Thursday, November 29, 2012

Invaders From Mars

This is the second Big Finish Doctor Who written by Mark Gattis, and this time Mark also directed the play. The plot is based on a very clever idea of real aliens actually causing mayhem in New York during the legendary Orson Welles radio broadcast of "The War of the Worlds". Some of this audio drama was presented in the form of mock news casts, which actually fooled many listeners into thinking there was a real alien invasion going on! It also has the novel idea of the invading aliens being technologically superior, but pretty much comically useless. The story has a mix of serious and silly tones to it. It's a fun story, but I can't help thinking that releasing this story right after the totally comedic "The One Doctor" didn't do this play any favors. This story also marks the beginning of the 2nd Big Finish season of 8th Doctor audios. While the quality of story varies somewhat from one release to another, this season really pays off the character arc of Charley, who we all know should have died back in "Storm Warning", but the Doctor saved her, changing history. The consequences of this really come back to haunt him. Back when this was the only new Who I was just blown away by this season, and this story gets it off to a nice, fun start.

Gattis assembled quite an impressive cast for this play. David Benson does a very impressive Orson Welles impersonation (to my ear anyway), and is very entertaining throughout. Simon Pegg (famous for many things - not the least of which going on to play the Editor in the new series story "The Long Game") and his co-star from "Spaced" Jessica Stevenson (who would go on to play Joan Redfern in the fantastic Series 3 Doctor Who story "Human Nature") were both brought on board to play Don Chaney and Glory Bee respectively. I would never, ever have recognized their voices with their different accents! It's funny that the first 8th Doctor story of this season would be set in America given how atrocious the accents were in the previous story "Minuet in Hell". It's true that there are some cringe inducing accents here and there, but the cliche'd New York accents largely work well in establishing the period and tone of the story, so it's far less annoying than in the aforementioned release.

Of course this story also reunites McGann and India Fisher as the Doctor and Charley, and their wonderful friendship gets explored more this season. It's funny how the 8th Doctor leaps right into the fray by impersonating the recently murdered detective Halliday, ticking Glory Bee, who in turn tricks him into finding Professor Stepashin. Another source of amusement is the evil and flamboyant villain Cosmo Devine, played by John Arthur. Devine is quite amusing, and it was certainly evidence of how Big Finish was pushing the envelope by having a homosexual villain (this was years before we had ever heard of Captain Jack). In fact, there are a few gay characters in this play! One notable cameo was by Katy Manning (who of course played Jo Grant). We'll eventually cover Manning playing Iris Wildthyme (although I am not exactly looking forward to it)!

So we have "War of the Worlds", mobsters with alien guns, Nazis, CIA, and real aliens! It's a lot to pack into this mad play. The aliens themselves are quite the double act. They are pretty comically inept, with one wanting to go off killing and destroying everything, with the other being the "smarter" of the pair wanting to catalog and learn about the planet. Of course, neither of them is bright at all, and it's amusing how quickly the Doctor works out that they are merely small time mobsters themselves trying to run a protection racket on a planetary scale. Devine's interactions with them and his (mostly successful) manipulation of them are quite amusing as well.

So, I enjoy this story as a whole, but I do sometimes find the mix of serious, scary, and humorous tones to sometimes clash and undermine the plot. I also find the musical bumpers, which are very reminiscent of radio dramas of the era to be somewhat of a distraction. I know they are using them to help set the period, but I find it takes me out of the story and makes it harder for me to take the less humorous parts of the story seriously. Still, while I don't enjoy this as much as Gattis' first story "Phantasmagoria", it's still a lot of fun, and kicks off a great second season of the 8th Doctor in style.

Rating: Good

Monday, November 26, 2012

The One Doctor

Certainly, there has been plenty of humor in the current and classic series of Doctor Who. This story, which was the first by Big Finish to reunite Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford as the 6th Doctor and Mel, is an outright silly story. It was brave of Big Finish to commission such an outright funny story where the plot is just a means to a comedic end. But, the story works brilliantly and is peppered with many laugh out loud moments.

The plot centers around a con-man (and his female partner in crime) pretending to be the Doctor. He and his "companion" show up on a planet where they create a hoax invasion which of course "The Doctor" repels. After much cajoling "The Doctor" reluctantly agrees to a substantial reward. However, before the two impostors can escape with their ill begotten loot, the real Doctor and Mel show up and then a genuine alien menace arrives and threatens the planet. It's up to the Doctor, Mel, Banto Zame (the fake Doctor), and Sally-Anne (Banto's partner in crime) to sort out the very real alien threat. The aliens demand, as tribute, the three greatest treasures of the Generios System. And so our four heroes are off to acquire these "great" treasures before time runs out and the entire Generios System is wiped out.

I don't want to go into any more details of the story, as I really don't want to spoil any of the gags, but suffice it to say, this story is hilarious. The Doctor's reaction to finding Banto pretending to be him (with certain key facts wrong) is hilarious. The competition between Mel and Sally Anne as effective companions is delightful. The Doctor and Banto's heated argument is fantastic. And of course the hunts for the treasures are loaded with general silliness. The four principal members of the cast, are just terrific. Christopher Biggins is fantastic as Banto. His fake portrayal of the Doctor is almost believable as a future incarnation. It's just a pushed a bit too far with the results cracking me up. You just can't help but love Banto! Claire Buckfield as the oversexed Sally Anne is priceless too. Her shameless flirting with the Doctor manages to occasionally rattle the mostly unflappable Doctor and irritate Mel to no end. The three quests fly by in a laughter filled blur. But, best of all, the payoff as to why real aliens would show up immediately after Banto repelled the fake aliens is completely logical (and still quite funny).

I'll reiterate that it was brave for Big Finish to do a story this silly, as it could have easily backfired and drawn the ire of fans who take Doctor Who so seriously (I admit to occasionally being among their number). I am sure it's gratifying to writers Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman that it's remained a very popular story. It's no wonder that Big Finish enlisted them to do a sequel that doesn't quite work as well - but we'll cover that one later. Suffice it to say, that "The One Doctor" proves that even completely silly Doctor Who stories can still rank among the best.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012


This is writer Lance Parkin's first Big Finish Doctor Who story, though he's written several Who novels both before and after this story's release. It serves as both a sequel and prequel to the TV story "Keeper of Traken": taking place after the events of that story for the Doctor and Nyssa, but being set thousands of years before those events on the planet itself. Apparently, it's a bit of a polarizing one, as Doctor Who Magazine once said it was the worst 5th Doctor audio ever! I like it fine, though it's no classic. It is a nice idea to explore a familiar alien planet's history for a change. Although, I could have done without the dialog between the Doctor and Nyssa where they hammer the point home for the listeners. Yes, we get it Big Finish!

The more interesting aspects of the story center around poking holes in the utopian Traken paradise and probing some various moral ambiguities. Traken is supposed to be the most wonderful, harmonious place in the universe. It's leaders (Consulars) however, are almost xenophobic and are ready to execute Nyssa, just so her "evil corruption" from being away from home doesn't spread! It's also laughable when the Consulars try to switch sides at the end when their planet is seemingly conquered. On the other hand, the soldiers serving the villainous Kwundaar seem to do terrible acts by his command, but they don't see themselves as evil. They're just following the will of their God - a God that will absolve them of their sins. While their religious justifications for their actions ring hollow (no surprise there) you tend to like their leader, Narthex, much more than the useless Consuls of Traken. He's a man providing for a family he clearly loves dearly. His conversation with his daughter prior to their invasion of Traken is actually quite sweet.

Kwundaar makes for an interesting villain. Throughout the story they give plenty of evidence that he is "godlike" in his power since he can completely read minds across time and space. He even can conquer the Doctor's natural psychic defenses. It does make the ending where the Doctor tricks him seem a bit unlikely, since in theory he would see the Doctor's plan ahead of time, but we'll just pretend he was too busy trying to take control of the source to notice. While this is on its face a Nyssa story, since she spends much of the story being ill, she really ends up not doing a whole lot in this story, other than being duped by the Doctor so she can unwittingly help him defeat Kwundaar. Disappointingly, we never get a very good explanation of who or what Kwundaar is. We just get a vague explanation from him that he is one of other "immortal beings". It's a cute touch at the end where the Doctor explains that other such creatures may be after them now due to Kwundaar signalling them somehow, thereby explaining the appearance of Omega, the Mara, and the Black Guardian in the 20th television season!

So, Primeval isn't brilliant or without some holes, but it's still pretty entertaining. It is fun trying to figure out how the Doctor is going to defeat a villain who can always know ahead of time what he's planning. When the villain inexplicably doesn't see the trick coming, it's a bit of a let down. Still, it is fun to get another go on Traken (unlike some, I really always enjoyed "Keeper of Traken" (Geoffrey Beavers' Master was terrifying to me as a kid), and it's amusing that Parkin gives us an explanation for Nyssa's psychic powers in "Time Flight" and her passing out at the end of "Four to Doomsday". The 5th Doctor and Nyssa are a great combination and Davison and Sutton's chemistry help make their stories more entertaining.

Rating: Good

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Not being a history buff, I had never heard of Colditz before hearing this story. While it has quite a few flaws which I'll get into later, it's still a terrific story and one of my favorite 7th Doctor stories. The premise is brilliant: The Doctor and Ace accidentally land in Colditz in 1944 near the end of World War II. They get captured and are mistaken for British spies. Just having an adventure where the pair try to escape from a Nazi war camp might have been an interesting enough yarn in its own right, but there's more to it. When the mysterious Klein appears, she seems to know a lot about the Doctor and his TARDIS. It turns out she is from a future, that doesn't sound like the correct future. She's from the 1960's where the Germans won the war, and has traveled back in time - in the Doctor's TARDIS!

This is a great timey-whimey story, and introduces the great villain Elizabeth Klein, who we would have to wait a LONG time before we heard from her again (though the wait was well worth it). The guest cast is very strong in this story. Big Finish regular Toby Longworth is good as the likeable German Schaefer. Nicholas Young of The Tomorrow People fame plays the honorable Flying Officer Bill Gower who serves as a leader for the Allied prisoners. The respectful "friendship" between Gower and Shaefer is an interesting subplot to the story. It's clear they respect and possibly even like each other despite being on opposite sides of the war. When Gower blackmails Shaefer, you can tell that Shaefer is shocked and hurt by the betrayal of trust, but at the same time, as Gower says, they aren't on the same side. Perhaps most important in the guest cast is the wonderful Tracey Childs as Klein. Klein is a wonderful villain - ruthless and devoted to her version of the "proper" future, but very sharp. At the end when Klein escapes, you knew they had to bring her back, but they sure did wait a while to do it. Childs would go on to be in "The Fires of Pompeii" featuring the 10th Doctor. On a related note, the other notable guest star is David Tennant (yes, that David Tennant) playing the comically inept German soldier, Kurtz. Kurtz serves primarily as a foil and threat for Ace, but more on that later.

The crux of the time paradox in this story is that somehow the Doctor and Ace's arrival in Colditz changes the future. This causes the Nazis to be triumphant in the war. Klein ends up working in the 1960's trying to figure out the mysteries of the Doctor's TARDIS. She ends up traveling back to 1944 to capture the Doctor (who was documented as arriving, but escaping Colditz) so she can bring him back to her future and force him to help her understand how the TARDIS works. As we find out at the end, she was actually manipulated by an alternate future version of the Doctor, who manipulates Klein into going back to 1944 so she can avert the changes that caused history to go on the wrong track. (Confused yet?) It's a delightful paradox, and much later, on a future release, we actually get to hear this alternate Doctor (played by Paul McGann, of course) trick Klein into making the fateful trip.

This is one of my favorite McCoy stories. For the most part he's at his best. Quietly, trying to figure out what's going on, while outwardly seeming totally in control while manipulating his captors (particularly Klein). Childs and McCoy have real chemistry, so I am glad they were finally reunited much later. The only down part of his performance is when he goes on an angry tantrum towards Klein about her "glorious Reich". I never find McCoy convincing when he does these angry rants.

The story also features the beginning of an attempt to have Ace seem a bit more grown up. Frankly, Ace drives me crazy in this story. You would think that finding out your in a Nazi POW camp might be a source of concern, but Ace never seems even slightly worried about her predicament. Her constant taunting and belittling of poor Kurtz, makes it hard for us listeners to take him seriously. Tennant's delightful over the top performance just adds to him being more of a comic figure. But, there are times where Kurtz is supposed to be really threatening Ace's life, but I never took him very seriously. At times I found myself rooting for Kurtz to shoot and kill Ace since she was getting on my nerves so much. When we find out at the end that it was Ace's CD Walkman (and not the TARDIS) that gave the Nazis the technology they used to win the war, it makes her survival through the story even more annoying.

The other real drawback of this story is its post production. I hate to rip on it, because this is usually something that Big Finish always gets right, but it's very distracting here. The music has some appropriate military style percussion, but its augmented with blaring synths, which feels very out of place with the setting. Also, some of the sound effects are just not up to par. There are a lot of conversations taking place in echo inducing corridors, but the reverb effect used is very unconvincing.

Still, despite some significant flaws with the realization of writer Steve Lyon's script, the story is very enjoyable. It's a very clever time travel paradox idea. The performances from the actors are top notch, and there's a lot of fun to be had here. Most importantly, it created the character of Klein who Big Finish has gone on to do more fun stories with.

Rating: Great

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Eye of the Scorpion

This story features the Doctor and Peri in a fun romp in ancient Egypt. Originally, writer Iain McLaughlin, wanted to do a story based on a real historical female Pharaoh, but found needing to stick closely to history didn't make for a good story. So, instead he went for a more sci-fi historical fiction tale of a would be female Pharaoh.

The plot centers around the politics of the ascension of Erimem becoming the new Pharaoh. There's some nice political wrangling over this, along with the sci-fi element of some sort of alien entity manipulating the "bad guys". Of course the Doctor and Peri show up (seemingly at random in the beginning) and start saving poor Erimem from repeated assassination attempts. The reveal for who or what actually caused the TARDIS to arrive here in ancient Egypt is a clever "timey whimey" explanation that would make Steven Moffat proud.

The two principal villains of the story are interesting foils for each other. Mercenary leader Yanis is a lot of fun screaming and lusting for battle. It's particularly funny every time he screams for his inept sidekick. Horemshep, on the other hand, is fun as the devious, power mad priest, scheming Erimem's demise and trying to keep Yanis' stab first and ask questions later attitude in check.The story does a good job keeping you guessing about the nature of the alien who is quietly controlling all of the bad guys. 

A real highlight of the story is when the Doctor is poisoned at the end of episode one and spends the entire episode unconscious. This leaves Peri to carry the episode, and Nicola Bryant pulls it off with aplomb. It's here that the relationship between Peri and Erimem is established. They quickly form a sibling like relationship with Peri as the older sister. It's really quite sweet, and gives Peri a more interesting role than just asking the Doctor questions. I always like the idea of historical companions as it's interesting to see their reactions to the future - even if it's just their future in our present. Caroline Morris is great as Erimem, as she gives Erimem a sense of strength and intelligence to offset her naivety. I find her a much more effective a companion than the hapless Jamie. The chemistry between Peri and Erimem is engaging from the start and it's little wonder Gary Russel decided to have her join the TARDIS as a companion. It's also a lovely surprise at the end of the story when she leaves with them. When the Doctor announces early on that he remembers the name of all the Pharaohs who ruled Egypt and makes it clear that Erimem isn't (or wasn't) one of them, you keep wondering what will befall the character to prevent her from ruling. I doubt many anticipated her becoming a companion to the Doctor would end up being the explanation!

All in all, I like this story. It's not one of my favorites, but it's certainly a fun time. I suppose part of me kept waiting for Sutekh or the Osirians to show up or be name checked at some point. There are some nice twists, and the 5th Doctor is well characterized in this story. For all the talk of Colin Baker's Doctor being galvanized by Big Finish, I tend to prefer Davison's performance in Big Finish to the TV version as well. He's a much funnier, quirkier, and in command Doctor than he was on TV. It's also nice for him to end up with a couple of companions who (gasp!) get along with each other. There's a lot of fun to be had with this new TARDIS team.

Rating: Good