Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Project: Twilight

This is a pretty important Big Finish release. It's the first script written by duo Cavan Scott and Mark Wright. It is also notable for introducing The Forge and the delightful villain Nimrod. Once again we have the 6th Doctor and Evelyn paired together (two in a row with them is never a bad thing!) on Earth, this time in "modern" times in a gritty part of southeast London.

The original idea for this story was the idea of vampire mobsters in Las Vegas. Garry Russel wisely asked the pair to relocate things to London to avoid dodgy US accents that cranky American fans (like myself) would complain about. After some of the dreadful accents in "Minuet in Hell" this was a very wise decision.

One standout feature of this release is the fantastic atmosphere. It begins with the completely awesome music. The main melody is catchy and immediately adds to the creepy atmosphere you would want for a vampire story. There are also some shifts to a synthesized choir at times which really hammers home the mood of certain scenes. Generally, I think incidental music that you don't really notice works best for drama, but in this case, I notice it, and it enhances my enjoyment of the story. The sound effects are also magnificently realized in their often gory glory.

More high marks go out for the performances. It just goes without saying that Colin Baker and Maggie Stables are on top form as always, but the three principal guest actors are all terrific. Holly De Jong plays chief villainous Amelia. She has just the right bit of menace underneath her charming facade. And, when she bares her fangs (metaphorically speaking) she is just terrifying. Rob Dixon is fantastic has Amelia's henchman and muscle Reggie. When Reggie becomes infuriated at the Doctor, Dixon takes his performance right to the edge and is completely deranged in his anger. But, Dixon is equally convincing when schmoozing with customers, or laughing it up as he plays with his victims. When Reggie finally gets his (very unpleasant) comeuppance, it's immensely satisfying. Rosie Cavaliero is just heart breaking as Cassie. Even when she is calmly working as a waitress in her opening scenes, you can feel her character's desperation. When Cassie breaks down to Evelyn over her plight, your heart goes out to her. When she first wakes up after becoming a vampire, she is simply terrifying, and then quite vulnerable again when she breaks down, disgusted at what she's done and what she's become. It's no wonder they carried Cassie's story into a sequel.

You simply can't mention the guest cast without mentioning the incomparable Stephen Chase as Nimrod. Perhaps Big Finish's best original villain, Nimrod's voice is just unmistakeable and simply loaded with dark, aged, menace. He has returned in stories since this one, and is always fantastic. Oddly enough in this story, he is at his most likeable. While he is certainly more than sinister, he is written more as an anti-hero than a villain here. I really wouldn't have minded Scott and Wright continuing with the character down this path. But, I also can't deny how effective he is as a complete bastard in the sequel "Project: Lazarus" - but more on that one when we get to it.

Getting back to the Doctor and Evelyn, there is a fantastic scene where just after the Doctor discovers that Amelia and Reggie are vampires, he (completely unfairly) goes on a long, vitriolic rant on poor Evelyn who is guilty of nothing but wanting to know what's going on. The Doctor's feelings on the "ancient enemy" of the Time Lords is pretty much complete racism (if perhaps justified given his personal history), and this is Baker at his most furious. It's quite a rare thing to hear this from the 6th Doctor when targeted at Evelyn, and the performance from Baker is top notch. It's also lovely when the Doctor calms down and immediately apologizes to Evelyn. To her credit, Evelyn demands that he be more forthright with information in the future. Another masterful scene for Baker is when the Doctor is locked up and he knows that Evelyn is about to be killed (or worse). His absolute desperation at trying to get out of his cell is palpable. You can feel the incredibly strong bond that the Doctor and Evelyn have quickly formed, and you can just feel the anguish and helplessness. Kudos to director Gary Russel for pulling out all of these strong performances.

As noted earlier, this is the first of more stories to feature both Nimrod and the Forge. Sadly, we have never had a return of Amelia, whose fate is left unclear at the story's conclusion. I have enjoyed all of the Forge stories, but this is by far my favorite. It blew me away the first time I've heard it, and is one of the stories I have listened to again the most. The introduction of the Forge (which is a concept that you could easily accuse Russel T. Davies  - a Big Finish fan - of blatantly ripping off for Torchwood) was a fantastic idea, and gets explored much more in the sequels. This is also a very adult Doctor Who story that goes well beyond any boundaries the classic or new TV series would ever nudge.


Thursday, October 4, 2012


"Bloodtide" is the first story to be penned by Jonathan Morris, and compared to a lot of his future stories is a remarkably traditional, straigtforward type of Doctor Who story. The Silurians are the featured monster du jour, and unsurprisingly are well realized by the Big Finish audio wizards. This features the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn who are wonderful as always, though separated for much of the story. The most interesting aspect of this story is that the Doctor meets Charles Darwin in the 1830's on the Galapagos Islands and features a fictional version of how Darwin first begins to come up with the theory of evolution.

Darwin is played with aplomb by Miles Richardson who skillfully delivers the portrayal of youthful brilliance. Darwin's study of the wildlife of the islands is leading to his theory of evolution and listening to the devout man wrestling with his crisis of faith is riveting stuff. It's also funny how Evelyn and the Doctor at different times can't resist planting a few (of his own) ideas in his head. When Evelyn coins the phrase "survival of the fittest" for him his unimpressed reaction to the "odd expression" is amusing. Morris does his best not to pick a side on the creation vs. evolution debate - even throwing in the twist that mankind is a product of neither since the Silurian scientist Tulok was ultimately responsible for triggering mans evolution through genetic manipulation. This explanation for the Missing Link is a fun plot point.

The Silurians are well realized in the audio format. The voice effects are well done, and thankfully patterned after "Doctor Who and the Silurians" in favor of "Warriors of the Deep". The story does feel similar to "... the Silurians", but adding the disturbing facet of the Silurians actually eating the "apes" as food is interesting. When the Doctor and Captain Fitzroy discover the Silurian "larder" with dead human corpses hanging on hooks, it's suitably gruesome. Another fun addition to the plot is a redemption for the dreaded Myrka. Morris' version obviously benefits from not having to be realized visually, and is portrayed as a monstrously large version (Morris seems to differentiate this version by calling it an adult version, implying that the "pantomime horse" monstrosity from "Warriors of the Deep" was not fully grown. Thankfully, no one attempts to subdue the Myrka with a karate kick in "Bloodtide".) It is a little odd that the Myrka has a lengthy attack on the ship "The Beagle" and is unable to sink it, but ends up destroying the Silurian submersible almost instantly. I guess the electric properties of the creature had a more profound impact on the metallic Silurian vessel?

One other true highlight is when incarcerated, Darwin is discussing his crisis of faith with Fitzroy, who is unsurprisingly skeptical of Darwin's theories. They ask the Doctor his opinion, and it's another wonderful, quiet moment for Colin Baker's Doctor. He shrewdly avoids picking a side between science vs. religion and instead speaks of the wonders of the universe. It's yet another example of how wonderful Big Finish has been to this characterization of the 6th Doctor. This type of moment, is never done nearly as good during his television era, and it continues to enrage me at how much the production team failed this era of the show and largely squandered having such a gifted actor in the lead role.

Ultimately, "Bloodtide" is an entertaining, somewhat traditional Doctor Who story. It's fun hearing the Silurians again, and it's a fun yarn with some nice philosophical exploration. The pairing of the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn continues to build its reputation as one of the best Doctor/Companion pairings ever (and it keeps getting better from here). It's amusing that Morris' first story was so straightforward when you consider some of the Big Finish stories he would go on to write. It's timely to note that one of Morris' ideas when brainstorming for this story was the idea of the Silurians having sent a space ark out into space as an alternative escape for their population to hibernation. Can you imagine dinosaurs... on a spaceship?! No, that idea would never work.

Rating: Great