Sunday, November 9, 2014

Dark Water/Death in Heaven

I really enjoyed the big two part finale. I absolutely love Missy. If they don't bring Michelle Gomez back, I will be devastated. It has definitely opened my mind somewhat to the idea of a female Doctor. (My wife is still adamantly opposed.) She was so awesome, I was almost rooting for her to win. I am firmly in the "she teleported away" camp. I thought the ending farewell (though I doubt it's quite farewell yet) with the Doctor and Clara was quite poignant. (My wife was in tears.)

As a whole, season 8 was somewhat uneven for me. I think, on the whole, it was stronger than season 7, but nowhere near as great as seasons 5 and 6 were. (For the record, my favorite new Who seasons are 4, 5, and 6 by a wide margin.) Certainly, "Listen", "Time Heist", "Mummy on the Orient Express", and "Flatline" were all on the upper end of my ratings scale (need more time to assess them fully). And I would say the finale will rate quite highly too as time goes by. The Christmas special looks intriguing, although the Santa bit is the aspect I am a bit skeptical about. I do not look forward to the long wait from Christmas to season 9. I also wonder if that will be the last season for Moffat and/or Capaldi. (I hope not in both cases.) I hate the long wait between seasons, and I really preferred it when the show aired in the Spring.

I should have reviews of The Wormery and Scherzo soon. My opinion of one of those stories changed pretty dramatically from when I first heard it. Sorry I have been slow with the reviews - work has been a bear lately.

Sunday, October 26, 2014


I absolutely loved "Flatline". Jamie Mathieson is welcome back any time. A great concept, very well executed. The Boneless when they finally appear properly, are quite creepy. They are getting very adept at making (and masking) these Doctor-lite and Companion-lite stories as they did in this story and the previous one. Other than Capaldi's changing hair cut, it's all pulled off perfectly.

And then there's "In the Forest of the Night". This is definitely my least favorite story of season 8 and one of my least favorite stories of "new Who". While it's not dull and unwatchable like say "Fear Her", it just felt so stupid and poorly conceived. Where are all the people?! Isn't London a giant city with millions of people living in it? Where are they?! And even if I believe the trees can grow overnight and then magically disappear in fairy dust the next day (which I don't), you mean the buildings, streets, and landscape are perfectly unscathed afterwards? Really? And how exactly does the missing sister magically reappear with the disappearance of the trees (and apparently one bush)? So, this story featured a natural event that seems to threaten the Earth where the Doctor figures out the proper course is to do nothing. Didn't I already watch this in "Kill the Moon"? Oh, and I didn't like that one much either. Let's do it again a few episodes later.

I am however, giddy with excitement for the two part finale. That trailer looked fantastic.


"Zagreus" was eagerly anticipated. First of all, it's the followup to the tremendous cliffhanger from the end of the epic story "Neverland". Furthermore, it was billed as the 40th anniversary story featuring all four of the Big Finish Doctors united for the first time. I can imagine the excitement of fans in 2003, speculating that Doctors 5-7 would team up to somehow help their future self, who had been corrupted by anti-time and transformed into the evil, Zagreus. Earlier in the year, Big Finish teased a multi-Doctor story starring the 6th and 7th Doctors in "Project: Lazarus" which ended up not being the case. Surely, for the big 40th anniversary release, they wouldn't pull that bait and switch again would they? Would they?!

I came to "Zagreus" somewhere between 1-2 years after it's release. I didn't know any details about it, but I had heard some rumblings that it was considered a disappointment. Even knowing its reputation, I savored listening to all the stories in between "Neverland" and "Zagreus" (in part because most of them were quite good), building up my anticipation for this epic story. Looking back, the 10th and 20th anniversary multi-Doctor stories are pretty underwhelming. Sure, they have a lot of fun multi-Doctor interactions, but I know few people who would hold them up as classic stories. (The less said about the 30th anniversary "special" the better.) So, I expected "Zagreus" might not be all that it was cracked up to be, but at the least it would be a fun time with all the Doctors squabbling and eventually teaming up with each other, and would provide a nice resolution to the anti-time infected 8th Doctor. How wrong I was. Plus, I was very curious how all of these old companions (actors) were going to be thrown into the mix. (The giant cast list is prominently advertised.)

Well, we all know by now that "Zagreus" is not what is billed to be. Instead of a reunion of Doctors and companions we just get a lot of "holo-projections" from the TARDIS where all these actors do not play the roles they made famous in Doctor Who. Plus, these roles aren't even truly real people, but simple TARDIS projections. So, Big Finish has the audacity to once again yank the rug out from under fan expectations, and do it for the 40th anniversary of the program! This might be forgivable if the story had at least been satisfying, but it's really just a long winded bore. McGann spends almost all of the first third of the story running around the TARDIS ranting. The idea of the TARDIS turning on the Doctor was just.... horrible. All of the allusions to "Alice in Wonderland" lose their charm quite quickly. The three events Charley are shown by the TARDIS are not really to aid the Doctor, but to simply introduce the Divergents. This could have been done much more quickly, just by skipping ahead to everyone being in Rassilon's foundry. And, what's the deal with Rassilon anyway? Is he dead or not? This is never really made clear. Romana encounters him in the matrix. But, by the end he is physically shoved into the alternative Divergent universe. So, what was the deal? If he wasn't dead, who is the body in the tomb? And, what were they possibly thinking in dredging up the old recordings of Jon Pertwee? Many of the clips are impossible to understand, but even when they are comprehensible, the conversation between him and McGann is so stilted and awkward. Finally, the fact that they shoved so much Doctor Who continuity into this and provided unneeded (and unsatisfying) explanations for so many parts of Doctor Who lore was terrible. Any one of these revelations might have been a bombshell in a Doctor Who story. They are all greatly diminished by just being haphazardly thrown out one after the other during this unending bore.

There are a few parts that I do end up enjoying. Colin Baker's performance as one of the vampires, is quite sinister and entertaining. The revelation that the vampires didn't feed on any sentient creatures until after Rassilon waged war on them, could have made for a fascinating reveal in its own story. But, instead it just gets lost in all the other flotsam that's thrown around in this mess. It's also worth noting that McCoy is fabulous as Uncle Winkie. Truly, the perfect character for McCoy and the 7th Doctor to be pigeon holed into. Of course, the entire idea of the robots at the amusement park being at war with each other, is completely ridiculous. But McCoy is a riot as the character. The meeting between Leela and Romana, and the acknowledgement of there being two K-9's on Gallifrey is great. It sets up a nice dynamic between the two which would be followed up nicely in the "Gallifrey" series, but again just gets swallowed up and mostly wasted being in this mess.

Perhaps worst of all, is when the 8th Doctor (still infected) decides to leave our universe forever, and won't take Charley with him. The 8th Doctor and Charley dynamic was so wonderful, and you can feel it being completely and irrevocably shattered in their painful "farewell" scene in the TARDIS. Her awful whinging over being "dumped" just makes me want to smash my iPod. This dynamic will never, ever be the same again. At the end of the story, it does seem genuinely interesting that the Doctor and Charley will be entering a brand new universe. It seems like a bold idea to thrust new rules and adversaries into the show. When the Doctor was exiled to Earth and worked for UNIT, it revitalized the show and was better than ever. So, a new universe and robbing the Doctor of time travel could have been a bold, refreshing change for the show. Of course, once we get to this new universe, we'll just be counting the stories until we get back home. Clearly, the TARDIS had to jump over a shark en route to the Divergent Universe.

Obviously, I find this story to be an epic failure. It also signals the start of what I consider a major down period in the quality of Big Finish. There are many more great stories ahead from Big Finish in the main monthly Doctor Who range. But, for a while, we are going to have to get through a lot of woeful stories, while enjoying only a few bright spots along the way. A truly bloated disaster of a story and the worst "proper" anniversary special.

Rating: Poor

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Mummy on the Orient Express

Are you my mummy?

I loved this one. A cool idea, really well shot, and I remain hypnotized by Peter Capaldi. I loved the jelly babies in the cigarette case. The mummy was a cool, creepy monster. All the times you watched the clock added real tension to each death. Just a superb episode. I admit to grinning at the Doctor when he is clearly so pleased when Clara tells him she wants to keep travelling with him. I am sure Danny will be non-plussed, but who cares about him? (I continue to hope that Danny is some sort of bad guy.) This episode, "Listen", and "Time Heist" are the stand outs this season for me so far.

I am only 1 disc into "Zagreus" so far. So, it will be at least a couple of days before I lay the leather to Doctor Who's only 40th Anniversary story.

Monday, October 6, 2014


This is the concluding tale in the Big Finish villain trilogy. It was my 2nd Big Finish that I heard, and left a somewhat negative final impression. That isn't to say that I don't enjoy it. I think its first half is simply superb. It's very well acted and it's just dripping with atmosphere. But, the revelations of the Master's (and the Doctor's past), I really don't care for. I also think the villain is a lame cop-out, and not the type of thing Doctor Who normally does.

The primary strength of "Master" lies in the performances. The most notable guest stars are Who luminaries Geoffrey Beevers and Philip Madoc. Beevers is once again teriffic as the Master. It's really unfortunate that he only got the one appearance on the TV show instead of the somewhat ridiculous caricature played by Anthony Ainley. (This is purely the adult me opining this. As a child, I was absolutely terrified of Ainley's Master.) Beevers is the perfect Master for audio drama since he has such a rich and (as the Master) malevolent voice. Madoc was in many Doctor Who stories, probably most famously as Solon from " The Brain of Morbius". My favorite classic Who Madoc moment was his icy performance as the terrifying War Lord in "The War Games". He is excellent here as the warm, but dark adjudicator Victor Schaeffer. 

In this story we find the Master living in a small village having lost his memory. He has been a surgeon there for years and has saved numerous lives. It is his "birthday" (commemorating the day he was discovered in the village) and as such, has invited his two closest friends to visit him. Since this predates (the televised version) of the Paul Cornell story "Human Nature" (and I hadn't read the book) this seemed a highly original idea. Beevers is beyond charming under his current (ironic) alias, Doctor John Smith. The first episode is mostly a warm conversation between himself, Schaeffer, and Victor's wife Jacqueline (wonderfully performed by Anne Ridler). While three people sitting in a room chatting with each other for nearly a whole episode sounds somewhat uninspiring on the surface, it's actually quite charmingly entertaining. Plus, the conversation references some odd goings on (murders in the village and a possible curse), and it's clear some even odder goings on may be happening in Dr. Smith's house that night. The atmosphere in the house is wonderfully done. The ticking clock, whispered voices, and eerie music lend a both pleasant and sinister atmosphere. You know this dinner party isn't going to end well. And, things start to go downhill right around the time the Doctor shows up.

The Doctor is very cagey in this story. It seems like he didn't intentionally come here, but at the same time he seems to know what's going on with the Master. It's more like he was avoiding making this trip and is unhappy to know the time has come for him to reenter the Master's life. Episode two is largely Doctor Smith and the Doctor ("Smi.... uh Sutton) having a discussion about the nature of evil and the motivations of murderers. Dr. Smith can sense that the Doctor knows more about his unknown past than he is letting on, and their philosophical discussions are quite engaging.

To this point, I love the story, but in its second half things go down hill for me. When the villain of the piece is revealed to be "Death", I groaned. It seems an odd thing to have a superstitious personification actually be "real" in the science fiction universe of Doctor Who. And, the idea of the Master living his life compelled to be Death's agent feels like a cop out. There is also a story of the Doctor and the Master as children being swept into the murder of another child, and subsequently covering it up. I was really being uncomfortable with the Doctor being linked to such an act, and then was even more uncomfortable with later revelations about the nature of this deed. Other fans, may not have the same reservations with this bit of back story. But, I find it belittles the Master and really changes the way you fell about the Doctor. This is one of those things where I am not sure I am willing to accept it as canon.

Another odd thing about this story is that the Master is actually barely in it. Beevers at various times gives hint to the "Hyde" struggling to reawaken within Dr. Smith, but there is really only one proper scene with the Master in it late in the play (supposedly added on at the last minute). As charming as Beevers is as Dr. Smith and as compelling as it is to experience the Master as a good man (it worked great again on TV in "Utopia"), it seems odd that they originally weren't going to have the Master (proper) appear in the story, and it feels like a bit of a cheat that a story focused on the villain has so little of him in it.

Still, despite my serious reservations with the second half of the story, I really do enjoy it on the whole very much. It's just incredibly atmospheric with great dialog and wonderful performances. I also enjoy the device of having the Doctor tell the story to a stranger to be effective, and the revelation of who the stranger is serves as a nice late twist. My qualms with the villain and the nature of the back story for the Doctor and Master aside, the bulk of this story is still very engaging. So, while "Davros" probably left a better impression on me ten years or so ago when I first heard these stories, I think I actually prefer "Master" today. I also think the trilogy of villains stories was a great idea, and all of them are well worth owning. The latter two stories of the trilogy were good enough to get me to dive into the Big Finish catalog, so for that I will always be eternally grateful.

Rating: Good

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Kill the Moon

I'm still not sure how I felt about this. It was different. The Moon thing was an idea I hadn't heard of before. It was interesting how the Doctor left the humans alone to work things out. I was really annoyed at Clara at the end. It was good, but not one of my favorites of the new season...


I will always have a bit of a soft spot in my heart for "Davros", since it is the first Big Finish story I ever heard. My feelings on it then were a bit mixed, and I feel the same way about it now. But, it was certainly good enough for me to not regret buying two Doctor Who audio dramas, and while I didn't immediately begin purchasing others right away, I was certainly intrigued enough by "Davros" and "Master" to eventually start buying the main Doctor Who range from the beginning. I think "Davros" is very much a tale of two halves. The first half is excellent, providing some interesting back story to Davros, but in the second half I feel like Davros is lessened significantly, and there is a plot turn I really don't care for.

The opening of the story, and the first several seconds of audio Doctor Who I ever heard, are fantastic. It's a brief soliloquy from Davros. At the time, the context of the dialog is unknown, (it is revealed later) but it doesn't matter. It's a great speech, starting quiet and somber, while building to a ranting climax that perfectly leads into the Doctor Who theme tune. I remember driving in my car on a short road trip while listening to this, and kept repeating the opening gambit a few times before settling into the story. The first half of the story deals with the CEO of an intergalactic company and his historian (her specialty being Davros) wife finding the "corpse" of Davros and returning it to their home base to try to revive him. Back at the home base a journalist named Willis - a heretofore unknown friend of the Doctor - has summoned the Doctor because his friend Kim (an employee of the evil CEO's company TAI) has revealed to him that the nefarious company is about to close the mines on many planets which will devastate millions of lives. It's a clumsy reason for the Doctor to be there, and the mine thing never goes anywhere, but I guess they had to get them there somewhere. Of course, the Doctor spies Davros' arrival and butts in immediately.

"Davros" features a notable cast of Doctor Who luminaries. Terry Malloy returns to reprise the role of Davros which he owned in '80's Doctor Who. I am definitely one of those fans that stands firmly in the Michael Wisher "camp" of "best Davros EVER" discussions. It's probably not fair, since he had by far the best story to feature Davros in the show. Terry Malloy was a bit too much mad shouty ranting for me. Even his more nuanced performance in "Revelation of the Daleks" falls flat for me since it's such a bonkers story (one I feel is overrated). In this story, however, Malloy is fantastic. Davros is characterized throughout the entire emotional spectrum here and Malloy pulls it off in dominating fashion. It's a teriffic performance, and a good thing too since Davros dominates the play (quite rightly). Also in this story is Bernard Horsfall, who was in many Doctor Who stories - most famously Goth in "The Deadly Assassin". Here he plays the nefarious TAI CEO Arnold Baynes. Finally, Wendy Padbury plays Lorraine Baynes the historian obsessed with Davros. Padbury, of course, played Zoe, companion to the second Doctor. Padbury and Horsfall starred along each other in "The Mind Robber" one of the better stories from Troughton's final season.

The first half of "Davros" is great. You get some great insight into the character's past through flashbacks of the nuclear attack that deformed him, various scenes of the hopelessness of the war going on between the Kaleds and the Thals, and the aftermath of what the Kaleds wanted to do with him after his "accident". These scenes give a lot of depth to how Davros became the monster he is now. Meanwhile, in the present, both Davros and the Doctor amusingly become employees of TAI. There's some truly great comedy here with the Doctor continuingly infuriating Davros.

I don't care for the second half nearly as much. In fact, I would say in many ways it ends up neutering Davros a bit. My least favorite bit is when you find out Davros didn't come up with the idea of the Daleks on his own. He (literally) copied it off a subordinate's paper. Sigh.... really not a good idea. Also, he ends up being full of unrequited love for this scientist (Shan) and at times comes off as a sniveling love struck child. I get that it adds some motivation for his character, but to me it really just belittles him. My other main issue with the story is the introduction of Davros' magic (mathematical) formula which can predict the stock price of any stock at any time. This is one of these ideas I just can't buy at all. Then, Davros' plan to bring the economy down by distributing the formula to everyone also makes no sense to me. Even if I bought the idea that the formula would work (I don't), do I buy that if everyone used the formula at once the system would fail? No, because if everyone used the formula, the formula wouldn't work anymore! Or, is this formula so magical it can even predict stocks when people begin using it? (Head explodes.) The formula ends up being a non-starter anyway since it never ends up being used by anyone.

One thing I will give credit to in this story was removing Davros from the Daleks. Having Davros in a story without Daleks makes him a lot more interesting. While I have criticized a lot of aspects of this story, I still generally like it a lot. The performances are strong, and while it is very long, it's a lot of fun throughout, without ever feeling like it's dragging.  My nit-picks aside, it's easy to recommend the story for providing a lot of great background on the character, and for the engaging performances of the actors.

Rating: Good

Monday, September 29, 2014

RIP Maggie Stables

Like all Big Finish Doctor Who fans, I am very sad to hear about the death of Maggie Stables. I have made no secret that I absolutely love the Evelyn character. I am hard pressed to accept any Doctor Who/Companion pairing was ever as effective or ever will be as effective as that of the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn. While I give a lot of credit to Gary Russel and company for conceiving such a different idea for a companion, a lot of the credit must go to Maggie for breathing so much life into the wonderful Dr. Smythe.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Caretaker

I enjoyed another funny Gareth Roberts episode. I didn't like it quite as much as "Listen" or "Time Heist" but it was very, very funny. I was tickled by the Pink Floyd whistle. Is it just me or is something up with Danny? It seemed very implausible that he figured out that the Doctor looked like the Matt Smith-alike and then changed to a Scotsman. Also, his somersault jump stretched credibility a bit. I am hoping there is more to him than there seems.

I utterly failed to listen to "Davros" this week. Sorry about that. I will try hard to get back into the Big Finish groove this week.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Time Heist

I loved this one. A very fun Ocean's Eleven type story done in Doctor Who style. (Spoilers!) 

I was really looking forward to the payoff and figured it would make or break the story, and I found it satisfying. They may be going to the "monster that isn't really a monster" well a bit often lately, but it worked ok. I kind of figured the Doctor was the the Architect. 

I just love Capaldi's Doctor. Every time he is on screen I just find myself mesmerized him. The Doctor hasn't been this enigmatic in a long time, but it's done so well that it doesn't alienate the audience - or at least not this member of the audience. Looking forward to Gareth Roberts' story next week. 

Sorry for the slowness of reviews lately. Been out of town some two of the past three weeks, so I haven't been listening as diligently as normal. Hopefully I can listen to and get a review up for "Davros" before or on this weekend. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014


The first time I ever became aware of Big Finish was back in 2003 when Outpost Gallifrey posted a news story about a new "villain trilogy" they were about to release. The trilogy promised to do a deep dive on the back stories of each villain and all featured a different Doctor. I remember being intrigued by this and was unaware that there was a company even making audio dramas of Doctor Who. For all I know, I may have even thought at the time that these three releases were the first audio dramas they had released. In any event, some weeks or maybe months later I was intrigued enough to order two of the stories. I decided to buy "Davros" and "Master" because I always found them far more interesting villains than silly old Omega. So, it would be a year or more later before I actually heard the best of the villain trilogy.

This is the first Big Finish story written by Nev Fountain - and thankfully not the last! Ian Collier, who voiced Omega in "The Arc of Infinity" returns to reprise the role here. It's the right choice as he has a distinctive voice and is immediately recognizable as Omega from his first few words of dialog. A lot of the story consists of the Doctor and Omega conversing, and the chemistry between Collier and Davison works quite well. There is also a lot of humor from some amusing characters and the backdrop of a historical tour where they do dramatic reenactments of famous historical figures (in this case Omega). It's interesting to have a setting like this where Gallifreyan history is the subject of common knowledge and gawkers come from all over to check it out.

Amongst the humor are some grim and violent scenes. Omega is back - seemingly in non-corporeal form - and seems repentant and wanting to simply get back to his anti-verse he worked so hard to escape from. But, there are flashes of madness, and it takes a while before you realize just how mad he is. This story is probably most famous for its big twist. It truly is a fantastic moment. Revisiting the story, there are quite a few clues given to the nature of the twist. I admit, that my dull mind never saw it coming. The big reveal at the end of part three was a true jaw dropper for me and even listening to the story for a third time, I got goose bumps listening to the big cliffhanger.

The story also serves to give a lot of back story to Omega, and a bit of surprising history of the Doctor. Aside from the big twist, there are a couple of other surprises in the story revealed towards the end. One is pretty hilarious involving the two annoying old ladies who generally serve the bulk of the story as comic relief. The revelation at where the name Omega came from is very satisfying, and very well written and performed. Omega was always a villain you had some sympathy for, and Fountain maintains that in this story, while still making him frightening.

As a whole, I like this better than the other two stories in the villain trilogy. This really feels like the final story in a trilogy for Omega. It gives a satisfying back story for the character, but also is a satisfying conclusion for the character until someone decides to bring him back. Peter Davison is in fine form, and really works well without a companion. It's certainly quite a contrast from the bulk of his television stories where the TARDIS was crammed with them. My one gripe with Omega is it does feel quite long. To its credit, it never gets dull, but you are every bit aware that they nearly filled both CDs to full capacity to tell this story. With many laugh out loud moments, and some really great plot twists, this is a great debut for Fountain, and I like his next story even better!

Rating: Great


Loved it. Finally Capaldi gets a classic (at least on first blush) story! Creepy, funny, and touching. The surprise at the end was really something. I continue to really enjoy Clara - more than most it would seem. I really need to watch it again.

Hope to have a review of "Omega" up tonight or tomorrow.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Robot of Sherwood

Another enjoyable episode. These sorts of historical romps have become familiar in New Who, and while they are never brilliant, they are almost always fun. This one was particularly funny, and for most of the first half I was laughing hard at the Doctor's antics. I also enjoyed the performances behind Robin Hood and the Sheriff. I was intrigued to see how the mystery of Robin Hood being real would be revealed and was perfectly satisfied by the simple result. Still waiting for a truly brilliant story in this new series, and I am hopeful we will get that next week.

Monday, September 1, 2014


Jonathan Morris has written quite a few Doctor Who stories for Big Finish and other mediums, but "Flip-Flop" is definitely my favorite. It's one of the more unique takes on time travel, changing the past, and living with the future. I remember being surprised when I got this years ago and saw that there was a black CD and a white CD, but no enumeration for either one. I think I even went online to find out which one I needed to listen to first. I was stunned to find out that it really didn't matter. How in the world could that work? ... OK, before going on, if you've never heard "Flip-Flop" this is probably one of those times where you need to trust me that this is brilliant, stop reading the review, and just buy the story. It's a brilliant time travel convoluted mess (in a good way), with some great humor, and is unquestionably my favorite 7th Doctor story. (Now, stop and don't spoil yourself. You have been warned.)

I can't imagine how hard it was for Morris to plot this one out. Just coming up with the two parallel realities in the present, and managing to juggle two different versions of four characters existing in both is a bit head spinning. Oh and go ahead and throw a little bit of time travel back an hour just to make the present even more confusing. To do it in a way that once you've heard both discs, completely makes sense is just brilliant. This is one of the best examples of parallel universes ever. It's amazing how nearly perfectly symmetrical each reality is with each other, with almost every scene lining up perfectly from one CD to the next (... or previous). The fact, that it's done with such great humor is another accomplishment.

Once again, I find myself enjoying McCoy paired up with Mel. Given how dreadful their TV season was, it's amazing how often their audio pairings work out so well. This is just the perfect story for the 7th Doctor. It brings out his quirky, humorous side, as well as his brilliance beneath the clownish facade. It's nice to have the 7th Doctor swept along in events, and not the dark manipulator as well. Bonnie Langford is great here too. I love the moment where Mel sends up the awful line from "The Trial of a Time Lord". It's one of many very funny moments for both of our leads. The other huge source of laughs, is the obsequious conquering race of villains, the Slithergees. It's so absurd for a race to have conquered with political correctness induced guilt, but it's very funny, and a welcome jab at the overly politically correct society we lived in back then and still do now.

In many ways, "Flip-Flop" is another example of how Big Finish can do a story that just couldn't quite be done in a book or on TV. As much as I would love the new series to rip this idea off, it just wouldn't work as well since one reality would have to be established first. It's just a brilliant take on time travel and parallel universes. I love to ponder the fact, that by the end of the story (or each story) the Doctor and Mel have swapped universes with their counterparts, and they don't even seem to realize it. I've listened to this a few times over the years, and I think I like it more and more each time. Now, if I could only remember to listen to the black one first next time... or was it the white one? This is a pretty nice run of releases for the 7th Doctor, that I am not sure Big Finish has matched since.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Into the Dalek

I thought this one was good, but not great. I think I preferred "Deep Breath" overall. The parallels with "Dalek" and "Jubilee" didn't bother me, since I thought this story was sufficiently different. From what I have read online, fans seem to have liked this one a bit more than me. It was fun to see Daleks just wanting to kill everyone and the action sequences were fun. I continue to love Capaldi's Doctor early on. The special effects were well done, but I have never really found the shrunken people wandering inside a machine to be very convincing. I would really like a season or two of the show without the Daleks.

I am intrigued by the character of Danny Pink, after an albeit short introduction. I am also curious about where Moffat is going with this afterlife arc. It's interesting to me that we've seen two "people" arrive in The Promised Land/Heaven so far. One, sacrificed herself to help the Doctor. The other, depending on whether you believe he jumped or was pushed, may have sacrificed himself at the Doctor's behest too.

I admit to having low expectations for next week's story. I have found Gattis' writing in Doctor Who to be uneven but, I did enjoy both of his season 7 stories. I am not that excited about the concept of Robin Hood with robot(s). Hopefully, it will be better than I think.

I hope to have reviews of "Flip-Flop" and "Omega" up over the next few days.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Project: Lazarus

It would seem natural that in the 40th anniversary year for Doctor Who, that Big Finish might plan a multi-Doctor story to celebrate, right? So, I can only imagine the excitement of the fans when word of this sequel to "Project: Twilight" was announced with both Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy starring in it. I know that a year or so later I was quite excited to hear this story featuring two Doctors. Well, this isn't really that. It's really two different stories: one with the Sixth Doctor, and one with the Seventh Doctor. Although, the Seventh Doctor story does feature Colin Baker. Confused? I don't blame you. This story is definitely not the multi-Doctor story it purports itself to be. It seems odd to pull this sort of bait and switch in an anniversary year. Surely Big Finish wouldn't do this again in the same year would they? Would they?! Possibly misleading advertising aside, this is a fun story. It's certainly not as good as "Project: Twilight", but it's still pretty entertaining - particularly its first half.

The first disc features the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn with the Doctor finally announcing he may have had a breakthrough finding a cure for poor Cassie who was turned into a vampire in "Project: Twilight". Mysteriously, the TARDIS brings them to Cassie years after they left her instead of immediately afterwards as the Doctor was trying to do. After meeting with Cassie, they get swept up into the evil machinations of The Forge and reunite with the enigmatic Nimrod. Except from now on, Nimrod is a lot less enigmatic and more overtly villainous. This is one of my disappointments with the continuing stories involving The Forge. Nimrod was more of a dark anti-hero in his first story. While he does make a good sinister villain, I can't help but feel like it's a bit of a wasted opportunity not to leave him as a "tweener". One impressive aspect of The Forge is that it really feels like writers Scott and Wright came up with the idea for (an albeit more evil) Torchwood before Russel T. Davies did. Or, perhaps Torchwood is an homage? The highlight of this first half is its ending. Things go very badly for the Doctor and Evelyn, and their reactions are incredible. The Doctor is just about murderously, livid at Nimrod, and Colin Baker is just terrifying. Evelyn, is simply devastated, and it leads to one of my favorite scenes between the two. (More of poor Evelyn being put through the ringer!) When the Doctor tries to comfort a grieving and furious Evelyn it's heartbreaking. I absolutely love his sad line, "I don't always win," and Colin is just so magnificent here. I know I say it over and over again, but it's another example of the range the Sixth Doctor that was never given the chance to reveal itself on the TV show.

The second half of the story isn't quite as good, but it's still pretty fun. The Seventh Doctor arrives at the Forge when detecting some odd disturbances in the vortex, and is stunned to encounter his previous regeneration working for Nimrod as a scientific adviser. Or is he? As is often the case, I enjoy Sylvester McCoy's Doctor much more without a companion.... particularly without one particular companion. In fact, the faux Sixth Doctor ends up being the companion for this story. It's a lot of fun when the Doctor quickly susses out what's going on in The Forge. It's a simply priceless moment when he asks the "Sixth Doctor" a simple question that he doesn't have the answer for, and when a stammering reply is all he gets, simply walks off - "I thought so!" Moments like these are when McCoy's Doctor truly shines. Things progress a bit into cliched territory with some of the sci-fi tropes of cloning stories. Still, the ending ends up fairly exciting with the destruction of The Forge and the Doctor's escape. Credit also to Colin Baker, who delivers another knock out performance in the second half of the story. Even if not in the true multi-Doctor way I was hoping for, both McCoy and Baker play off each other wonderfully.

So, all in all, while not living up to its predecessor, or its billing, "Project: Twilight" is still fun. The return of Nimrod is welcome, and The Forge is a pretty interesting, evil version of UNIT or Torchwood. The conclusion of the first half is riveting stuff, and while the second half doesn't quite live up to that, and reveals that this may not have been the story we were exited for, it's still a pretty good bit of fun. The strong run of Big Finish releases in 2003, continues. When will it be derailed?

Rating: Great

Monday, August 25, 2014

Deep Breath

Quick thoughts: I really enjoyed the episode. If I were ranking it with my rating system for the audios, I would probably put it on the high end of the Good scale. I generally think that most of the "introduce a new Doctor" stories are weak stories. My least favorite of the classic series would probably be "Time of the Rani" while my favorite would be "Spearhead from Space". As for the new series, my favorite (and this would be my favorite Doctor introduction story overall) would be "The Eleventh Hour" which I rate about as highly as all of the best Who's from the modern era. While I didn't like "Deep Breath" nearly as much, it's still miles better than "The Christmas Invasion" which I find fairly torturous to sit through on repeated viewings until the Doctor finally wakes up.

I enjoyed this episode a lot more. The story was solid, if not spectacular. But, I just love what I have seen so far of Capaldi's Doctor. I think many long time fans of the classic series are a bit predisposed to like the 12th Doctor. He just feels more like a classic Doctor than any of the modern versions have. I also think Jenna Coleman was tremendous. A lot of my friends don't really like Clara very much, but I have always found her to be fun. One thing's for sure, Jenna is an excellent actress. I thought she was riveting in the breath holding scene. Of course, the ending minutes were emotional and lovely. I am very excited about this new season of Doctor Who, and I may end up writing more of these first impressions for each episode.

I hope to have a review of "Project: Lazarus" up in a day or two. I need a night where I am not exhausted to write it.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Creatures of Beauty

This is one of my old favorites by Nick Briggs. When I first heard this a decade or so ago, after I realized early on that the tale was being told out of chronological order, I first thought naturally of "Pulp Fiction". This is definitely not one of your run of the mill Doctor Who stories for other reasons as well. In many ways I always thought of the 5th Doctor as more vulnerable than his immediate predecessors. While the 3rd and 4th Doctors always seemed to take charge of things quickly, it always seemed like the 5th Doctor would be swept up in events, and struggle to work his way out of them.

This is a very bleak tale. It's can easily be interpreted as an allegory on pollution and/or global warming. The setting is a planet which has been half way destroyed by a lethal radiation that was accidentally delivered to their atmosphere by aliens trying to dispose of a dangerous source of power. By taking some illegal short cuts, the aliens ultimately doomed the world of Veln when they had an accident near the planet. The vast majority of the people of Veln are now genetically deformed and will not live beyond a few more generations. This leaves them understandably full of bitter hatred towards the Koteem who doomed them to their tragic end.

As noted above, this story is told out of chronological sequence. While it would be easy to call this a gimmick, it truly does work well. It also allows Briggs to leave out some details that would seem like huge holes in the story, but ends up working well with the listener already trying to fill in gaps just because they know they are hearing things out of order. The star of this show is David Daker, who was unforgettable as Irongron in the Pertwee classic "The Time Warrior". On the surface, Daker is the most villainous character in the story. The head of a corrupt government police force which brutally arrests Nyssa, he is beyond bitter at the cruel hand fate has dealt him. He also has contempt for the few "beauties" he has to encounter. Besides Nyssa, the ultra-wealthy have expensive surgeries to restore a "normal" appearance. As nasty as Daker's character Gilbrook is, he isn't a cartoon villain. One of the final scenes where he recounts how his grandfather told him about the Koteem ship's explosion (visible in the sky) which rained down the deadly dyestrial pollution that would doom their planet, his performance is very understated. As awful, and unlikeable as he has been in this story, you can't help but feel pity for him.

This is really a perfect story for the 5th Doctor. Briggs wanted to have a story where the Doctor doesn't really try to save the day, but just tries to escape. In that regard, this reminds me of the best 5th Doctor TV story "The Caves of Androzani". Briggs also cleverly explores the notions of unintended consequences of the Doctor's arrival on planets. It's a rare story where the listener ends up knowing much more about what really happened on this doomed planet than the Doctor and Nyssa do once they escape in the TARDIS. There is also a lot of moral ambiguity. There seems to be a group of well meaning rebels who have a "cure" for the people of Veln. But, when the plan is revealed to the Doctor (and the listener), a lot of ethical questions are brought up.

Briggs also directed the story, and provided the music. Briggs' music is generally recognizable. It's often consists of dark, sinister melodies, and that is certainly the case here. It really adds to the overall atmosphere of the story. My only real gripe with this production is that the voice effect of the Koteem is a bit too similar to that of the Cybermen in "Sword of Orion".

This story is another example of how Big Finish at times makes a much more adult brand of Doctor Who. I am also surprised the TV show has never ripped off this idea of telling a story completely out of sequence. I really enjoyed this story the first time I heard it a decade ago, and my opinion hasn't changed listening to it this week. There are a lot of nice touches, like the creepy echoing of Daker uttering the word "beautiful" at times in the story. It's great when late in the story, you hear the context for the quote. The ending is a great shocker as well, further punctuating the depressing tone. While this couldn't be more different than the classic it follows, it just emphasizes how diverse Doctor Who can be. This is part of strong run for Big Finish in the show's 40th anniversary.

Rating: Great

Monday, August 11, 2014

Doctor Who and the Pirates

This one is among my favorite Doctor Who stories ever. If you've never heard this before, then I strongly advise you to check it out for yourself so (like me the first time I heard it) you listen to it without any warning of what's coming. Suffice it to say that it is unique, funny, tragic, and brilliant. I am somewhat amazed that the TV show has never ripped it off (or adapted it). So, if you have never heard this story, just stop reading now, order the story and enjoy. Feel free to yell at me if you don't like it. (Seriously, stop now.)

Of course this story is famous (or infamous) for being "the musical one", but as completely delightful as the 3rd part is (and I love it), it's really so much more. This is really a story within a story. The heart of the story is Evelyn telling a suicidal student a story in a desperate attempt to convince her to change her mind. The genius of the story is that having the Doctor and Evelyn recount a genuine recent adventure in a way that allows for embellishment by both characters, makes this story simply hilarious at times, but doesn't undermine the tragedy and how deeply it affected Evelyn.

The humor is really sublime here. Evelyn's insertion of every pirate cliche is nearly as funny as Sally's complete annoyance at it. Having a character narrate a story is not a unique convention, but I can't ever remember it being used so appropriately and brilliantly as in this story. It's not just a literary device for getting the story told, it's essential for the story's pace and humor. I also love the way Evelyn (and later the Doctor) just barge into Sally's apartment and begin regaling her with this outrageous story. The first half of the story is full of laugh out loud moments. The episode two cliffhanger is one of the funniest ever. I was both amused and aghast to think of what was to come in episode three when I first heard it. Little did I know that episode three would be the one I would listen to the most out of all of the entire catalog of Big Finish!

The songs are just superb. Adapted from various Gilbert and Sullivan songs, the lyrics are both genius and hilarious. Colin Baker's performance of Gallifreyan Buccaneer is simply spectacular. I can't imagine any other Doctor pulling it off, and he just knocks it out of the park. I doubt there will ever be so many Doctor Who continuity references crammed into a few minutes ever again. Die hard Who fans will be dazzled by the sheer volume of stories, characters, and villains mentioned, but be too busy laughing to bother trying to remember them all. The other songs are wonderful too, and are used as a brilliant segue into letting you know what the story is actually about and why The Doctor and Evelyn barged into Sally's apartment. The singing performance of the cast is heroic. Special mention to Helen Goldwyn (Sally) whose voice is simply gorgeous. The work of music director Tim Sutton is amazing here. While some of the music is a little too obviously synthesized, the fact that Big Finish could pull off a production like this at all is a near miracle given the time they had to do it and the budget they operate with.

It's quite a shock when things turn violent. When Jasper has a crewman's tongue cut out, the sound effects are quite over the top, and they need to be to put across the change in tone. The beginning of Jem's death is quite disturbing too, and it establishes how traumatized Evelyn was by it, despite most of it happening "off camera". These two horrific events are the crux of the story, since they establish why Evelyn is in the state she is in, and why the Doctor was willing to help her with Sally. But, more on that later... Oddly enough, this is the start of a mini-arc for Evelyn where she is put through the emotional and physical ringer.

Things get back on their mostly silly track after this. The two funniest characters in the story are the villainous Red Jasper, and the incompetent Captain Swan. Both are performed admirably by Bill Oddie and Nicholas Pegg. Being a Yank, I am unfamiliar with Oddie (or The Goodies) but his performance is just the right mix of silly and scary. Oddie is so over the top he almost, but never quite, goes too far.

Despite all of the fun to be had on this (mostly) silly romp, my favorite part is the end. When Evelyn leaves we are left with a quiet scene between the Doctor and Sally. Colin Baker is magnificent here. This is another one of those stories where Big Finish makes me weep for what could have been for the Sixth Doctor on TV, if the planned arc for the character could have been completed. Colin's quiet performance here is so lovely. He lets on how he is bending the rules here, allowing Evelyn to offer Sally one chance to change her mind. He is doing it because Evelyn is so sad, and he can't bear to have his best friend deal with another tragic death so soon. This is another one of those scenes that makes Colin Baker my favorite Doctor. I love the brash, angry, arrogant, blustery side of the Sixth Doctor, but in Big Finish he also gets scenes like these, and he is simply magnificent.

So, in case you can't tell, I really like "Doctor Who and The Pirates". Writer, Jacqueline Raynor recently tweeted that this was the best thing she ever wrote. While I can't claim to have read nearly enough of her work to truly know whether she's right or wrong, I do not hesitate in the slightest in agreeing with her. It's a masterpiece of comedy and drama. It's a uniquely told, original tale, and pushes the boundaries of what Doctor Who can be. This story is right around the peak of a lot of great Sixth Doctor and Evelyn stories, and now that those stories appear to be over, I already have great feelings of nostalgia for this classic pairing.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Dark Flame

This story features the 7th Doctor, Ace, and Bernice Summerfield. This was my second go round with this story, and my memory of this was not good. Much like with "Nekromanteia" before it, I had a slightly different reaction this time.

The first time I listened to this, I really found Bernice's constant snarky remarks to the villains to be excruciating. I thought it undermined both the villains, and the story. It also made me violently hate Bernice Summerfield, who I had only previously experienced in "The Shadow of the Scourge" where I had found her much more palatable. (I never read many New Adventures novels, as I never liked the 7th Doctor or Ace enough to bother after trying out a few of the early ones and not really feeling any desire to continue.)

Thankfully, I enjoyed the story a bit more this time through. Benny does grate on my nerves a bit, but not enough to derail the story. I suppose it could be argued that her flippancy works somewhat since it makes her more effective as a villain when she is taken over near the end. But, I'm jumping ahead a bit.

This story is an outer space romp, featuring another relic (perhaps this should have been placed a few slots away from "Nekromanteia"), and one of many God-like villains which seem to be littered throughout the Doctor Who universe. The Dark Flame is some all powerful so and so from the end of time that could break through and destroy the universe. Of course, there is some mad cult that worships this and is working to help it, for reasons that can only be known to the most devout wackos. Here we have devious villains, undead skeleton warriors, a friendly robot origin story (for fans of the Benny range), and of course Ace being her usual loud, abrasive self.

Still, it ends up being pretty fun overall. The peformance of Andrew Westfield in the dual roles of Remnex and the evil Emissary Vilus Krull is quite good. He does a good job of sounding quite different between the two characters, and Krull has the suitable amount of menace and cool confidence. McCoy does alright here. He's a little over-the-top at times, and annoyingly rolls his r's in some inappropriate times, but generally keeps his overacting to a minimum. Some of the twists in the plot work better than others, but the one setting up the cliff hanger for Benny's take over is well done. The ending is incomprehensible gobbledegook, but isn't any more guilty than say... the defeat of another all powerful god at the end of "Pyramids of Mars".

So, all in all, nothing spectacular, but a perfectly fine outer space, end of the universe romp. At least, this time through I wasn't outraged that Benny survived, and could see myself tolerating her in future stories (though I could use a break for now). A more permanent break from Ace would always be welcome. I still generally prefer the 7th Doctor with Mel, or (better yet) on his own. This is certainly better than "The Rapture" which will probably require a herculean effort to get through a 3rd time... far, far in the future.

Rating: Good

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


On today, the 15th anniversary of the very first Big Finish Doctor Who release, it seems only appropriate to review a classic Doctor Who audio that exemplifies how brilliant Big Finish is. Sadly, I will instead be reviewing "Nekromanteia". This story has one particularly noteworthy moment, but is otherwise unexceptional.

In this story we are reunited with the 5th Doctor and his fairly new and engaging TARDIS team of Erimem and Peri. One of the highlights of this pairing is the sisterly relationship between them. Peri is in the role of big sister, while Erimem is actually the one who can more properly take of herself. It's a fun dynamic. So, of course, they spend nearly the whole episode away from each other. Sigh...

The story boils down to three groups trying to protect or get a hold of an extremely powerful relic, that is a great source of power. The group protecting it are a band of necromancy practicing witches. The leader of this coven Jal Dor Kal is a completely over the top parody of the wicked witch in the west. Within a couple of minutes of her first few lines of dialog, you'll have to resign yourself to the fact that this one note performance is going to grate on you for the remainder of the story. One group seeking the relic is a group of indentured mercenaries working for an evil corporation with a fairly stereotypical evil CEO. Also trying to get a hold of the relic is an unethical archaeologist. None of these players come off as good guys, so it's fairly obvious early on that they will all lose. The mercenaries start off as the only somewhat likeable characters, but that is certainly taken care of later in the story.

The TARDIS team starts out at the Garazone bazaar in an overly long intro that takes way too long to get the team on their way to the action. It just seems odd that after hearing a dodgy prophecy from a dubious begging soothsayer that naive Erimem insists they go to Nekromanteia to follow up on it - and the Doctor agrees! This overly long intro sets the pace for the story as it just feels overly long throughout.

Once they arrive, the team is quickly split up with Peri on her own and the Doctor and Erimem captured by the mercenaries. There is a fairly shocking sequence of events later where the mercenary leader Harlon, who up to this point has been portrayed as a fairly sympathetic character due to his family being used as hostages to ensure he fulfills his mission, attacks Erimem violently. In fact, for a while it is highly implied that he actually raped her until later it is made clear that the beaten Erimem managed to fight him off. I get the need for gray characters, but this seems a little over the top even for the more adult brand of Doctor Who that Big Finish provides. It also is a completely pointless aspect of the story. Erimem suffers no long term trauma from the attack, and it is dropped and never mentioned again almost immediately.

There is one truly remarkable aspect of this story: it has one of the most memorable cliffhangers in Doctor Who history. It's shocking, extremely violent (much more so than anything they would even think about doing on the TV show), and is one of those endings where you think, "In the next episode, it will be made clear that what we thought we heard happen didn't happen." Well, it did really happen. Granted, the resolution for this seemingly irrevocable cliff hanger is a confusing, uninteresting mess, but it's quite a stunner when it happens!

Generally, while this story isn't awful, I had fonder memories of it from my first listen a decade ago. This time, I found it a mostly inoffensive, but drab, unsatisfying story. The silly ending which (thankfully) writes out Erimem's cat doesn't help. While I think this is entertaining enough to avoid my lowest rating, there would be a lot of better stuff to come for this TARDIS team in future stories.

Rating: OK

Friday, June 13, 2014


The debut Big Finish story for Doctor Who's 40th anniversary year, is also its best - which is not to say there aren't other awesome tales from that year. "Jubilee" is the 3rd story from what I call (in my head at least) "Rob Shearman's Trilogy of Awesome": "The Holy Terror", "The Chimes of Midnight", and "Jubilee". I didn't think I would ever love a Dalek story more than I love the classic "Genesis of the Daleks", but, I do. I've watched and heard so many Doctor Who stories over more than 30 years, that I don't think I am capable of picking a favorite. I don't even think I could pick a favorite Big Finish story. But, this is at or near the very top of the heap.

"Jubilee", perhaps more than any other Dalek story, has a Dalek in it that is a genuine character. It's funny - the Dalek in this story, fundamentally bears all the same attributes of the power hungry, murderous, one-note Daleks that have come before and since, but through the brilliance of Shearman's script, (and the performance - more on that later) this Dalek feels so unique compared to every other.

This story is set in a deranged, frightening England. An England that was invaded by the Daleks back in 1903. The Doctor and Evelyn arrived and thwarted that invasion. One hundred years later, the Doctor and Evelyn arrive just in time for the Jubilee celebrations. But, the Doctor and Evelyn don't know anything about an invasion in 1903, and they certainly don't recognize this "English Empire" they encounter in 2003. As the story progresses, the Doctor seems to think he is in 2003 and fighting the Daleks in 1903, at the same time. Something has definitely gone very wrong.

The world of this English Empire is frightening. England rules the Earth, and they are not a benevolent ruler. The President and his wife (played by real life husband and wife Martin Jarvis and Rosalind Ayers) are deeply disturbed. Both performances are at times over the top, and at others very understated. The script takes you on a roller coaster with them. There are times you feel horribly for the poor wife of the evil president. Later, you realize she's just as barking mad as her husband. The President wants to cap off the grand jubilee celebrations with the public execution of their lone remaining prisoner from the invasion: one lone Dalek.

Hmmm, a lone Dalek left over from a war and imprisoned. Sound familiar? Yes, Rob Shearman would later do a (very loose) adaptation of this story as "Dalek" for the first series of the revamped Doctor Who a couple of years later. I do not in any way want to besmirch "Dalek". It's one of the best stories of that first series, and as an action story that did major rehabilitation to the image of the Daleks, it was a triumph. But, this is a very different, greatly superior story. In "Dalek" you get the tiniest taste of interactions between the lone Dalek and the Doctor and then later the Dalek and the companion. Here, you get a feast, and it's so succulent.

I really have to sing the praises of Nick Briggs. He always does a superb job of voicing the Daleks, both for Big Finish and TV. Here, his performance is simply extraordinary. The scripting and writing manage to make you feel sympathy for this Dalek, while at the same time loathing it. Evelyn's one on one scenes with this Dalek, are just mesmerizing. Evelyn is terrified of this Dalek, but desperate to help it. Their interactions are incredibly compelling. Both Evelyn and the Dalek come away from their encounters transformed.

There is a mix of dark humor and just well... dark in this story. All of the characters in this story are fundamentally off. The revolution against the tyrannical government is just as evil and twisted as the regime they want to overthrow. In a fight between the humans and the Daleks, there are no good guys to cheer for. Shearman set out to make the Doctor and Evelyn the only likeable characters in this story, and succeeded. There's something wonderful about the "fun for the whole family" aspect of Doctor Who, that I really wouldn't want to ever change. This story, however, is a great example of how triumphant Doctor Who made strictly for adults can be.

I just can't say enough about "Jubilee". It's so dreary, while at the same time hilarious. You'll chuckle and then try to stifle it because it's also so disturbing. Colin Baker and Maggie Stables are terrific here (as always), but they really just NAIL it in this story. This is one of those stories where Evelyn is so well written and performed that it further cements her status as the greatest Doctor Who companion of all time. Fortunately, at this stage, there are many more stories with this pairing to come. Big Finish did really good Dalek stories before this one, and would do some great things with them after this one, but no Dalek story has ever come close to being as powerful (and at times as ridiculous) as "Jublilee".


Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman had written a comedy classic in the Christmas 2001 release "The One Doctor", so it's hard to blame Big Finish for going to the comedy well again a year later with "Bang-Bang-A-Boom!" Of course, lightning doesn't always strike twice, and sadly this is nowhere near as good as "The One Doctor". The primary problem is that it's simply not nearly as funny. Oh it's amusing, and I certainly get a few out loud chuckles while listening to this, but it pales in comparison to the earlier story. Both Roberts and Hickman have indicated that it may have been better if there was more time in between the two stories. I see a few problems. For one, "The One Doctor" felt like a love letter to Doctor Who, while they were parodying it. This feels like a much more mean spirited jab at the flaws of Babylon 5, Star Trek (all of them), and Space 1999. I say this as someone who likes Babylon 5 (but thinks it's overrated), likes Star Trek and TNG, loves DS9, found Voyager painful, and never bothered with Enterprise, and has never even seen a single episode of Space 1999. So, it's not like I am offended by the jabs at the shows - in fact I find a lot of them quite accurate. I also feel like the story is a bit overly long, and has a bit too much crammed into it. In addition to making fun of these shows, there is also a parody of the Eurovision Song contest, and an Agatha Christie murder mystery thrown in. Perhaps, it's all just a bit too much for one story?

It is natural for a story like this to have Bonnie Langford return again, this time paired up with Sylvester McCoy. The two leads are great in this - both well suited for the comedy. It's really quite funny when they assume the roles of the murdered commander and pilot whose ship they accidentally materialize on, just before it explodes. One of the funnier moments for me is when they are in the Commander's "Ready Room", when the Doctor's communicator goes off and he asks if it's Mel's or his! The guest cast are all amusing too, particularly the equally incompetent medical and science officers. This is a fairly all star cast (at least in the U.K), and Graeme Garden would make a welcome return to Big Finish later on in the 8th Doctor/Lucie audios in a much meatier role.

The Agatha Christie mystery is the main driving plot, and is generally very well done. The mystery's resolution is actually far more satisfying than that of Roberts' (also very amusing) actual Agatha Christie story for TV ("The Unicorn and the Wasp"). The song contest humor is more hit and miss with me. But, being a "Yank", I have never seen the Eurovision Song contest, so maybe some of the jokes are just lost on me. The writers wanted Bonnie Langford to end up performing the Earth entry in the contest, but were vetoed by Gary Russel, which seems like a foolhardy decision to me. Another noteworthy item on this story, is that it's the first Big Finish Doctor Who story to actually use the period appropriate version of the Doctor Who theme. (It would have to be my least favorite "official" version of the theme.) But, I am happy that each Doctor gets their own theme (or themes) used from here on out.

So, with the high hopes I had for this, I can't help but feel disappointed. But, I don't want it to come off like I dislike the story, because I don't. It's still a fun (if long) ride with a few chuckles and grins along the way. The cast are all good, and it sounds like there was a lot of fun to be had making this. If you enjoyed "The One Doctor", I am sure you will have some fun with this followup, just not as much. If you haven't heard either, definitely start with the earlier story.

Rating: Good

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Church and the Crown

Here we have Doctor Who and the Three Musketeers. Thinking about it, it's really pretty surprising they never did this story back in the 1960's. It does harken back to the early days of the show since this historical is "pure" in that there are no aliens or any other time manipulation going on (aside from the TARDIS team showing up). This is a fun and funny romp. There is a great deal of levity and humor throughout, and it sounds like the cast had a great time making this. It also is the second story to feature Erimem, and starts to really establish the relationship between her and Peri.

So, we have the TARDIS team arriving in 17th century France (by accident, of course) where they all quickly get embroiled in a dastardly scheme. Much like the historical stories of the Hartnell era, a companion (Peri) is pretty quickly separated and kidnapped fairly early on, and thus begins the Doctor's and Erimem's quest to rescue her. I admit to not having a ton of knowledge about the Three Musketeers, never having read Alexandre Dumas. For the most part this story has most of the real people from history who appeared in Dumas' story - the Cardinal Richelieu, King Louis XIII, Queen Anne, and George Villiers the Duke of Buckingham. Instead of three musketeers we have two, Delmarre and Roufett, who are such an amusing double act, you could almost believe Robert Holmes dreamed them up. Amidst Peri's kidnapping, there is tension between the Cardinal and the King, and a dastardly scheme by the Duke of Buckingham. Much hilarity and swashbuckling ensues.

Nicola Bryant deserves praise here for her lovely double act of portraying Peri and Queen Anne. I could groan at the contrivance of Peri being a doppelganger for Queen Anne, but Bryant's terrific performance has me blindly accepting it. Andrew McKay deserves praise for his amusing portrayal of the fool of a King Louis. But, most of my praise goes to Peter Davision. He seems generally engaged by the script here, and seems to put a bit more oomph into this than some of his other performances. In fact, the whole cast seems to be enjoying the material as there is a ton of energy and delight in all of the performances.

Perhaps most significantly, this story really establishes a new dynamic and chemistry for this TARDIS team (in spite of Peri and Erimem not having many scenes together). Peri and Erimem fairly quickly fall into the roles of older and younger sister. It's a very interesting dynamic since Peri is a bit of a mentor to Erimem, but Erimem is probably the more "useful" of the two companions with her experience both in leadership and combat. That's particularly true in this story. But, the dynamic really works and establishes them as the scheming sisters plotting at ways to manipulate the Doctor who comes off as an exasperated, but affectionate father figure. It's really a lovely team, that works so much better than the other multitudes of combinations the poor 5th Doctor was stuck with for companions.

So, this is really just a lot of fun really. Writers Cavan Scott and Mark Wright poured a lot of humor and fun into this script. To say it strikes a different tone than their magnificent "Project Twilight" is an understatement. I kept waiting for the "All for one, and one for all" line to be delivered, and they didn't disappoint as it's a hysterical scene. Despite there being deadly explosions and even a scene where the Doctor is tortured, there's no real sense of peril or dread, since it's all just a lot of jocularity. With a quick paced story and energetic performances, this romp works very well, and is a great indicator of great things to come from this new TARDIS team.

Rating: Great

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Sandman

After our last disastrous story, this is a little more like it. "The Sandman" is a pretty unique tale (later copied by new Who) exploring the idea of a civilization (not an evil one) who is terrified of and reviles the Doctor. To the reptilian Galyari, the Doctor is their deepest fear. He is literally a figure of terror embedded into their genetic psyche. The tale takes place in a pretty awesome setting, "The Clutch". The Clutch is a massive fleet of spaceships of various origin, slowly (sub warp/light speed) migrating across the galaxy. I love this idea of a group of "space gypsies" made up of all kinds of different aliens travelling together in (mostly) harmony. When Galyari start to be killed off in gruesome fashion with they reptilian skins removed form their corpses, the victims naturally know who to blame - The Doctor! He is the horrendous "Sandman" who is the most frightful monster the Galyari ever encountered!

Of course a couple years after these murders begin, the Doctor and Evelyn show up. It's a fun setup to have the Doctor come back to check up on the species that loathes and fears him. He really doesn't let on to Evelyn what's going on (how Doctor-like of him), so she is rightfully appalled when he immediately begins making demands of the Galyari "Orchestrator" and giving him dire threats. The flashback scene in episode two for how the Doctor came to be known as The Sandman is effective, since as told from the point of view of the Galyari, he does come off as terrifying. Granted, we fans are shrewd enough to know that the Doctor's actions will later be justified, but it is a fun juxtaposition for him to be portrayed as evil. Evelyn's reactions are quite reasonable given the Doctor's lack of denial for the Galyari's accounting of their first meeting.

This is a perfect story for our lovably grumpy Sixth Doctor. The scenes where he terrorizes the Galyari are full of the usual Colin Baker bombast, and you can tell he is having a good time portraying this "evil" version of the Doctor. Maggie Stables as always is a delight as Evelyn, appalled at the story being told of the Sandman, and as usual full of amusing quips at the Doctor's expense. They are truly Big Finish's dream team.

Also fun, is the casting of former companion Polly actress Anneke Wills as the hell bent for revenge Nrosha. The story comes close to her being a one note character - frothing at the mouth and seeking bloody revenge against the hated Doctor. But, the scene where Mordecan shows her his "merchandise" shows a completely different side of her.

I do have a couple of complaints. For one, the 2nd part cliffhanger is terrific, but it's one of those "cheat" cliffhangers where in the next episode's reprise they insert some action that was omitted from the previous episode's ending. Yes, Doctor Who has played these tricks occasionally in the past too. But, it always makes a resolution to a cliffhanger less satisfying when they cheat in this way. Also, the Doctor wins over the Galyari to his side a little too easily. I understand that since this happens in the final episode, that time is a bit short. But, it's a little hard to swallow that the Galyari who have been living with centuries with a shared racial hatred of the Doctor that is encoded into their DNA will suddenly begin helping him with very few questions asked. Still, the conclusion remains mostly satisfying.

After the last couple of stories, "The Sandman" is a bit of a relief. There's just no tonic for getting Big Finish on the right track like a 6th Doctor / Evelyn story. Simon A. Forward's script is a captivating and entertaining twist on the Doctor's character. I don't like his other Big Finish Doctor Who script nearly as much, but we can talk about that later. This story is a lot of fun, with a cool setting which is ably realized by the top notch production crew.

Rating: Good

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Rapture

As was the case with "...ish", I had read some fan opinion on "The Rapture" which colored my impressions going in. To put it mildly, fans seemed to really dislike it. Oddly enough, the first time I heard it, I thought it wasn't bad at all. I must have been delirious (or perhaps I was on some of Gabriel's "angel dust"). The major highlight of "The Rapture" is the superb cover. In many ways this story represents everything that bothers me about the 7th Doctor and Ace. Oh, and it adds in plenty of soap opera too. What's not to love?

This story is set on Ibiza and boils down to a pair of nefarious alien brothers who portray themselves as "angels" and run a dance/trance club called "The Rapture". Except, one of the brothers (Gabriel) actually believes he's an angel. Their master plan is to mesmerize their patrons one night with their hypnotic music and whisk them off back to their own dimension to fight in a war for their people. Oh, and Ace has a brother she never knew about.

Writer Joseph Lidster would go on to do much better work for Big Finish. But, his debut story is very weak. In episode two where she meets her long lost, and heretofore unknown brother, we descend into melodramatic soap opera. The prolonged scenes between the two are just painfully bad. Sophie Aldred's whinging is completely unconvincing, and David John (as her brother Liam) is little better. In fact, the cast is generally awful in this from the leads down to the guests - with the notable exception of Tony Blackburn, playing himself.

One interesting part is when Gabriel takes the manic depressive Catronia to "Heaven" via a drug induced hallucination. The audio work here is impressive as her trip gets worse and worse. There is a bit of nifty foreshadowing of the next story when she has auditory hallucinations of the Doctor calling himself "The Sandman". Well, it would be nifty foreshadowing, except it makes absolutely no sense for her to have any knowledge of it.

Most painful is the climax where Jude threatens to kill Ace. At this point, (and it isn't the first or last time) I was praying for him to let her fall to her death. The most painful part here is McCoy. My main knock on McCoy is he is very prone to overacting, particularly when having to convey anger or excitement. He is at his worst here. It's genuinely painful to hear such a pitiful performance from the leads. There are times when I find McCoy's Doctor quite engaging and lovable, but not here.

So, this is not on my list of favorites to put it mildly. An alien invasion which amounts to a kidnapping of dozens as opposed to a worldwide (or even city wide) threat. Add in some generally deplorable acting by virtually the whole cast. There are some nice moments. When the Doctor brings Ace to Ibiza for a proper holiday after her harrowing time in both "Dust Breeding" and "Colditz", it's really quite sweet. The introduction of the Doctor's heretofore unknown old friend Gustavo is very enjoyable, until the pointless twist near the end where Gustavo (played by Carlos Riera) has to join the overwrought acting club. I also like it when the Doctor relaxes and works behind the bar. McCoy can be so good when he is understated. Too bad it doesn't last. The silly soap opera elements with Ace and her brother Liam are uninteresting and poorly performed. The alien story is generally uninteresting and has a flat climax. But, at least the trance/techno version of the Who theme is mildly amusing... The 7th Doctor with Ace won't be around for a while, and thankfully it's much better when they return.

Rating: Poor


Wednesday, May 28, 2014


With a couple of exceptions we'll discuss later, I really didn't start listening to Big Finish until around 2004. So, when I was listening to things like "...ish", I was excitedly pouring through these audios excited to get from the awesome ending of "Neverland" to the 30th anniversary followup in "Zagreus". At this point, I was always previewing releases by checking out a web site (the Doctor Who Ratings guide which is still around) and skimming (to avoid spoilers) fan reviews of whatever I was going to listen to next. The fans seemed to really love "...ish" as a unique story, and by this point I was always excited to devour any new Colin Baker story. So, I was quite excited to check out "...ish". But, I confess I don't have much enthusiasm for this one.

Fundamentally, this is a story about language. The setup is a university where the ultimate lexicon is being assembled. To assist in this an incredibly advanced A.I. hologlyph called "Book" is used as a tool to collect all the known words of the English language. Meanwhile, the top researcher (an old friend of the Doctor's) is found dead - presumably murdered - in her locked office. And there's definitely something odd about Book.

For lovers of the English language, there is a lot to love here. Your vocabulary will be stretched to its absolute limits listening to this audio (more like ripped apart in my case). It was clearly written by a very clever man. And, the character of Book is quite creepy and the audio effect for his voice is terrific. There is some clever humor here too, and I am particularly amused during the parts where the titular suffix is temporarily censored.

But, ultimately for me, the central premise of the "Omniverbum" just doesn't resonate with me. Science Fiction, to me, is really just plausible sounding fantasy. And, this concept just doesn't ring true to me. I had trouble wrapping my head around it, and once I (thought) I did, I just thought it was silly. So while I was intrigued by "...ish" for its first half, the explanation just came off as nonsensical and (even worse) unbelievable to me. Author Phil Pascoe even admits the plot doesn't really make sense.

On my most recent listen I did enjoy this slightly more than way back in 2004, ten years ago. So, while this has been among my least favorite Big Finish stories for a decade, it did come off a little better than I had remembered it. I appreciate the cleverness of the dialog, which is loaded with all the color you could imagine being squeezed out of the English language. I also enjoy the change in attitude the Doctor shows in the American colloquialisms of English by the end of the story. Still, I can't muster up the same enthusiasm fans had for this story a decade ago. A well acted, and clever story, that I just fail to enjoy as much as I might wish to.

Rating: OK

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Spare Parts

Back in the days before Doctor Who's return to TV in 2005, figuring out how to introduce someone to the show was an interesting challenge. You generally, would try to think of one of the all time great stories, that wasn't too long, and didn't require a lot of previous knowledge of the show. I would guess most of us didn't put "An Unearthly Child" high in the list of candidates, given its age and well... it isn't that great. Generally we picked a Tom Baker story like "Pyramids of Mars", "City of Death", or "The Deadly Assassin". Or maybe we went for the action packed "Caves of Androzani". Either way, showing some new initiate often involved putting in a DVD, and expecting them to sit through 4 (or more) episodes of Doctor Who. Often the poor victim of our enthusiasm had mentally checked out by the mid-point of the first episode. Now, with the new show mostly contained in faster paced 45 minute stories, there is one fairly obvious episode to pick to try to hook a new viewer into becoming a fan. (Hint: it rhymes with "sink".)

So, how do you introduce someone to the Big Finish range of Doctor Who? Well, for starters, I don't recommend introducing someone who isn't already a fan of Doctor Who. Seriously, as much as I adore Big Finish and consider it to generally represent the pinnacle of Doctor Who storytelling, I can't imagine selling Doctor Who in audio format first. (I am sure it's worked for some people, but I would guess they are a small exception.) This requires someone who is already a fan of the classic show, which generally is almost a requirement for Big Finish given the number of story lines, villains, and references littered throughout the range to the original series. (After all it is by fans, for fans.) So, you pick some of the iconic and best stories. So, in our reviews so far my list would look something like "The Marian Conspiracy", "The Holy Terror", "The Chimes of Midnight", and most definitely "Spare Parts".

This story is to Cybermen what "Genesis of the Daleks" was to Daleks - essentially, an origin story for people already familiar with the "monster". This is a masterpiece by Marc Platt who prior to Big Finish was pretty much only known by me for writing the entertaining mess that was "Ghost Light" in the final McCoy TV season. To say that I like this more would be a great understatement. This is a dark, depressing story (as you might expect) and remains one of my all time favorite Doctor Who adventures.

As you might guess, this takes place on Mondas, the original home planet for the Cybermen. When the 5th Doctor and Nyssa arrives, the Doctor figures out pretty quickly where (and when) they are. Realizing that he can't really risk trying to change what happens here in this pivotal time in the planet's history he attempts to persuade Nyssa that they should leave right away. Somehow, Nyssa, convinces him to hang around a bit, which may be the biggest flaw in the story. Quickly they get separated, and they get caught up in the catastrophic events.

As any devoted Doctor Who fan might expect the voices of these "not quite Cybermen" are done in the style of their debut story "The Tenth Planet". When I finally first saw the story for myself I found the voices both ridiculous and disturbing all at once. My opinion hasn't altered much from this audio, although the disturbing factor is higher here. Of course Nick Briggs does a sensational job doing the voice work.

The best decision Platt made in this story was NOT to try to create another Davros for the Cybermen. Doctorman Allan, the ostensible "creator" of the Cybermen is not some deranged lunatic. She's a desperate, flawed woman. She's brilliant but also drinks too much. She's full of despair at where they are in their dire situation and has serious doubts about their solution, but knows the alternative is extinction.

Probably the best moment in the story comes from Nyssa meeting the downtrodden Hartley family. After befriending Yvonne and her dad, and meeting the less pleasant brother Frank, she quickly realizes the dire straits the family (and the planet) lives in. When Yvonne is selected for the "work crews" and then ultimately returns, it's one of the most gut wrenching scenes in the history of Doctor Who. The performance for Yvonne and the Hartley family is just tremendous and it is simply heart breaking.

The other terrifying aspect of the story is the dreaded Committee that is truly running the show on Mondas. Their internal dialogs are quite creepy (and hard to understand at times as well). One particularly long internal dialog that results in them uttering the dreaded "We must survive" line over and over again fills the listener with dread.

Quite simply, this is a tremendous story, which I don't really want to get into much more for fear of giving too much away. If you haven't heard "Spare Parts" yet, you simply must buy it now. If you have heard it, it's probably long since time you listened to it again. The Doctor and Nyssa are put through the emotional (and physical) ringer. The Doctor ends up playing a pivotal role in the story (both in ways you would expect and not expect) and when he and Nyssa leave thinking they may actually have made a difference, you'll hang around for the last couple of minutes and find out just how wrong they were.


The Maltese Penguin

Technically, this CD shouldn't be included in my reviews. I try to stick with the monthly releases only (when I can bother to remember this blog exists), but given this single CD title was given the number 33 and 1/2, I include it in the section of the CD case that contains the monthlies. This title was given away free with Doctor Who Magazine back in July of 2002. Back in the 2003-2004 time frame when I was gobbling up Big Finish for the first time, I was very excited to hear this one. It features Colin Baker's Doctor (already at this point becoming a favorite for me), Frobisher, and was written by Rob Shearman. The last time we were served up this combination, we got the completely awesome "Holy Terror", so needless to say, I has high expectations.

Well, let's cut to the chase - this isn't nearly as good. If you don't believe me, just ask Rob Shearman, who calls this the worst thing he wrote for Big Finish. Ouch! (I disagree by the way. He's written worse. Ouch, again!) Shearman thinks it's a funnier script on paper than for an audio play. I think it's more amusing than funny, but I think he's a bit too harsh in his criticism of this. This story is a cute satire on the old film noir, hard boiled detective stories. Frobisher is the star of the story, and the Doctor only shows up at a few points in the story (while still managing to save the day). However, that doesn't mean you don't hear a lot of Colin Baker - quite the contrary!

Robert Jezek returns to play Frobisher, but for the most part, he serves as Frobisher narrating the story in the aforementioned film noir style. In a funny twist, the shape changing Frobisher actually spends most of the story in the form of ... the Doctor. So, we trade Jezek's unconvincing New York accent for Colin Baker's (hopefully intentionally) even less convincing New York accent! Actually, Colin is a lot of fun as Frobisher.

Most of the humor comes from laughing at the cliches of the genre and the story's silly over the top characters. Most of my enjoyment of this story comes from the moments the Doctor shows up in the story to see if Frobisher is ready to return traveling in the TARDIS. (Frobisher, is busy proving he can survive without the Doctor in his day job as a private detective.) It's really quite sweet for the Doctor to keep showing up and warmly greeting Frobisher. It's clear the Doctor is lonely and misses his friend. This is such a sweet development for the 6th Doctor and would be unbelievable to imagine the TV version of this Doctor doing this.

So, while there are a few chuckles, it's not really a hilarious story. Thankfully, this isn't dragged out across two CDs or my opinion would probably be much lower. Really, this is a harmless bit of silly fun. It's actually a nice change of pace between the epic finale of "Neverland" and before the incredible, but doom laden "Spare Parts".

Rating: OK