but The Haunting of Malkin Place is nothing of the sort, The Doctor and Romana don’t get to meet M R James at all but are drawn in to a real life haunting.
Set in 1922 with Britain still in shock from the human tragedy that was World War One Maurice (Gunnar Cauthery) and his sister Beatrice (Fiona Sheehan) have inherited Malkin Place from their recently departed father and are suffering hauntings – children cry doors slam, crockery breaks and on top of all of this Maurice is riddled with survivors guilt from his time in the trenches of France in the war. The Doctor and Romana meet with Spiritualist Talbot (Simon Jones) and his young ward Tom (Rikki Lawton) who has been called in by Beatrice to try to exorcise the ghosts of Malkin Place and decide that that is a much more interesting prospect than meeting M R James and decide to accompany them.
What follows is text book ghost story – seances, unexplained noises, people disappearing, flying objects and a secret that is revealed to be the key to the goings on in Malkin Place. Lalla Ward as Romana is deliciously offhand and haughty at the mere prospect of the though of ghosts being real whilst Simon Jones as Talbot is genuine in his calling as a spiritualist, but it is the scenes between The Doctor and Maurice that really steal the show adding an emotional depth and maturity to the story, giving the setting the respect and gravitas it deserves whilst simultaneously adding to and resolving the plot. If this story is about anything then it is about letting go and grief and being allowed to grieve – a deep story dressed up as a ghost story with all the actors taking their roles seriously and nobody (not even Tom) “giving a turn” (although having said that the fourth Doctor with a moustache would be a sight to behold )
It is fitting in many ways that the main resolution of the story reflects the story itself – something not quite of its time but something rather special, an excellent addition to the Fourth Doctor range and a well deserved 9/10.
OK, so you have the “double bills” trilogy, one double bill featuring Doctor’s Five, Six and Seven respectively. You begin the trilogy with a Fifth Doctor pairing an old fashioned very trad story and a more experimental story. How then do you approach Old Sixie? How do you do something new and exciting and take him into new frontiers with this new format? Big Finish have not taken the easy route and here they have gone very “cinematic” if that is the correct word, two relatively short stories with huge imagination, huge ambition and huge scope, by that I mean these are stories have impact on the Doctor (Colin Baker) and Flip (Lisa Greenwood).
Everything oozes class and polish, the sound design is perfect, the sense of urgency and the impact that the characters have on the events is has an importance brought to the fore that is sometimes lacking and unlike last months releases these two stories do not have an obvious link but share certain thematic similarities regarding fatalism and time. Yes our old friend time. Regular readers of my ramblings will know I am not a fan at all of the “timey-wimey” style of storytelling, if there is one thing I don’t like it is a “cheat” ending. The first of these stories “Vortex Ice” is a time travel based story, but not an obvious one and not an obvious story to blow me away. But it did….
Vortex Ice by Jonathan Morris
What starts and ends in a cave in Mexico? Short answer is Vortex Ice does. The route it takes to get there however is a very very long one involving lots of death, explosions, A cybernetic octopus and a rather fatalistic and real approach to the hazards of time travel. If I say too much I will spoil the story but suffice to say that Vortex Ice requires multiple listens to appreciate the complexities of the story telling – not in the “look how clever I am “ style the TV series sometimes has but a to notice how all the pieces of this aural jigsaw fit together so perfectly. The nearest big screen comparison I can think of is the film “Memento” ( if you have not seen it it is well worth a few hours of your time) as it has the same puzzle mentality with layers being peeled away as the listener (in the case of Vortex Ice) gets drawn deeper in to the proceedings. It is (On first listen) a very confusing story, things seem to happen for no apparent reason (they don’t there is a reason) and when you get to that critical mass of information point and penny drops as to what you have just been listening to you will feel rewarded. The star of this story is undoubtedly Lisa Greenwood as Flip Jackson who has really come in to her own as Old Sixie’s companion and the only little hint I will give you is “follow Flip”. This is a wonderful way to spend an hour of your time, the story falls fully formed and does not need to be longer than two parts it just works as it is. It needs active listening and demands a lot from the listener but is an immensely rewarding listen.
Cortex Fire by Ian Potter
Thematically if not literally following Vortex Ice is the second of the double bill – Cortex Fire. On the surface a far more traditional Doctor Who story. Under the surface it is nothing of the sort. Arriving on the planet Festin the Doctor has brought Flip to see the Opera and a cosmic light show that will put the Aurora Borealis to shame but are soon caught up in a race to save every man woman and child on Festin from a collective “Urge” to die facilitated by the all powerful computer The Cortex. Fatalism again counterpointed by the enthusiasm and urge to live that the Doctor and Flip bring to the party. So dressed up as a traditional Who story we are shown a Blade Runner-esque world (complete with corresponding Vangelis-like soundtrack) in which the populace are living in fear of terrorists known as “nihilists” who are being blamed for the wave of spontaneous combustion. But the truth is far more terrible and the culture of the planet has a lot to answer for…. It ought to be a very depressing listen but it really isn’t and this is down to the way that the story is presented – a society who’s culture and heritage leads the population to unconsciously want to die is a huge concept and is handled very well in the short running time of the story – and then there is the way that The Doctor (inevitably) saves the day and the sacrifice that he makes – the final scene between Old Sixie and Flip as they discuss how long he has really been away is genuinely moving.
An excellent double bill that will have something for everyone and a lot more if you want to delve a bit deeper under the skin of the story. I like a story that makes me think and these two have given me ample food for thought and a lot of enjoyment. I think these are stories I will be revisiting again in the near future and I think I will hear something fresh and new on my relisten. Fatalism, Frost & Fire all add up to a well deserved 10/10.
How do you tell do you tell a Ninth Doctor story without the man that brought the Ninth Doctor to life? There are two possible answers to this question. the firs is “you don’t” the second is you get Nick Briggs to narrate the part, because Mr Briggs gives good Eccleston. Not an impersonation as such but a capturing of the essence of the character all his sadness his flashes of joy at the smallest things because this was a Doctor looking for a reason to carry on, for a meaning to make everything matter again – and he found it in one Rose Tyler.
2005 were heady times, Doctor Who was back, the same show we had always loved but a little bit more emotionally mature, with better characterisation and with the man himself Christopher Eccleston. It cannot be understated how much of a factor in the success of “Nu-Who” Eccleston was – he took the character of the Doctor, stripped away all the extraneous nonsense – the scarves, the question marks, the celery etc and played The Doctor, and what a tour de force performance. For thirteen short weeks he was the man, and this box set revisits those days of Nine and Rose and Jackie and Adam and celebrity historicals and Mickey and (well you get the drift).
So no Mr Eccleston reprising the role (boo!) but a “Fantastic” Mr Briggs capturing his very soul in the performance he gives (yay) and these four stories really do capture the spirit of 2005. Not conventional full cast pieces, more in the style of Companion Chronicles where Nick Briggs narrates with one other guest actor playing the part of a principal character in the proceedings each of them touch on a specific theme from the all too brief Ninth Doctor era, loss and regret for the Time War, Celebrity Historical, the Rose/Doctor relationship and contemporary earth on the Powell estate, so lets begin with the first story:
1. The Bleeding Heart by Cavan Scott
A reoccurring theme for the Ninth Doctor era was his quest for inner peace after the atrocities of the Time War and where better to begin his quest than Galen, the renowned “planet of peace”. This is a story set prior to the events of Rose with a battle scarred Doctor becoming involved in a peace initiative between two warring races, but unfortunately death is the Doctor’s constant companion and the delegates to the conference begin to be picked off, murdered horribly – Can the Doctor ever escape the horrors of the Time War and the weapons that were forged in that terrible conflict. We see a Doctor desperate to be good again, he even has a one off companion in the guise of journalist Adriana Jardsel (Claire Wyatt) who sees him for the man he is. Its a bleak beginning, or perhaps it is an ending and the gateway to a new future for Number Nine.
2. The Window on the Moor by Una McCormack
And now we are in the Eccleston era proper with an celebrity historical – the celebrity in this case is Emily Bronte (Laura Riseborough) who has viewed the “window on the moor” of the title since she was a child and helps those that pass through to find other windows. Set on two worlds on the other side of portals opened by a mad usurper – The Doctor and Rose become embroiled in a civil war set in a world of glass prisons - the armies are using the windows as a short cut between different parts of the reality but could the story of a usurped leader and his fiancee be the inspiration for Emily Bronte’s Withering Heights? Rose has heard the song but not read the book – The Doctor is appalled Very “2005” in its sensibilities, the story is fast paced and has an emotional heart and has the “love conquers all” vibe that the new series was proud to wear as a badge of honour.
3. The Other Side by Scott Handcock
Adam is Davros! screamed the chatrooms and forums of 2005 (also Norman Lovett was playing Davros – he wasnt and he didn’t) But Adam Mitchell (Bruno Langley of Todd Grimshaw fame) was a second companion for a very short time of the Ninth Doctor and this story takes place right after “Dalek”. The Doctor is trying to get Adam home but ends up in an abandoned cinema. In Birmingham. A cinema that is host to a phenomenon that is slowly eating the cinema – a temporal tsunami is happening and with the Doctor trapped in late Victorian times and Rose Tyler trapped in the 1920’s it is up to Adam Mitchell to prove his worth as part of team TARDIS 2005! Fast paced, urgent and having all the things that the Eccleston era is remembered for – the bond between Nine and Rose, time war guilt, a contemporary setting – this story hits the ground running and doesn’t give up. There is a truly “cold shivers” moment when Nine & Rose finally meet up again in the 1920’s after a temporal phone call and Bruno Langley shows us what Adam might have been capable of if he had been allowed more screen time. Highlight of the set? I think so.
4. Retail Therapy by James Goss
How can you have a Ninth Doctor set without the unmissable Jackie Tyler. Short answer is “you can’t” even better when the wonderful Camille Coduri reprises her role in a tale of a pyramid scheme that is literally draining the life away from the residents of the Powell estate and other similar housing projects. You see Jackie Tyler has made a success of herself, she is one of the top seller of “Glubby Glubs” the latest craze (and a steal at only £19.99) pick one up and stroke it and all your troubles sort of fade away, they give you good nights sleep and are even making Jackie look younger. The Doctor isn’t impressed, he thinks Jackie has inadvertently launched an alien invasion from her living room, but Jackie is only interested in her profit and buying a villa in Spain…. Peel away the almost camp exterior and this is quite a nasty little thriller, a parable of capitalism draining the life from consumers, who then want to buy more which then drains them some more and so on and so on. You have to LOVE Camille Coduri who slips back in to the role of Jackie as if it was still 2005.
A lovely box set that makes me feel all nostalgic (cant believe the noughties arena nostalgia) and lovingly recreates and expands on the beginnings of the rebirth of a TV legend. Cant praise Nick Briggs enough both for his narrations and his extraordinary Eccleston and I really hope we get some more either in box sets like this or as Short Trips. Not perfect, some of the stories are rather long, but a great listen and whilst not quite a Nine, a very good 8/10.
Dark Shadows has, as I have stated on several occasions an Autumnal feel about it. something of the loss of innocence, the world becoming just that little colder and darker. Something that makes you want to get to the safety of your own home and to be with your loved ones and hold them just that little bit closer and the title of the latest Dark Shadows anthology “Dreams of Long Ago” does nothing to dispel that feeling, it enhances it and creates an anticipation of lost loves, missed opportunities and lives wasted. And if that is what you are expecting then you will not be disappointed.
This release is a slow burner, very character based and very intimate as we get insights into the lives of four protagonists – Sabrina Jennings, Quentin Collins, Barnabas Collins and Sebastian Shaw. All the stories are stand alone, they take place in different places at different times but the ambiance of each individual story knit together very well making this feel like a cohesive set of tales that really do belong together.
The Reflected Man by Alan Ronald
Sabrina Jennings has lost everything, she works as a waitress in New York and exists from day to day mourning the loss of her husband Chris. And then she catches a reflection in a train windows and sees something in her mirror. But is this all just wishful thinking or is it the closure she has been denied? This being Dark Shadow it really could be either. Lisa Richards paints a picture in words of a cold grey New York and a desperate woman in Sabrina Jennings – the story really is a study in grief and much more powerful for being a personal account and not a full cast drama. A strong beginning.
Old Acquaintance by Matthew Waterhouse
Yes it is THAT Matthew Waterhouse (of Adric fame if you don’t already know) who has penned this one, a Quentin Collins story set on a cold New Years Eve in Collinsport where the Collins family decide to go for a quiet drink at the Blue Whale. Surely that isn’t much to ask? In the world of Dark Shadows it seems it is as Quentin is haunted by the memories of a New Years Eve he spent in Wales during World War 1, where he was introduced to the myth of the Mari Lwyd (the “Grey Mare”), because legends and traditions don’t get forgotten, they get lost until they are needed again, and on the cusp of 1972 The Mari Lwyd has come back for Quentin….. Almost a story within a story as just as the Mari Lwyd appears in Collinsport we are transported back in Quentin’s memory to Wales. As a child in school I learned of the myth of Mari Lwyd so its lovely to have Welsh myths and legends mined for Dark Shadows and done to such creepy effect by the writing of Matthew Waterhouse and the performance of David Selby.
Devil’s Rock by Kate Webster
Possibly, no actually, the most straightforward tale in the set, this has a definite beginning middle and end and tells of Barnabas Collins and his servant Willie Loomis on a voyage to Jaipur to meet up with Dr Julia Hoffman – but things don’t always go to plan and Willie’s streak of decency in wanting to bury a corpse they come across on the Devil’s Rock leads to disaster. Andrew Collins reads this story about a fishing village with a secret. The story is quite predictable but is very pacy. Perhaps a little too straightforward and lacking the depth of the other stories in the collection this still has a melancholic feeling, it feels like this is the end of Willie Loomis devotion to Barnabas and that the actual story is just a backdrop for this.
Cobwebs by Aaron Lamont
This is a very very different story, even by Dark Shadows standards – its almost like listening to a waking nightmare. Sebastian Shaw is an inmate at Windcliff Sanitarium. But he is alone, no Doctors, no Nurses just his own room and a Spider spinning away in the corner. Is he awake or is he asleep, is he dreaming of this hell or is it really happening to him? And is there a way out? There is nothing more frightening than having your grasp on reality challenged, and that is what Sebastian is suffering in Windcliff – but he really isn’t sure what form that his reality takes, so maybe he just better listen to the Spider on his wall who will make everything alright. What harm can it do? An ambiguous, challenging and tough listen and a very good piece of acting and sound design end this set on a gruesome high.
A mood piece if ever there was one, Dreams of Long Ago gets under the skin (especially Cobwebs) and paints pictures of longing and loss and myth and murder. Another great Dark Shadows release and a well deserved 8/10.
In life there are some things that you enjoy and some things that you appreciate. Corpse Day falls in to the latter category – as a work of dramatic fiction it is well written, has believable characters in an apalling situation and it has some sort of redemption, some gleam, a small glimmer that life is better than “this”. As a story Corpse Day takes the listener to the darkest, most depraved, most dangerous place Torchwood has ever been – it takes us to a house in Cardiff. An ordinary every day house inhabited by a man who is anything but ordinary and every day. Owen Harper (Burn Gorman) and PC Andy Davidson (Tom Price) are about to enter the world of Glynn Lewis and no one will ever be the same again. Not Owen, not Andy, not the listener and not Glynn’s “Family”. No One.
Intriguing isnt it, and a strange title in “Corpse Day” too, I could quite work out what the story was going to be about and the synopsis gave very little away so I will try to maintain the veil of secrecy whilst giving you a little flavour of the proceedings. Corpse Day is a day in which a regular Police Officer gets to liaise with Torchwood on cold cases and the case Andy has in mind is one of young girls going missing. Andy is enthusiastic really up for working with Torchwood, Owen is bored, cynical and ready to quit from the outset and blame everything on the Rift. And then they get a lead and this lead is the seemingly odd shopping habits of one Glynn Lewis, and this seemingly innocuous fact will change them forever.
When Mrs W and I watch The Walking Dead together we always say the Zombies cant help being Zombies, its what they do – its the human cruelty that we find difficult to stomach – and it is fair to say that Corpse Day falls in to that category. With all the horrors that the rift brings to Cardiff, the most awful thing that Torchwood have faced has been in Cardiff all his life. There is nothing more frightening than human beings – because as fantastical as Torchwood is, the events in this story could almost conceivable happen – and they probably have and THAT is the most awful thing, that a human being could do to others what Glynn visits upon his “family”. And that is all I am going to say about that.
As I said at the beginning there are some things you enjoy and some things you appreciate – in Corpse Day that has never been truer. James Goss gets the dynamic between Owen & Andy perfect and over the course of the drama they have their souls laid bare making terrible decisions that no one should ever have to make and what began as a jaunty “Cardiff Buddy Movie” ends in something altogether more than the sum of its parts. The seeds planted in act one are not the crop harvested in the final act, they are so far away from the seeds as to be another species altogether. It is a tightly written, claustrophobic piece that is totally unpredictable, the subject matter is difficult and challenging and the amount of character development we see from the leads is startling. I didn’t “enjoy” it – Corpse Day isn’t a piece to be enjoyed, but as a challenging drama then boy did I appreciate it. 9/10.
And so the story continues as our heroes Valeros (Stewart Alexander), Ezren (Trevor Littledale), Harsk (Ian Brooker) and Merisiel (Kerry Skinner) vow to overthrow the evil Queen of Korvosa – and she really is a bad lot is old Queen Illeosa, not only engineering the murder of her husband, but instigating a plague in the city and then declaring a quarantine all the while building up her support, declaring martial law and putting her fanatical followers the Grey Maidens in charge of the army. A thoroughly reprehensible human being.
But as our heroes found out in last months episode “Escape From Old Korvosa” the Queen isn’t quite the woman she was and is using artefacts from a long dead Dragon to make her invincible and in this months instalment “A History of Ashes” out heroes venture out into the Cinderlands to seek a tribe who can help them in their quest to defat Illeosa before it is too late.
Last months story seemed claustrophobic and meandering, it lacked the pace of the first two instalments and really dragged in places, this months is different – freed from the city based setting this is a race against time with not only the respect of the Cinderlands tribesmen to earn, but a pack of assassins sent by the tyrant Queen to avoid and as such the story zips along from encounter to encounter. As with previous instalments I can just imagine tensely playing out the encounters in my long past table-top role playing days, rolling dice and hoping for a good outcome, hatching plots to stealthily take out assassins and coming up with an insane plan to ingratiate myself with the tribesmen of the Cinderlands. But NO plan I could come up with is as insane as the one hatched in the story. It involves a giant Wyrm, getting eaten by it and fighting a way out. That is crazy, utterly mad – but in the context of the story it works and it works well.
The whole episode has a cohesive narrative and everything that happens furthers the plot and there is a great ending where clues are given as to how the Queen can be defeated and the location of the mythical weapons needed to do this.
Pure old fashioned “boys own” adventure from beginning to end with liberal doses of peril and bravado mixed with some quiet mysticism and plot exposition – its not Shakespeare, but does it need to be? This is a highly entertaining way to spend a couple of hours in a world of pure adventure and is played with by the whole cast that it is difficult not to fall in to the world of Pathfinders and get lost for a while. An adventure on a grand scale deserves a rather grand score – it may not be a Queen, but it is definitely a Duchess and deserves 8/10.