Doctor Who Big Finish and Audio stories review blog...

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30 Apr 2013, 2:29 am

The first review in the next lot of reviews...

REVIEW: The Elite by John Dorney, from a story by Barbara Clegg

SERIAL:
TLS3.01, 4X30 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

Amongst the stories that I am reviewing for this review blog include two Lost Stories, stories originally intended for the TV series but never filmed. Although I have listened to one such story, Graham Williams' The Nightmare Fair, the next two are ones I am not familiar with, The Elite, and Earth Aid. While I won't be listening to Earth Aid until I get to the Seventh Doctor's era, this story has potential. Especially after knowing that it comes from a story outline by Enlightenment's author Barbara Clegg. But would it work out?

Attempting to take Nyssa and Tegan to the holiday world of Florana, the Doctor ends up landing them in a domed city, where the Elite practise a disgusting regime of eugenics at the behest of the High Priest. But the Doctor is sure that the so-called emissary of the gods is actually an alien, even though the Elite refuse to believe in the existence of other worlds. With Nyssa forced into the Academy to be indoctrinated, and Tegan sent to work camps along with those the Elite consider below par, the Doctor must uncover the mystery himself. But the High Priest knows the Doctor of old, and it has its own plans. It needs the Doctor's help, whether he wants to help or not...

The Elite is quite a good story, with a nice twist that, while you can potentially see coming as soon as the first episode (or even just by looking at the front cover), is still a good one. It uses an old enemy very effectively, as well as the ideology of said creature, as well as moral ambiguity that comes within the story and theological exploitation. Okay, it is not the perfect story by any means, being a fairly typical rebellion story, but it's damned fine one for being developed from a story outline only a few pages long.

Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton and Janet Fielding are all excellent as the regular characters, with Sarah Sutton playing a quite good brainwashed Nyssa. However, most of the other characters are not particularly noteworthy, save for Derek Carlyle as General Aubron, Ryan Sampson as Thane (if somewhat hammy, but appropriately so), and Joannah Tincey as Educator Stemp. And then, there is the High Priest, initially credited as 'Arthur Wallis', who is perhaps one of the best renditions of a certain enemy of the Doctor's...

The sound design of the story is pretty good overall. The music sounds very much like that from a Doctor Who story from the Eighties, like that for The Nightmare Fair. However, the sound mixing at times does obscure the dialogue, particularly at vital times, which I have to say is a real pain in the derriere.

The Elite was a good start to this round of the Big Finish reviews. Not as good as Enlightenment, but still a nice story with a good twist.


SCORE: 9/10

The next story will be The Butcher of Brisbane...


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04 May 2013, 1:36 am

REVIEW: The Butcher of Brisbane by Marc Platt

SERIAL:
6H/I, 4X30 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No


One of my personal favourite stories in the classic series was The Talons of Weng-Chiang, with the only dodgy parts being the giant rat and the Yellow Peril elements. Having read one sequel, the Missing Adventures novel The Shadow of Weng-Chiang, I didn't know whether another story linked to it would do well. The Butcher of Brisbane is both a sequel (set during the Fifth Doctor's era) and a prequel (set during Greel's life in the 51st century). But would it work out? Marc Platt worked on the excellent Cyberman origin story Spare Parts, so it might be possible for lightning to strike twice...

A strange energy beam smashes into the TARDIS while the Doctor is taking Tegan to Brisbane for a holiday. Nyssa and Turlough are hurled into the 51st century, to a frozen wilderness littered with deformed bodies, including a barely alive aged man who recognises them. Soon, they are picked up by Earth Free Media, rebels against the Supreme Alliance. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Tegan, tracking down the energy beam, end up in the devastated ruins of Brisbane. The rebels soon pick them up, revealing that Nyssa and Turlough ended up here three years ago. But the Doctor is disturbed. He knows that the Earth is in the middle of an ice age, that the energy beam has the distinctive signature of the Zygma Beam, and he is soon captured by the security forces of the brutal alien scientist Dr Sa Yy Findecker. What is worse is that Nyssa and Turlough have fallen into the company of none other than Magnus Greel, the infamous Minister of Justice for the Supreme Alliance, and the Butcher of Brisbane. Greel is fated to die in Victorian times at the Doctor's own hand. But if the Doctor isn't careful, he will die in a dark and deadly future on the verge of World War Six...

Obviously, the story has a very different tone to The Talons of Weng-Chiang, being more of a hard-hitting futuristic thriller than the Victorian pseudohistorical. But Marc Platt skillfully takes a number of disparate references in The Talons of Weng-Chiang and expands on them. 51st century Earth is not a nice place, and we have some intriguing explanations as to how the time cabinet came into being. We even get some new series-style timey-wimey stuff. The only quibbles I have are minor ones, as there is not really much of an explanation as to Findecker creating the time cabinet, or what species he is for that matter (he is repeatedly stated not to be human), and maybe I missed exactly how Greel caused the deaths of the Brisbanites.

The main cast are all quite good, although Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson show their age in their voices, though their characters are as usual, with Nyssa getting perhaps the most development posing as Greel's fiancee (though her character caring for Greel seems to be either Stockholm Syndrome, or else her overwhelming goody-goody two shoes nature). Angus Wright's Magnus Greel goes through perhaps the best character arc, going from a brutal ruthless man, albeit with a facade of civility, to the raving psychotic from The Talons of Weng-Chiang, perhaps Marc Platt's master work. Findecker is almost an inverse of the Greel seen in The Talons of Weng-Chiang, sadistic, but cold and calm. The other characters are excellent, with John Bank's Chops being amusing and a good character.

Of the sound design, what can I say that I haven't said before? Big Finish know how to do a superb, cinematic soundscape that far surpasses anything possible on television. Case in point is when the Doctor is interrogated by Findecker by being dangled over a pit while a mutant troll attacks him. It sounds like the Doctor really has been hung over a pit. My only real complaint is a fanboyish one: they didn't use the original sound effect (or even a close approximation) of the distillation chamber sound effects.

The Butcher of Brisbane is very different to The Talons of Weng-Chiang. But despite some minor flaws, it is still a masterpiece, just like Spare Parts. Here's hoping for more excellent stories from the pen of Marc Platt.


SCORE: 10/10

The next story will be The Wrong Doctors...


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04 May 2013, 6:21 am

REVIEW: The Wrong Doctors by Matt Fitton

SERIAL:
7CQA, 4X30 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

Most of my Big Finish audios are from the far less recent releases of the range. But recently, I managed to obtain a few of the most recent ones, including the previous review, that of The Butcher of Brisbane, along with Love and War and Dark Eyes. But this is perhaps the most recent one, released January this year. And it is the story of how the Doctor finally came to travel with Mel...

The Sixth Doctor has come to Pease Pottage, ready to pick up Mel after dropping off Evelyn Smythe. Except something's very wrong. The Sixth Doctor, in his past, has just dropped Mel off after the events of his trial. Now there are two Doctors. And two Mels. One who seems to be the right Mel, and the other who has never met the Doctor, or gone to university. And more than that: dinosaurs, people from throughout the history of Pease Pottage, and one of the most bizarre invasions, at the hands of the business consultant race known as the Mardak. But the bizarre happenings seems to centre around the mysterious and callous Stapleton Petheridge, but also around Mel...

It's a really bizarre story, to be frank, but while it doesn't really do it for me, it's nonetheless a good 'intro' story for Mel. It's very timey-wimey, and quite frankly more than a little confusing to untangle, and I think at times the comedic elements do conflict with the more dramatic moments too. But it was still a pretty good story all the same, with some nice sentimental scenes (including a very heart-breaking scene at the end) and some pretty good humour.

Both Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford clearly relish the opportunity to play dual roles, although I am not that much a fan of Mel, to be frank. Beth Chalmers as Vaneesh is more than a little grating, though John Banks as Ksllak is perhaps better, especially given the twist at the end. The other characters are okay, although I have to admit that Tony Gardner as Petheridge is slightly underwhelming as a villain.

The sound design, as usual, is up to a high standard. Sound effects and mixing make the story seem cinematic. But the music is another matter. Half of the time, it works out fine, and the other times, it just doesn't seem right. Which is a pity.

The Wrong Doctors is a good story, not a great one. A pity it is so confusing, but with some great sentimental scenes, it works out fine.


SCORE: 8.5/10

The next story will be The One Doctor...


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05 May 2013, 6:19 am

REVIEW: The One Doctor by Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman

SERIAL:
7CR, 4X25 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

Doctor Who played for comedy doesn't always have the best track record. A few of the best stories do have comedy used, like City of Death and The Unicorn and the Wasp. But others haven't. The Unicorn and the Wasp was written by Gareth Roberts, who, along with Clayton Hickman, wrote for Big Finish the Doctor Who equivalent of a Christmas pantomime, a very great risk...

The Doctor and Mel end up in the far future, at what the Doctor calls 'the vulgar end of time'. Everything's been done, said, or created. But they dutifully answer a distress beacon from Generios-1, the capital planet of the Generios System, only to find that the Doctor has already saved them from the evil Skelloids. But the Doctor hasn't been here before, and he can't sense his future selves either. The culprit turns out to be Banto Zame, a conman who poses as the Doctor, and his partner-in-crime Sally-Anne as his companion, and they're about to get the rudest shock of their lives: a cylinder has arrived at Generios-1, demanding the three greatest treasures of the Generios System. The Doctors and their companions, one pair false, the other real, must undertake a quest to save the Generios System in three hours, finding the smartest computer in the universe, the largest diamond in the system, and the Shelves of Infinity...

The story of The One Doctor is ridiculously simple, light-hearted, and comedic. This doesn't mean that the story is crap. Rather, it is a fun and funny romp that serves to make the viewers laugh out loud. It really is a pantomime, but an enjoyable one nonetheless that more than makes up for the silliness of the plot.

Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford as the Doctor and Mel are enjoying this story clearly. Christopher Biggins as Banto Zame hams it up immensely, while Clare Buckfield as Sally-Ann Buckfield makes a strange companion. Matt Lucas as both the Cylinder and the Jelloid is hilarious, as is Nicholas Pegg as Mentos. And Adam Buxton and Stephen Fewell as the Assemblers are basically a pair of comedic pseudo-Daleks, absolutely hilarious!

Sound design, well, it all works well. What else can I say that I haven't done so already? Of course, the music plays up to the panto aspect of the story, whimsical and funny. And the sound designers have to be given kudos for being able to create an extraordinarily funny sound effect for Banto Zame's fake TARDIS: the distinctive TARDIS wheezing, groaning noise done with toilet flushes (I kid you not!).

The One Doctor is simple, but it is a bloody successful way of doing Doctor Who as a comedy, and as a pantomime. Wonderful!


SCORE: 9.5/10

The next story will be Earth Aid...


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12 May 2013, 2:35 am

REVIEW: Earth Aid by Ben Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel

SERIAL:
TLS2.06, 4X30 minute approx episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

I remember, long ago, reading a Doctor Who Magazine article about the hypothetical seasons 27 and 28. It wasn't just the magazine article, however, but a DVD documentary on the DVD of Survival, that detailed various stories that had been considered before the series had been cancelled. Amongst these had been the concept that would later be adapted by Big Finish as Earth Aid...

The starship Vancouver is escorting the grain carrier Lilliput to the planet Safenesthome. Its Captain seems strangely incompetent and inexperienced, and seems to defer to the mysterious medical officer known only as the Doctor. In truth, it is the enthusiastic, but inexperienced Ace, out of her depth. But something has gone wrong on the Vancouver, and the only apparent survivor, Victor Espinosa, isn't willing to discuss anything. Why is Raine Creevy, the Doctor and Ace's thief friend from the 20th century, on board a ship in the future when she hasn't travelled with the Doctor? What do the belligerent insects known as the Metatraxi have to do with anything? And what trap is the Doctor strolling into?

I have to admit, the story is actually pretty crap. It's probably an artefact of being derived from a single scene and a few other concepts. But it doesn't quite feel right. There is a brilliant bit at the end where the Metatraxi turn the Doctor against himself, there's some funny dialogue from the Metatraxi right at the end, and the story isn't quite abysmal. It's just mediocre.

The character of the Doctor is excellent, but I have to admit that Ace and Raine seem to have been written rather poorly. I would have thought that Ace could have shown just a tad more intelligence and maturity by now, as this is set after season 26, and Raine, well, I am not enamoured with her at all. Of the other characters, only the Grubs and the Metatraxi seem to be interesting. The others range from the flat to just annoying.

I can't complain about the sound design at all. In fact, it's probably the best aspect of this story, even though most of it is pretty bog standard for Big Finish stories. It helps lift the story out of what it may have sunk to without it.

Earth Aid was massively disappointing and the worst Big Finish audio story I have listened to thus far. I just hope that the other Lost Stories set around this era are not as bad...


SCORE: 6.5/10

The next story will be Night Thoughts...


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16 May 2013, 2:31 am

REVIEW: Night Thoughts by Edward Young

SERIAL:
7W/C, 4X30 minute approx episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No


The previous story that I reviewed, Earth Aid, was one of those intended for season 27. However, although not done for the Lost Stories series for Big Finish, Night Thoughts was also originally intended for season 27. I heard that this was one of the best Big Finish stories ever, and I decided to see if they were right...

Gravonax Island, an isolated island in the Hebrides, once the site of chemical warfare testing. Now decontaminated, the island is host to a group of scientists and researchers, led by the driven Major Dickens. The Doctor, Ace, and Hex arrive, with Hex having recently had a nightmare, witnessing someone's death, and Ace seeing someone in a marsh. They head to the house with Dickens' group, where they are treated with suspicion. Especially when a taxidermist in the group is killed by a mysterious figure whistling 'Oranges and Lemons'. What is the research group looking into? How does it tie into the past of the traumatised teenaged housemaid Sue? And can the Doctor, Ace, and Hex save anyone before something from the past intent on wreaking vengeance?

Night Thoughts is almost like a slasher film, albeit an extremely well-written and intellectual one, with a major science fiction twist, like I Know What You Did Last Summer meets The Stone Tape. It's dark, chilling, and filled with atmosphere, and it is bloody excellent. It's not the sort of thing that you'd want to listen to at night, but the story is dark, smart, and mature, with everything wrapped up in the end, save for maybe one thing.

Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred as the Doctor and Ace are as if they came out of the TV show, and I find myself warming up to Philip Olivier as Hex after the first, disastrous time I listened to him in The Veiled Leopard. Doctor Who veteran Bernard Kay is brilliant as Major Dickens, as is the rest of the research team. Lizzie Hopley as Sue manages to do well as the creepy housemaid with an unexpected link to the tragedy that befalls the story.

I have already stated before that Big Finish stories have cinematic sound design, and here, it makes an already creepy and horrific story ever more so. In fact, at least one sound effect at the end would assure that if the event was ever shown on TV, it would automatically be granted an MA rating. What can I say? It's a very well done story.

Not all darker and edgier things are necessarily good, but Night Thoughts is virtually faultless. While it may put off many people, all I can say is that if you want an excellent horror story and a Doctor Who one at that, then Night Thoughts is your story...


SCORE: 10/10

The next story will be The Magic Mousetrap...


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22 May 2013, 5:47 am

REVIEW: The Magic Mousetrap by Matthew Sweet

SERIAL:
7W/J, 4X30 minute approx episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No


One of the main reasons why I choose these stories, is that I do research and pick them based on either critical acclaim, or that they have a familiar monster or villain, or the story intrigues me. One of the ones on my to-buy list was The Magic Mousetrap. I heard it might be good, due to a familiar foe...

Switzerland, 1926, at a sanatorium for the upper crust run by Ludovic Comfort. The Doctor has lost his memory as he travels to the clinic in the company of Queenie Glasscock, with the patients playing a variety of games, while Ace and Hex watch from the attic. But the Doctor and the patients have to be forced to forget everything they know. The Doctor believes that he is being manipulated by an old foe. Although an old foe does wait in the shadows, they are not the one manipulating the Doctor, and if the Doctor remembers what actually happened, he might ruin everything for everyone...

The story is pretty good, with a brilliant twist. The Doctor, for once, is on the receiving end of the manipulations, and we have a good reveal of a deadly foe. It's surreal and wonderful. It's just a pity that it feels a little less meaty than it could have been, and it's certainly something of a comedown compared to the previous story, the excellent Night Thoughts.

The regulars are good as usual, with Sophie Aldred's Ace showing perhaps not only some good competence, but also some justifiable annoyance of the Doctor's manipulations. The other characters seem to be mostly caricatures of 1920s types to a degree, though Nadine Lewington as Queenie is quite good. So too as Paul Anthony-Barber as Ludo Comfort, and is even better as the main villain.

As usual, the sound design of the Big Finish audios are superlative. Some of the sound effects sound like they came from a 1970s episode of the show (rather than the 80s that the story is technically meant to be set in), but this is a minor quibble. It's certainly a good story overall.

The Magic Mousetrap was good, but I wish it could have been better. But it's still a very good story all the same.


SCORE: 9/10

The next story will be Love and War...


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26 May 2013, 2:02 am

REVIEW: Love and War by Jacqueline Rayner, from the novel by Paul Cornell

SERIAL:
NA1, 2X60 minute approx episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No (read the novel)

One of my personal favourite New Adventures books was Love and War, a key turning point in the New Adventures, with the departure of Ace and the arrival of Bernice Summerfield. Two decades after the book was released, an audio adaptation was made by Big Finish. I managed to get a hold of the adaptation, and couldn't wait to listen to it...

Heaven, a cemetary world during wars against the Daleks in the 26th century. The Doctor and Ace arrive, with Ace finding herself falling in with the itinerant Travellers and falling in love with Jan. The Doctor finds himself joining archaeologist Professor Bernice Summerfield in uncovering an ancient ruin. Meanwhile, the Church of the Vacuum seems to be making plans, plans that will involve a hideous, horrific takeover that will consume the cosmos. The Doctor may be able to stop it, but in order to do so, he may lose the trust of one of his oldest friends...

The original story was an excellent on in the first place, and while many parts of the story were removed to simplify the transition from prose to audio, the gist comes across more or less intact. Indeed, the adaptation manages to be as good as the book, albeit sacrificing a bit of the scope, for better dramatic value. It's a story of immense heartwarming and heartbreaking moments.

Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor is good, as usual, as is Sophie Aldred in her role as Ace in one of her pivotal stories. Lisa Bowerman is a good Bernice Summerfield (this is, admittedly, the first story with her in it that I have listened to), while the various actors who play the Travellers are all well-suited to the role, especially James Redmond as the pivotal role of Jan. Bernard Holley is also good for Brother Phaedrus, one of the main villains.

The sound design is, as usual, excellent. The music feels right for an adaptation of such a pivotal story. And the sound effects seem to be right on cue, with the voice alteration for the Hoothi sounding very much like it should. In short, it feels epic, and suitably so.

In the end, Love and War is a perfect adaptation of one of the best Doctor Who novels ever written. Brilliant and wonderful...


SCORE: 10/10

The next story will be Max Warp...


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26 May 2013, 5:11 am

REVIEW: Max Warp by Jonathan Morris

SERIAL:
EDA 2.2, 1X50 minute approx episode

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

My first look into the Eighth Doctor Adventures (with Sheridan Smith as Lucie Miller) is one that I heard was well-loved, a spoof of Top Gear called Max Warp. I thought that it might be a bit of a laugh. But would that turn out to be the case?

Max Warp: a show about the best and fastest spaceships, hosted by the outspoken Geoffrey Vantage, the daring Timbo 'the Ferret', and the rather staid O'Reilley. Their show is being broadcast from the Inter-G Cruiser Show at the Sirius Exhibition Show, but a test of the Kith Sunstorm by Timbo goes horribly wrong, crashing into a nearby moon. The Doctor and Lucy end up in the middle, bluffing their way into investigating. President Varlon is under pressure to declare war on the Kith Oligarchy, and the crash seems to be the pretext for war. But was it sabotage? And if so, by whom? After all, who would gain by war?

Max Warp starts off as a spoof of Top Gear, obviously, with at least one or two bits influenced by real life (like Jeremy Clarkson's outspoken nature, or Richard Hammond's infamous crash). While being a single hour-long episode means that the story was rather simple, and the humour doesn't always hit home, it is still a good story. Very entertaining, and with a mystery where the pieces come together in the end.

Paul McGann is a brilliant Doctor, though I'm not so sure about companion Lucie Miller, as played by Sheridan Smith. She...irritates me, though she at least has some good lines and comments to make to some people who deserve it. Graeme Garden is a delight as the Clarkson-esque Geoffrey Vantage, although I have to confess that the other characters don't do it for me as much as they should. The Kith, especially, with their cod-Mummerset accents (okay, I might have gotten the accent wrong, sorry) only barely distorted don't work for me.

As usual, Big Finish does a stellar job for the sound design. It sounds absolutely brilliant, with the right kind of sound effects. For the most part. Unfortunately, the effect on the Kith doesn't quite work out for me, which is a shame.

Max Warp was a pretty good story, even if I probably had too high expectations for it. Funny and topical, it's nonetheless a bit short and simple.


SCORE: 9/10

The next story will be Dark Eyes...


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28 May 2013, 1:39 am

REVIEW: Dark Eyes by Nicholas Briggs

SERIAL:
EDA5, 4X60 minute episodes (The Great War, Fugitives, Tangled Web, and X and the Daleks)

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

After the events that concluded the main run of the Eighth Doctor Adventures, Nicholas Briggs wondered, 'what next for the Eighth Doctor?' So he came to write a story that would offer the damaged Eighth Doctor a new adventure. I have to confess that my last sojourn with Nicholas Briggs' writing, Sword of Orion, didn't impress me, but would Dark Eyes surprise me?

The Eighth Doctor is looking for hope after the loss of so many loved ones. But while on a near-suicidal attempt to see the end of the universe, he is intercepted by Time Lord CIA agent Straxus, who offers him a mission that will give him hope. To that end, he is sent to track down someone in World War One, Volunteer Aid Detachment nurse Molly O'Sullivan, who is also damaged by war and loss. But when the Daleks arrive, attacking, the Doctor and Molly are forced to flee through time and space, the Daleks and their agents always one step ahead. Why are the Daleks and the Time Lords so interested in Molly? Why does she seem to be able to pilot the TARDIS? And who is the mysterious 'X', otherwise known as Kotris, and why does he desire the destruction of the Time Lords? Molly and her dark eyes are key to this mystery, but neither she nor the Doctor know...

The story in of itself, while epic, is actually rather simple in the end, with plot spread maybe just a hair too thin. And yet, the core of this story, the important parts of the story, about the Doctor regaining his hope, as well as confronting his demons. It's certainly an improvement over Sword of Orion, showing that Nicholas Briggs can write an excellent, and not just a competent, story.

Paul McGann is excellent as the Doctor, adding more than a little world-weariness to the Doctor. I have to confess that Ruth Bradley took time to engage me as Molly O'Sullivan, but she gets there in the end, and her character is very well written. Toby Jones is excellent as the smarmy Kotris, and Nicholas Briggs plays not only the standard Daleks, as well as the excellent Dalek Time Controller. Peter Egan as Straxus and Ian Cullen as Nadeyan are also good.

As usual, the sound design is brilliant, cinematic, suiting what this story needs. The music is suitably epic, and every sound effect works, slotting into place perfectly. The main complaint I have about Dark Eyes, however, is that the sound mixing sometimes obscures the dialogue, including at inopportune times.

Dark Eyes is an excellent story. Not perfect, but a brilliant epic that continues the story of the Eighth Doctor...


SCORE: 9.5/10

The next story will be Doctor Who Unbound: Sympathy for the Devil...


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28 May 2013, 6:09 am

REVIEW: Doctor Who Unbound: Sympathy for the Devil by Jonathan Clements

SERIAL:
UNB2, 1X75 minute episode

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

Doctor Who Unbound was a series created by Big Finish, exploring what if scenarios for the series. My first choice for the series, Sympathy for the Devil posits as to whether the Doctor never became the scientific advisor of UNIT. Being the concept that caught my eye, I wanted to find out whether or not it would work out...

Hong Kong, 1997. A disorientated Doctor, freshly regenerated and exiled, ends up at Little England, a bar run by the retired Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. UNIT is in disgrace, having been a failure, China is getting provocative in the leadup to the imminent handover, and when a stealth plane crashes into a hillside, the Doctor and the Brigadier get caught up in an UNIT operation, led by the irascible Colonel Brimmicombe-Wood, to find a defector from China called Ke Le. But Ke Le is one of the Doctor's own people, and he has landed in Hong Kong for a purpose. What ancient evil is hidden in a monastery over a hundred and fifty years old? Who really is Ke Le? And can the Doctor and the Brigadier solve the situation?

The story is a pretty good one, showing what might have happened if the Doctor never became UNIT'S advisor, as mentioned above. Earth is not unlike our own, save for some war wounds. There's more than a little condemnation of British jingoism, and some interesting tie-ins into Doctor Who continuity. But it's also rather straightforward and rather simple in the end, and the ending is a bit abrupt and too much in the air.

David Warner is an excellent alternate Doctor, if his character is written in a somewhat generic manner, while Nicholas Courtney relishes playing the Brigadier. Future Tenth Doctor David Tennant plays the almost perpetually irate Colonel Brimmicombe-Wood, a marked contrast to his role as the Doctor, and Mark Gatiss is a remarkably understated and excellent Master, proving that you don't need to ham it up to be a good villain (although he does at times). Trevor Littledale as the Abbot is also excellent.

As usual, the sound design is quite good. It isn't as stellar as less earthbound works, but I enjoyed it all the same. It's a pity that, given the links between this story and The Mind of Evil, they didn't try to use sound effects from that story.

Sympathy for the Devil was a good start into the world of Doctor Who Unbound. An enjoyable story.


SCORE: 9/10


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05 Jun 2013, 2:21 am

ATM, I actually have a number of stories, thanks to an order coming in (at last), as well as a number of free downloadable stories. However, I'm going to hold off on listening to and reviewing them for the time being.

The audios I will review, eventually, will definitely include:

The Renaissance Man

The Justice of Jalxar

The Lady of Mercia

The Kingmaker

Mission of the Viyrans

...Ish

Urgent Calls

Dust Breeding

The Book of Kells


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21 Jun 2013, 12:54 am

Okay, I'm starting another round of reviews, beginning with The Renaissance Man.


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21 Jun 2013, 1:56 am

REVIEW: The Renaissance Man by Justin Richards

SERIAL:
4S/B, 2X25 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No


My first venture into the Big Finish audios this time around begins with two Fourth Doctor Adventures, with the first being the second Fourth Doctor Adventure, The Renaissance Man. This story is also the first I have listened to by Justin Richards. But would it be any good?

In order to further Leela's education, the Doctor intends to take her to the Morovanian Museum, the biggest repository of Earth artifacts in the universe, and where the experts of the universe are gathering. But when they come to a country village, and the manor of Reginald Harcourt, the site of a vast collection of art, biological specimens, and various facts. But Harcourt's guests and family are suspicious, and some of them are afraid of something. Something is stealing memories and knowledge from the people present, but can the Doctor and Leela stop it? Or will the Doctor and Leela become additions to an extremely acquisitive museum?

The story is a pretty good one, though two-part stories don't tend to do much for story development. Even so, there's a lot of wit and humour, and it's a pretty surreal story. It also deals with the difference between knowledge and learning, and has a nice twist towards the end, though the ending is a bit disappointing, like what happened to the guest characters.

Both Tom Baker and Louise Jameson are excellent as the Doctor and Leela, although sometimes the Doctor is written a little OTT. Of the guest characters, the one that impressed me most was of course Ian McNiece as Harcourt. He makes a fine foil to Tom Baker's Doctor. The other characters aren't as impressive, though, but they are competent.

As usual, the sound design of the Big Finish stories is brilliant, giving a cinematic feel to the story. Sound effects work well, and the music is excellent. In other words, it's a superlative effort.

The Renaissance Man is a good story, albeit a rather short, simple, and straightforward one. Not perfect, but certainly an interesting and witty one.


SCORE: 9/10

The next story will be The Justice of Jalxar...


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21 Jun 2013, 3:09 am

REVIEW: The Justice of Jalxar by John Dorney

SERIAL:
FDA 2.4, 2X25 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

Henry Gordon Jago and Professor George Litefoot were two of my favourite characters from the Doctor Who story The Talons of Weng-Chiang, and there was some talk of doing a spinoff. Big Finish eventually gave them one. But now it has come full circle, with Tom Baker reuniting with Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter, along with the now unfortunately deceased Mary Tamm, for a new story...

The dawn of a new century, and the denizens of London are thrilling to the exploits of the vigilante known as the Pugilist, whose spectacular abilities have earned the dread of London criminality. The Doctor and Romana, tracking a crashing spacecraft, arrive, and regain the acquaintance of Jago and Litefoot, and find themselves not only looking for the Pugilist, but a murder with a similar pattern of victims. But what links the Pugilist to the crime lord Harvey Marsh? Who or what is the Puglist's murderous compatriot? And what links it to the crashing spacecraft?

The storyline, as it is for two-part stories, is simple and straightforward, but it's fun and enjoyable. There's sparkling dialogue that could have come from the pen of Robert Holmes, and wonderful concepts that seem to be not unlike those coming from both David Fisher's Doctor Who story The Stones of Blood, as well as the Red Dwarf episode Justice. It does take a while to get to the crux of the plot, and the plot doesn't mean much in the end, but it's great fun all the same.

Tom Baker feels more like the Doctor here, or at least more like the Doctor of this era, while the late (and lamented) Mary Tamm feels like she hadn't stepped out of the role of the haughty Romana at all. The same with Trevor Baxter as Litefoot and Christopher Benjamin as Jago, who feel like the very same characters as from The Talons of Weng-Chiang. The other characters are fairly good, though I feel that they needed a little more fleshing out, especially Mark Goldthorp as Bobby, and Rosanna Miles as Mary.

As usual, the sound design is superlative. Indeed, the music sounds very much like an epic movie at times, and the sound backdrop are excellent. I have to confess that sometimes, the dialogue is drowned out by the effects, and the titular Justice robot's dialogue is hard to discern at times.

The Justice of Jalxar, while simple and not perfect, is an excellent story. Just a hair short of perfect, but there you go.


SCORE: 9.5/10

The next story will be The Lady of Mercia...


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