As season 25 rolled into season 26 which rolled in to the New Adventures we saw a change of dynamic in the relationship between The Doctor and companion. No longer was the companion there to get captured/rescued/ask questions – Ace (and later Bernice) were modern resourceful women and an integral part of the Doctor’s increasingly tangled plans. We also saw a shift from The Doctor just blundering in to an adventure to being a “fixer”, using his almost omnipotence to fight evil in the universe.
Washington Burns follows the New Adventures pattern, it has a manipulative Doctor and a resourceful Ace and a very interesting “New Adventures” style villain in the guise of Cerebra. Cerebra is an entity that can inhabit any information, written, printed, electronic and take over the minds of those who read this information. In a far future Washington DC the Doctor and Ace seemingly defeat Cerebra only to discover it has travelled back in time to Washington DC in 1814 and has infected the Library of Congress, local newspapers and the books of a presidential aide – its influence is growing again and it is up to the Doctor and Ace to stop it.
On an almost monthly basis I say that these are short stories on a grand scale – and this is no exception. Running at only 33 minutes and 45 seconds this story takes in a future war and the advance and burning of Washington DC by the British army. As always the production values are excellent and Sophie Aldred gives a lovely performance as narrator imbuing Ace, the Doctor and the supporting characters with distinct personalities and instilling a sense of urgency to the proceedings. Although it is a short story, it really does not feel like an interlude, more of a prequel and I have a feeling that we will be hearing more of Cerebra in coming main ranges. A clever use of an established historical event to tell a story spanning the ages. 8/10.
Lets face it, Doctor Who is completely bonkers and I am proud of its bonkersness (is that even a word?) and why shouldn’t I be? What other show can claim to have had The Web Planet, The Underwater Menace, The Sunmakers, all of season 17, Timelash, Paradise Towers and The Happiness Patrol in their canon – answer: none. It’s episodes like this that whilst not being to everyone’s taste show off the infinite creativity and again utter bonkersness (still not sure if it’s a word or not) of the writers. These oddball stories really give our show something special – a sense of fun, a sense of weirdness and a sense of not being afraid to be different.
This months Fourth Doctor release is most definitely a bonkers release – the concept is just a little bit mad because on the planet Aoris the past is at war with the future. Yup, soldiers from era 24 are at war with the denizens of the past in era 14 (known as the age of greed). The soldiers from the future are under strict orders not to kill anyone in the past for fear of causing a paradox. So far, so odd. It gets stranger – the future are at war with the past in order to preserve endangered species. Bingo! – you read it right, the plot goes from odd to bonkers in one sentence – the future is at war with the past in order to preserve natural history.
I thought I had read, seen and heard it all in my 40 or so years as a Doctor Who fan but this revelation made me laugh out loud in incredulity and admiration in its sheer, well “bonkersness” and bringing this tale of madness and menageries together is none other than our very own boggle eyed loon Tom Baker. Tom seems in his element in this story – he and Romana (Lalla Ward) are trapped in separate eras of the war, and had this been a new series story we would I am sure have had a horrid “timey wimey” hand waving explanation for things – no such nonsense here, events follow a set cause and effect – a bomb planted in era 14 is there in era 24 coming to the end of its countdown for example. The Paradox Planet isn’t the whole story though, the story carries on in next months conclusion Legacy of Death – because this one ends on a cliffhanger that I just didn’t see coming.
It’s a very odd story as I have previously stated, wonderfully acted by Tom, Lalla and a stellar supporting cast of Who Luminaries like Tom Chadbon – bye bye Duggan! – and Simon Rouse – You can’t mend people – the story is very fast paced and I did find myself getting a little lost towards the end in the scenes regarding the cult of Machina – I am sure all will become clear in Legacy of Death.
Overall, a plot from left field with sound grasp on cause and effect and a sparkling performance from the cast and a great set up for part two. 8/10.
Peter Davison was never my Doctor. When I was I child it was Tom, when I was a teenager it was McCoy. As an adult it was Tennant and now Capaldi, but never Peter Davison. I didn’t dislike him as the Doctor, and find the man himself very affable, but his Doctor never really quite did it for me. Maybe it was just because he wasn’t Tom, or maybe I thought he was too young or had too many companions, or wasn’t playing the Doctor long enough to become established. Whatever the reason Peter Davison just wasn’t my Doctor, and do you know dear reader, I never thought he would be – but life as they say is full of surprises…
This particular surprise happened on Wednesday 16 March 2016, exactly 32 years since Peter’s last episode as the Doctor on TV. This was when I started to listen to this months main range release The Peterloo Massacre, because this is the story that has made Peter Davison my Doctor.
Momentous words indeed, but this is one of those very very special stories – it’s Doctor Who as it used to be in the Hartnell era, it’s a pure Historical with the TARDIS team caught up in tragic events unable to stop them happening. It’s also brilliantly written and acted and a damning social commentary on the attitudes towards the working classes by the wealthy in the early 1800’s. Doctor Who getting political, Peter Davison as a radical – bring it on!
The story begins with the TARDIS having to make an emergency landing after becoming lost in the smog of the industrial revolution. The Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan are taken in by rich industrialist called Mr Hurley (Robbie Stevens), a man full of bluster, pomp and self- importance, a “self made man” who has clearly forgotten his roots. Hurley is a mill owner and member of the local militia, and on a trip to his mill the Doctor and Tegan witness the appalling conditions in which his workers have to toil. They are little more than undernourished exhausted slaves. The Doctor can barely contain his rage and Tegan being Tegan, she’s a lot less tactless. The plight of the workers and the yawning chasm in wealth and social status between rich and poor is almost too much for her to bear.
Nyssa befriends house maid to the Hurley’s, Cathy Roberts, a young lady with a secret who is thrilled to have been selected as a speaker at the rally for workers rights at St. Peters Field. Cathy’s an intelligent, kind girl who in a different age would be fulfilling her potential as a solicitor or trade union convenor rather than being a servant, but such were the strict social conventions of the time. Her father thinks that the workers should “know their place” and be content with their lot. This situation is a powder keg about to go off in an horrific and brutal way. The date of August 16 1819 will always be remembered for the blood of innocents being spilled, of the day that the voices of the many were silenced by the cruelty of the few intent on protecting the social order for their own ends.
There are two exceptional cliffhangers in this story, part one where The Doctor finally realises what date in history they have arrived at, and episode three.
Episode three’s cliffhanger is cold and bleak and cruel and personifies the pointless cruelty of the ruling classes – hauntingly directed, acted with indigence, moral outrage and shame, the cliffhanger and its denouement must go down as one of the most shocking scenes in Doctor Who.
The day August 16 in 1819, should have gone peacefully, for the crowds were lively and loud, but not violent – shouting for better working conditions, democracy and bread. The powers that be, the lords, the landowners, even the Church, decided that the workers would not be heard. The protesters were read the riot act by a cowardly priest, were not even heard and mercilessly ridden down by cavalry and fired upon. This happened. As the Doctor says to Mr Hurley: “15 fatalities, 654 casualties”
Let me talk about Peter Davison for a moment. This is his standout performance as the Fifth Doctor, a tour-de-force of moral outrage, indignation, barley disguised contempt and anger. Here he is the Doctor I always wanted him to be – a radical taking a stand against injustice, a warrior battling against a system that is wrong and battling with words and intellect. After 32 years all the pieces have dropped into place and Peter Davison is finallymy Doctor.
This is an exceptional release and there have been a lot of those lately, but this really is something special. Paul Magrs, Jamie Anderson and all involved in the production can take a bow – this story can proudly stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of the best. This is an event in History I knew very little about and now want to find out more. Here isa good starting point. The events of the day led to a slow and creeping social change that led to increased democracy and representation for women. I will finish with a verse from Shelley’s poem about the Massacre – “The Masque of Anarchy”:
“Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many – they are few.”
Humbled to have been able to listen to this: a true classic. 10/10.
There was once a film called “Abraham Lincoln – Vampire Hunter”, it sounded good, the trailers were good. It bored me. I actually fell asleep before the end. A fantastic premise – an historic President of the United States of America hunts vampires in his spare time, let down by poor execution. Torchwood – The Victorian Age could have another name – it could quite easily have been called “Queen Victoria – Alien Hunter”, and could quite easily be a Hollywood Blockbuster – because that dear reader is exactly what this story is. Do I need to say any more? That should surely be enough? No? Okay, read on…
Set in 1899, Captain Jack Harkness is on loan to Torchwood London and it’s a frought time as Queen Victoria (Rowena Cooper) is about to make her annual inspection – surely nothing can go wrong? Of course it does… within minutes of Queen Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland (and Empress of India, don’t you know), a full scale emergency is in place – an alien has escaped. Archie, in charge of Torchwood London, has been aged fifty years and Her Majesty is most definitely not amused (had to get that in somewhere). What follows is the most unlikely of buddy movies as Captain Jack and Queen Victoria scour London in search of the escaped alien. Her majesty toting an alien blaster and commandeering horses – Jack bemused at the situation and trying to keep the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland (and Empress of India) safe. On their adventure the Queen takes time to talk to her subjects… there is a delightful scene with Louise Jameson which is very emotionally charged and shows the Queen as a person, not as a figurehead and icon.
This is a steampunk alien infested take on Victorian London and the Queen is as tough as old boots – she has the measure of Captain Jack and is a superb foil for him. This monarch cares deeply for her subjects – when towards the end Jack suggests she take over as operational head of Torchwood London – there couldn’t be a listener out there who punched the air at the thought. Rowena Cooper makes the Queen testy, feisty, regal and with a heart as big as London – but a Queen you would never dare cross – and without a doubt not amused – she brings what could easily be a formulaic caricature portrayal to life, not going for the easy performance – this really is Rowena Cooper’s take on the Queen and thanks so much to Scott Handcock for directing her this way and to AK Benedict for writing those wonderful lines.
This story treads a fine line between farce and action movie – I think it would be best described as a “romp” but it excels in all categories and to use an oft used Daily Mail phrase: “I for one” look forward to hearing more from Queen Victoria – and coming from a staunch republican that is praise indeed.
Frankie Howerd knew of course, he knew the rules – when it came to storytelling there was no limit to Francis’ genius… add in your own titters and oo-er missus at this point.
But he did – because for every episode of Up Pompeii he would begin, not at the beginning, but before the beginning – he would regale us with “The Prologue”. All very nice you may think, but what has this got to do with Doom Coalition 2?
Well, if you were expecting linear, you are reading the wrong reviewer – I come from the “off at a tangent” school of appraisal, but my reference to dear Francis should make sense further on…
This is another of the very highly anticipated releases from Big Finish – not only does it carry on the story from Doom Coalition 1, but it is a Classic/New crossover as it features none other than River Song. Long time readers will realise that when River enters a story all my critical faculties take a back seat, but at the expense of a telling off from Mrs W I will try my best here… but the idea of River Song in an Eighth Doctor story…
I think River is magnificent, a wonderful tragic heroine - every appearance is tinged with melancholy, as we the viewers and listeners know how she will eventually die. And she is also the Doctors’ wife, don’t forget. But not yet, not this Doctor, not Number 8 – the tragic thing about this set is that she cannot meet the Doctor in this incarnation – but she can meet his companions – but I get ahead of myself and we need to rewind a bit…
So where were we, oh yes… dear old Francis and The Prologue. You see I was always told that a good story has a beginning, a middle and an end. I disagree. An outstanding story has a Prologue (told you it would make sense), a beginning, a middle and an end – and in Doom Coalition 2, Big Finish haven’t only delivered this, they have set the standard for four part box sets going forward. It really is that good. It’s the sort of good that makes you smile, makes you proud to be part of Doctor Who fandom, that our show attracts this much talent and passion. Doom Coalition 2 is, as you may gather, a bit of a classic. So, clear your minds dear readers and prepare for Mr Nick Briggs, in a toga, sitting down and giving us “The Prologue”….do you have that image? Good then I will begin…
Beachhead byNicholas Briggs
The Prologue – the prelude to the main adventure, a pre-title sequence if you will. but every bit as important as the rest of the story because this story is the hook that gets you to the rest of the story. The Doctor, Liv and Helen take a well deserved holiday in the seaside village of Stegmoor, beaches, hill-walking, bracing weather – the perfect place to recharge the batteries. However, this being Doctor Who that was never going to happen. Nick Briggs is a master at Doctor Who scripting, and this one is a love letter to 1970’s Who – it’s a perfect modern update of the UNIT era earth invasion staple, but this is UNIT era Who run through a New Who filter. Sometimes there are stories referred to in Doctor Who that we didn’t see on TV – this story is a sequel to one such story. The Doctor has been to Stegmoor previously, in his third incarnation, and is remembered by Philippa Gregson (Julia Hills) who has a recollection of a white haired scientist with a Police Box. It’s an interesting take on an Earth Invasion story – the villains of the piece are the Voord and their characters are a lot more developed from the rubber suited monsters they were in The Keys Of Marinus. It’s a fast-paced story and when we get to the end we are in no doubt that this is just the beginning of an epic. Salute, Mr Briggs!
Scenes from Her Life by John Dorney
Sometimes a story comes along that completely pulls the rug out from under me, that completely blindsides me and Scenes From her Life is just one of those stories. Where do I begin? Okay… imagine driving listening to a radio station, and by radio I mean an old analogue radio that is a little bit out of tune, and as you drive the stations tune in and out and you get snatches of different programmes, plays, music, news, sport, all mixed up and fading in and out. Got that? Well this is exactly how I felt with this story – it’s a puzzle box of a story with snatches of different parts from different characters dropped in and out and a story about a spaceship full of slaves being experimented on, a Time Lady called Caleera who has extraordinary psychic powers, an ancient couple of Time Lords Lord Stormblood (Vincent Franklin) and Lady Sepulchura (Jacqueline King) – but above all else this is Helen Sinclair’s story. Hattie Morahan is given he chance to shine in this and become the woman she needs to be. Now then, imagine after driving for miles and getting more and more fed up with your out of tune radio you decide to buy a DAB for the car – crystal clear, all making sense, perfect sound – this is how the final act is played out. The true danger of the situation when you suddenly realise what you have been listening to all along. A mind bending David Lynch-esque enigma of an episode and one of the best I have heard in a very long time.
The Gift by Marc Platt
Following on from the revelations in the previous story The Doctor, Liv and Helen arrive in San Fransisco in 1906. The Doctor has gone a bit peculiar and is seemingly obsessed with getting a haircut. The story centres on one Charles Virgil McLean (James Jordan) who is trying to put on a definitive version of King Lear, however Mr McLean is in debt to the local gangsters and his production is not getting the audiences due to Caruso being in town. McLean’s luck seems to change when he is given a strange psychic “gift” that allows him to conjure money from the air – but there is always a price. This story is almost the calm before the storm as the events of the previous episode are tried and tested. The “gift” is a deadly weapon, but is it a weapon that the Doctor can control? There has also been an intruder in the TARDIS, an intruder who wears expensive parma-violet perfume… Almost a celebrity historical in which the celebrity is an established historical event rather than a person – it leads very nicely into the box set finale.
The Sonomancer byMatt Fitton
With the TARDIS being guided to the planet Syra, Professor River Song – hooray! – is already there trying to save the indigenous people from the cataclysm that is about to befall the planet. She has summoned the Doctor and at one point asks Helen “is it the Magician, the Spiv or the geography teacher?”, she seems genuinely heartbroken that the man that arrives is not her “sweetie” yet. This final episode again has an epic sweeping feel and sees the return of arch villain The Eleven (Mark Bonnar) and the new threat of The Sonomancer. It is genuinely a joy to hear Alex Kingston as River Song, she gives a commanding performance taking charge of the situation and acting like the Doctor, as he is off dealing with The Sonomancer. Again is is Hattie Morahan as Helen Sinclair who shines in this episode, her scenes with River are genuinely touching, and River’s parting words of “look after him until it is my turn” brought a bit of tear to my eye. This episode is fast-paced blockbuster entertainment – the action just does not let up and not all of the questions posed earlier in the set are answered. I may have been wrong earlier when I said a great story needed a prologue (thank you Lurcio), a beginning, a middle and an end – I forgot that it has to leave them wanting more. And this final story most definitely does that - it’s going to be a long wait until October.
The original Doom Coalition was superb – this one is even better. The structure works like a dream and Helen Sinclair is really developed as a character. The stories work as part of a set and also as part of a greater whole, and like any good drama leaves questions to be answered – the biggest of all must surely be ‘who are the Doom Coalition?” If Doom Coalition 3 and 4 are anywhere near as good as this then we are in for the trip of a lifetime as we find out. A fast paced, traditional, surreal, beautiful epic and a very well deserved 10/10. Salute!