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.
And so we reach the beginning of the end of another series of Fourth Doctor adventures and as is the tradition it is a two part story beginning with this months “The Skin of the Sleek” and finishing off next month with “The Thief Who Stole Time” – so reviewing this in isolation may be quite difficult but I will try to asses it on its own merits, though it may be better to take this and next months as a coherent whole.
This season I have been a bit of an old moaning Michael about this series though being nominally set in Season 18 feeling a lot more like Season 17 – not so this story, it feels pure Bidmead – a more morose, detached Fourth Doctor, a more independent intelligent Romana who is not so much the comic foil for the silly old Doctor, more an adventuress in her own right, and do you know this works particularly well in this story as we discover a lot more about Romana’s past….
Yes dear reader this story delves into Roman’s time at the academy as we meet one of her contemporaries Sartia (Joannah Tincey) – but school reunion this is not as the adventure takes place on the planet Funderell, a planet where the whole surface is a type of ocean, if you move the surface tension will keep you afloat, if you stay still then you sink which is a problem for the TARDIS which sinks without trace into the murky depths.
This is a very slow paced story, very in keeping with Full Circle of Warriors Gate and a complete wrench from the stories that have preceded because over the course of the two episodes not a lot seems to happen – there are some beautiful poetic words from the indigenous population and a moral dilemma when Romana and Sartia kill a sacred animal in self defence, and there is also a mystery as to why the Time Lords have become involved in the planet and why the sacred book of the indigenous people is written in Gallifreyan. And then there is the cliffhanger, which I really didn’t see coming, and it is crushing and it is cruel and it is terrible, I can honestly say it brought a lump to my throat and made me angry (I don’t often get angry) because how dare a certain character be treated like that by another character.
In summing up a slow measured beginning to an ending with some very very interesting moments (especially the ending of part two) but maybe this will work better when the whole story has been told as I found that the story lacked pace and focus. Hesitant to give a score but a cautious 6/10 which may go up on hearing the ending.
Only in Doctor Who could you get a story that begins with the gritty Scouse social realism of if not The Boys from the Blackstuff then definitely Brookside and ends with a battle involving intergalactic wizards using blood control and piloting flying ships. Endless possibilities, infinitely variable format check and check
This is an interestingly schizophrenic story careering from New Adventures style grit to panto style OTT cackling villains, sometimes in the same scene – Julie Graham as Carolyn is obviously having a whale of a time, not just chewing the scenery but cooking in a pre-heated oven for several hours. But what is this story about?
Arriving in a Liverpool Shipyard in 1991 The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Mel (Bonnie Langford) discover a dead body and are soon caught up in the investigation, the shipyard is owned by Stuart Dale (Todd Heppenstall) an ex University boyfriend of Mel who has developed a process to create an almost magical metal called Dark Alloy, he has rescued the shipyard from almost bankruptcy and kept local men in jobs – capitalism and social responsibility about 10 years before it was fashionable – but when something appears too good to be true it usually is but is Stuart in on the game or is he just an innocent bystander or is he willingly blind? All these questions and many more will be answered over the four episodes of the story. But just how does the story go from murder in a Merseyside shipyard to alien mages, blood sacrifices and flying ships? By stealth is the answer because I for one could not see the join, the story flowed from one emphasis to the other and it was impossible to see the joins, it just seemed a natural progression from one to the other that is how well the narrative fits, like blood sacrificing alien mages were a natural part of 1990’s Liverpool (which they weren’t) – it also swings very well from dark to camp without it feeling jarring or forced, its just one of those stories you just have to go with.
McCoy, Aldred and Langford make an engaging TARDIS team with Bonnie particularly coming in for praise – she has completely thrown off the shackles of her TV persona and made Mel a real person with real motivations and not just a computer programmer from Pease Pottage and not much else. As I said before Julie Graham steals every scene she is in giving a performance worthy of the great Sir Brian of Blessed – but even all the camp over the topness of her performance does not feel out of place with the rest of the story – to misquote Sir Brian from Blackadder “this story has been as twere a mighty stew” and thats exactly what it is – lots of disparate styles and stories thrown together, they shouldn’t really work but somehow through the gravy of the writing and continuity and sound design seem to gel together rather nicely and give us a rip roaring adventure yarn as well as an introspective Seventh Doctor outing. Lovely stuff 8/10.
It is very very difficult to review this without giving away absolutely ENORMOUS spoilers, so forgive me please if my usual rambling flowery style becomes a deeper shade of vague rambling flowery style….
There is something wrong, something not quite right, it was on the tip of my mind all the way through episode one and two, a niggle which others may have picked up on. Let me put it this way, you know when you watched The Day of The Doctor and even though David Tennant was in it as 10, it didn’t feel quite like 10. Or when Rod Jane and Roger became Rod Jane and Freddy and the world felt slightly off kilter. Well its like that. Sort of. But not really.
What it is like though is good old fashioned and by that I mean series one and two Torchwood, all Cardiff based filled with sex, sleaze, tea, chips and adventure – and though the premise may be going back to the days the team have changed – joining the immortal Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) & Cardiffs very own Gwen Cooper are Mr Colchester (Paul Clayton), wannabe Torchwood operative Tyler Steele (Jonny Green) and alien whim-monger Orr (Sam Beart) because the late 2010’s are where everything changes (again) and the new Torchwood have to be ready.
The premise is interesting and a parallel with the wired post truth world that we have been inhabiting since everything went wrong in 2016, you see Aliens have already invaded and have been integrating into Cardiff for a long time, and they are bringing wealth with them so even though there is a recession and the indigenous Cardiffians are suffering hard times, property prices are rising as the alien Sorvix buy up all the luxury apartments and their leader the brood Mother Ro-Jedda (Rachel Atkins) uses her wealth to exert her influence over her own people and the Mayor of Cardiff – this is the set up for the first box set of Torchwood Series 5, and the set is split in to four stories:
5.1 Changes Everything by James Goss
A play on the title of the very first episode of Torchwood – this episode introduces is to investigative journalist Tyler Steele (Jonny Green) making a new life for himself in Cardiff and investigating the Red Door terrorist movement and attacks on immigrants – is it post Brexit hate crime or is it being instigated by a third power for another reason? A great introduction to the cocky Tyler Steele and the paranoid landscape of 2017 Cardiff. Tyler is dead cert for Torchwood, cocky, arrogant but with a brain to get the job done and a complete counterpoint to the other new Torchwood recruit, the curmudgeonly Volvo driving Mr Colchester (Paul Clayton), surely the LEAST likely Torchwood operative all expense reports and balancing the books, but you know he works and he may just well be my new favourite character in the series.
5.2 Aliens & Sex & Chips & Gravy by James Goss
I always liked the “Cardiff Buddy Movie” format of the Torchwood series, you know where one of our heroes and A.N Other have a jolly adventure round Cardiff, well this is pretty similar, but the two having an adventure are Gwen and Mr Colchester, and Mr Colchester is a million miles out of his comfort zone as this particular adventure involves a hen night for Madrigal (Sophie Colquhoun) daughter of Sorvix Brood Mother Ro-Jedda. And hilarity ensues. And so does death an mayhem, but mainly hilarity. And as our heroes and Madrigal drive around Cardiff avoiding death squads and picking up copious amounts of Vodka along the way we learn a lot more about not only Mr Colchester but also the alien Sorvix and their plans, not through info dumps but through alcohol fuelled conversations and high jinx. And it was at the end of this episode that the penny dropped for me and the reasons for feeling a little off centre were apparent. And THAT is all I have to say about that.
5.3 Orr by Juno Dawson
So far in the proceedings Jack Harkness has taken a bit of a backseat but he is front and centre in this episode and it is a very different episode, very slow, very introspective as Jack and the team meet Orr (Sam Beart) a creature genetically engineered to appear as the perfect sexual partner of their beholder (well it is Torchwood ) however Orr is in trouble BIG trouble, she is wearing a control collar which is rigged to blow in 24 hours and which will take Cardiff with it, so it is a race against time for Jack to try go get a the device defused or to get Orr far enough away from civilisation so that when she blows she causes minimum damage. There is much great dialogue between Jack and Orr and a touching moment where Orr strives to become Ianto for Jack – and for a character that could have been really limited in scope this episode gives Sam Beart a real chance to shine and make Orr more than the sum of her parts.
5.4 Superiority Complex by AK Benedict
What do you do to ingratiate yourselves into a city where most of the population are just about surviving? when you are guests from an alien world and want to fit in? Easy, you build yourselves a sever star intelligent hotel and ban all humans from entering unless they are staff. At least thats what Ro-Jedda and the Sorvix have done. but something is very very wrong in the paradise they have built in Cardiff Bay – Sorvix guests are being brutally murdered and as tensions rise the protests from the Cardiffians outside the fenced off hotels threaten to turn in to a blood bath as the manager of the hotel enjoys nothing more than killing humans for sport. Time for Torchwood to get involved. As the first box set ends this story had to provide a mid season cliffhanger (which it does) and be a season finale (which it sort of does) This is a new Torchwood team just getting to understand how each other works and this episode is about them flexing their particular skill sets to stop the body count getting out of control.
A paranoid beginning to a new series, Everything Changes all over again and in this cray paranoid and downright dangerous world we live in A man in a great coat, a Volvo Driver, an ex journalist, a genetic anomaly and a lady in a very nice weather jacket are all that stand between us and the world falling over the precipice into chaos. Its not pretty, its not perfect and at times it is very silly (internal lift anyone!), but it is all Torchwood – welcome back, you have been missed. 7.5/10.
And here I am, after what feels like an eternity (although it was only four weeks) back in my newly refurbished kitchen – as long time readers will know this is my reviewing position of choice. So firmly ensconced in my comfort zone I embarked on a listen and a review of a most uncomfortable and unexpected episode of Torchwood.
Big Finish have really taken the premise of Torchwood and expanded it beyond Cardiff Bay in the twenty first century looking back on the institutes involvement in all aspects of the twentieth century, but this goes into a very very dark place, this episode takes us back to occupied France during World War 2, it takes us to The Dying Room of the title and to the blackest day for Monsieur LeDuc (Simon Russell Beale) as he is interrogated by SS Officer Grau (Mark Elstob) regarding his brief association with suspected resistance operative Madame Berber (Emma Cuniffe) and her association with Torchwood.
For the most part the story plays out as a two hander as Grau uses more and more extreme techniques to extract the information he needs from LeDuc – it is also told in flashback as the events that led up to LeDuc being imprisoned in The Dying Room being teased out a piece at a time – we learn that Paris is ravaged by a plague that is turning German soldiers into rampaging monsters – its almost like the inner ugliness of what they stand for is becoming real, that the horror that is Fascism is showing its true face. As more of the story is teased out we find out a lot more about both interrogator and victim and just how far each of them will go to protect their version of the truth.
This is an intense listen and pulls no punches, the Nazi’s are portrayed for what they are – no camp silly comedy goose-stepping with outrageous accents – they are cruel, single minded fanatics who see anyone who does not fit their world view as sub normal and expendable, where might is right and subjugation to the rule of the Fuhrer is all. And we are blessed in having Mark Elstob and Simon Russell Beale playing Grau and LeDuc – two actors at the top of their game that make the interrogation utterly convincing, Simon Russell Beale paints LeDuc as a picture of despair, a man who cannot comprehend why he is in this situation, a man who does not have the answers that Grau demands whereas Elstob as Grau is determined, a zealot, a man who will get his answers, any answers and who will win at any cost – the dance they partake in starts slow with the two participants encircling each other and like any good Paso Doble reaches a crescendo of drama and crisis and as the music stops and the dust clears we end up in a place we did not expect when the orchestra struck up.
A triumph of intensity and a masterclass in selling the drama, of drawing the listener in and making them hang on every single word that will stand up to several repeated listens to appreciate the subtleties of the script, the nuances of the direction and the truth of the acting. Another classic 10/10.
There are those who see Doctor Who as two distinct entities with only a shared title in common – Classic Who & Nu Who and never the twain shall meet. There are others (myself included) who see Doctor Who as one long evolving TV show (albeit with a gap of 16 years in which it evolved into a range of Books and audios) and see only Doctor Who so to me “Classic Doctors – New Monsters” is a no brainer – use the best monsters from most 2005 era with Doctor’s from the so called “classic” era, its not as if it has not been done in the TV series, remember all those monster comebacks in the 1980’s – Omega, Silurians, Sea Devils, Sontarans all reintroduced for the glitzy 80’s Who produced by JNT, and then there is last years rather successful “Classic Doctors – New Monsters Volume 1” (review HERE) in which Doctors 5,6,7 and 8 squared off against Weeping Angels, Judoon, Sycorax and “Nu Who” Sontarans – a second set was merely a formality and this set is on the surface more of the same, but it also ties together the “Classic” and “Nu” eras through the first and last stories which feature The Fourth Doctor, the Eighth Doctor and a common thread in the Vashta Nerada (last seen, or more precisely NOT seen in 2008’s Library two parter). Anyhow, without further procrastination, lets take a look at the stories:
Night of the Vashta Nerada by John Dorney
When writing Tom Baker as the Doctor the default position seems to be to write the boggle eyed loon version from season 17, it is very rare that we get the morose, introverted Hinchcliffe era Tom, but that is precisely what we get here, and this version of Number 4 really suits the proceedings as they are rather grim.
The action takes place on the planet of Funworld, a planet sized theme park where the entire population has disappeared, owner Georgia Donnelly (Lorelei King) has hired Amanda Steele (Pam Ferris) and her team to find out what exactly has happened – add The Doctor to the mix and a very claustrophobic atmosphere and to that add the Vast Nerada and you have a tense base under siege story in which not everyone will be saved.
Now the Vashta Nerada the pirañas of the air are the weak link here – they are by their very nature a predictable monster with not a lot of scope for development – they exist to eat and pick people off one by one by attaching to their shadows and that is about it – but as catalysts for the action they are as good as any monster spurring the protagonists with a sense of urgency. Tom does moral outrage in this one very well, he is almost cold and dispassionate and very alien for want of a better word and really sells the drama. The story can be a little predictable but the sense of danger is electric throughout.
Empire of the Racnoss by Scott Handcock
The Fifth Doctor was always the most “human” of all the Doctors – and this story reinforces his compassion and vulnerability as he struggles to do the right thing against overwhelming odds in a situation where there is no good outcome for anyone.
This story sees the reintroduction of The Racnoss last seen in the 2006 Christmas Special “The Runaway Bride” and here Doctor five is dragged into the middle of a war that they are having against The Timelords – and there is also the matter of a marital dispute between The Empress (Adjoa Andoh) and Emperor (Nigel Planer) of the Racnoss and the fall out of a bitter custody battle for their brood. This is an intense story, and very fast paced and at the heart lies an insoluble moral dilemma.
The Carrionite Curse by Simon Guerrier
And then there is The Carrionite Curse – possibly THE best Sixth Doctor story in any format. Old SIxie was made to face off against these pseudo -Witches, he is the most verbose of all the Doctors and their use of words as building blocks of power is perfect for Colin’s fruity delivery of all sorts of overly complex and plainly simplistic dialogue. But its not just a story of clever wordplay – Simon Guerrier gets to the heart of who exactly Old Sixie is, a man terrified of becoming the Valeyard, a man scared of the price of his own failure hiding behind the facade of a braggart and a clown. There are so many good things about this story from the pre-credits, to Old Sixie’s moral outrage at Witch Trials in the 1980’s, to the mentions of one George Litefoot (hankies at the ready all) to his friendship with fellow outcast Goth Student Katy Bell (Maya Sondhi) who in her black velvet mourning suit is a counterpoint to Old Sixie’s coat of many colours. Its no small claim that this is the best of all Sixth Doctor stories, but in my mind this story is worth of that accolade. An out and out classic.
Day of the Vashta Nerada by Matt Fitton
And so we come almost up to date as Doctor Number Eight (Paul McGann) enters the Time War and joins up with Cardinal Ollistra (Jaqueline Pearce) of Doom Coalition and War Doctor fame to prevent an outbreak of Vashta Nerada on an experimental station. But these are no ordinary Vashta Nerada – these are genetically modified weaponised Vashta Nerada and are being purchased by Ollistra as weapons in the Time War. You can pretty much guess that all does not end well. Taking its cue from modern day Who and Big Finish’s take on Gallifrey this is a high octane action movie of an audio where at stake is the fate of Gallifrey and the direction of the Time War – this episode serves almost as a pilot for the forthcoming Time War series and finishes on a mission statement for Who the Doctor is tinged with sadness as to who he will become.
Four different stories with different emphasis with the jewel being The Carrionite Curse which is relatively small scale compared to the others but no less impactful for it – these stories really showcase what sort of person each Doctor really is and how they are, though all very different the same person with the same moral core. An era spanning 9/10.
So there I was on Thursday night about to write my review of Flashpoint when Kitchen disaster took place, or more accurately Kitchen clearance took place, no table, no chair, no place to write my review in my usual Kitchen haven – the Men from Magnet are imminent and nothing will ever be the same again.
In a strange turn of events I sit hear on Sunday 16 July and the world of Doctor Who has just had the single biggest change in its 54 year history – Jodie Whittaker has been announced as Doctor Who number 13, and the show will never be the same again – a brave and bold move, a strong female role model, a hero to a whole new generation, wonderful times to be a fan and I cannot wait to join her on her adventures.
Jodie Whittaker may be the first female Doctor, but the series has had its fair share of strong female role models and Big Finish has had its hand in creating one of the very best – stand up Sheridan Smith as the magnificent and irreplaceable Lucie Miller, the lass from Blackpool and companion to the eighth Doctor over four magnificent series and now she is back to read this months Short Trips release “Flashpoint” and Lucie gets to shine as this release is what in TV terms would be called a “Doctor Lite” story, that is The Doctor is not in it for the majority of the story and this time it is up to Lucie to be the hero, but can she? Can she be The Doctor? Can she protect a little boy from cruel heartless gangsters who want him dead – when it comes down to it how far will she go to do the right thing?
Tense and dramatic and squeezing a lot in to its 35 minute running time – Lucie Miller can proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with Jo Grant, Sarah Jane, Romana, Rose Tyler, Donna Noble & Bill Potts as all time great companions – she is out of her depth, she is frightened, she is disorientated but she still keeps her sense of right and wrong, she puts the life of a complete stranger before her own safety, sh basically does what the Doctor would do, difference being he is 900 year old Time-lord who can regenerate, she is an ordinary girl from Blackpool to whom death means death.
16 July 2017 will always be remembered for the day Doctor Who became female, but Flashpoint celebrates the proud history of strong female characters that came before 13 and Lucie Miller is one of the strongest and one of the best and Flashpoint showcases her perfectly 10/10.
I have decided to rename series six of the Fourth Doctor Adventures. Well not quite the series but the season it is ostensibly set in. It may have the theme music of season 18 but thematically it feels a lot more like a progression of season 17, so from now on (in my mind at least) this is set in Season 17.5. Glad I got that off my chest
So Season 17.5 continues with The Movellan Grave, and more a-typical a Doctor Who story you could not wish for. It just feels EXACTLY like Who used to feel back in the 1970’s. Doctor and Romana discover something is not quite right, go and investigate, ingratiate themselves with the people involved, discover what is going on and have an adventure. This story follows that pattern almost to the letter, but do you know it does it with total panache and style that it feels fresh and new and exciting. It actually has a “New Who” feel about it as it is pacy whilst retaining the charm of season 17.5. It also does what 1970’s Who did very well and “borrows” or plunders or pays homage to sci-fi of the big screen, in this case Terminator 2, there is a scene in episode two that…. – but I get ahead of myself.
Yes Terminator 2, albeit Terminator 2 on a BBC budget (even on audio) and as I have not mentioned it already (although the title may give it away) it features the most Disco aliens ever to feature in Doctor Who – The Movellan’s.
You see a Movellan power pack has been found in an archaeological dig and this draws The Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana (Lalla Ward) to the scene where they meet archaeologists Carrie Pierce (Camilla Power) and Robin Lyon (John Banks) who are very sceptical when The Doctor and Romana explain the power packs extra terrestrial origins, but soon there is a buried Movellan spaceship uncovered, and a Movellan secret weapon in the war against the Daleks, a mutant, augmented Movellan called Chenek (Chris Jarman) – an unstoppable force created to be the ultimate warrior and coming back to episode two he does a mean T-1000 chasing down Tom et al in a land-rover which brings back memories of the on foot chase after the motorbike n Terminator 2.
Its very exciting stuff but not all adventure, explosions and chases, underneath the window dressing this is a morality tale about the ethics of war and of methods used to develop weapons of mass destruction. And it also has spangly disco robots as well. This was a story I was expecting to be a bit of a filler, the calm before the end of season two parter but it is nothing of the sort, it is a breath of fresh air and a complete redrawing of the rules on telling a more traditional Who story without breaking what makes stories of the era so special. Judgement day on this release gives a favourable verdict of 9/10.
Now don’t all run away when I say the next line. Promise you wont? You all trust me don’t you? – OK here I go “Season 24”……..
Tumbleweed. People walking away, disdain from my fellow Whovians – that is the legacy of said season 24, it doesn’t get much love, and it is easy to see why – garish stories with really broad (to say the least) turns from the largely light entertainment guest cast, a Doctor who hadn’t really found his feet and in Bonnie Langford the least popular companion since Adric – so why would Big Finish do an homage to it? Well maybe it wasnt intentional, but this months main range release “The High Price of Parking” feels just that – or more accurately feels like season 24 with 30 years of hindsight. If you want to know more and haven’t yet quit at the mere mention of said season, please read on….
OK - So I have mentioned Season 24 more than is really healthy to do, but more specifically this one reminds me of Paradise Towers. It reminds me of Paradise Towers a lot, which is no bad thing as Paradise Towers is a bit of an overlooked gem (my resignation from Who fandom is in the post ) no really, it is – the basic story is sound, “some” of the execution is good, the ideas are excellent on paper, it was just hampered by the production values of the time. And Richard Briers. But close your eyes and The High Price of Parking is all there, shot on video in Television Centre, overly lit, hopelessly over ambitious and not really coming off that well. But on audio it is in a grimy, run down, poorly lit, litter strewn planet sized car park – and that is the joy of audio because the pictures are in your head. I know its a cliche, but its true.
The High Price of Parking has The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Mel (Bonnie Langford) on their way to the Dashrah, a planet of exceptional beauty – but to get there they have to park the TARDIS on the planetoid known as Parking, which is basically a planet sized park and ride, complete with overly officious parking Wardens, this being Doctor Who though it is in no way as simple as a trip to a universal beauty spot – they get arrested by the wardens, led by the deliciously oily Kempton (Hywel Morgan) and the far more reasonable Cowley (Gabrielle Glaister of Blackadder “Bob” fame) and are accused of being “Free Parkers” – not that that means what you might think, that they have tried to avoid paying their parking fee, no the Free Parkers are a tribe who want Parking to be an independent planet. Yes tribes, a planet sized car park has indigenous tribes descended from those who just couldn’t find their vehicles and have gone native through the generations and have built their own cultures based on the rituals of Parking – think Kangs or the tribe of the free or the Sevateem and you wont be too far from the truth. And then there is Seraphim (Kate Duchene) a robotic voice that has set herself up as a God operating from Parkings oldest and lowest levels with a plan for universal domination. Stir well and cook on gas mark 1987 and we have a bit of a classic brewing. Seriously.
This story distills the elements of several of the tropes that make up a Doctor Who story and make something altogether better than the sum of their parts – it can sometimes feel like a bit of a greatest hits compilation, but one as carefully selected as this by a writer that really knows his Who and structured so well, trading the fine line between drama, camp and panto – with actors able to give a “turn” and chew the scenery because the tone of the story allows it and the leads on top form, McCoy being the Doctor he really wanted to be in 1987, Langford playing Mel as she should always been played and Aldred giving her best bolshy shouty Ace with attitude. Not a lot more to say but go out and buy this one, close your eyes (not if you are driving listening to it) and alternate your thoughts about how it WOULD have looked in 1987 and how it SHOULD have looked, definitely a story that hasn’t out stayed its allocated parking time – 9/10.
We’ve all seen them but perhaps not noticed them, large glass and chrome monoliths, or drab grey concrete buildings lacking joy and empathy, bland corporate logos above the shining glass doors, staff packed in like battery hens as they try to “push the envelope” or provide “boots on the ground” – I am talking about office buildings – faceless corporate almost entity’s in themselves and an unavoidable part of our landscape. Pressure cooker culture with impossible ideals to meet, homes of one upmanship and targets and “dress down Friday and staff nights out that no one really wants to go on. It was pretty inevitable that Torchwood would investigate one of these, and in this months release this is just what Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd) does. He doesn’t particularly want to, it is Friday night after all and he does have The Apprentice to watch, but investigate he does and for Ianto Jones this is a Friday night like no other, this is a Friday night where just once he should have gone home and watched The Apprentice, because the Office building that he is investigating seems to have been waiting for him….
There is something inherently creepy about deserted buildings, and even more creepy about deserted buildings that still seem to have a function – this one looks and feels like an office, but there is no one around, and Ianto is locked in. You can feel the tension and the building paranoia as Ianto explores his prison and discovers that perhaps this is a prison built specifically for him – but why? Why has he been lured here, and WHO is the girl that he meets (Bethan Rose Young) who claims to be in charge of security but cannot remember her name – can he trust her? Will he ever get to see this weeks (or any other weeks for that matter) episode of The Apprentice?
This story goes right to the heart of what Torchwood are and what they do, it deals with the consequences of those actions almost like no other story before it and lays Ianto’s soul bare – Ianto always was the softer side of Torchwood, this explores how he deals with the contradictions in his job and how those contradictions can devastate the lives of those who Torchwood sometimes only think of as all in a days work.
The special features for this story describe it as inspired by The Avengers episode “The Joker” and I can definitely see that – claustrophobic, dangerous and unpredictable and trending upwards (to use the vernacular of the Office) 8/10.