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

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25 Jun 2013, 1:58 am

REVIEW: The Lady of Mercia by Paul Magrs

SERIAL:
6H/K, 4X30 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

My next sojourn into the Big Finish audio world is one written by Paul Magrs. Although I had enjoyed a couple of his BBC-published Hornets' Nest stories for Tom Baker, they weren't all great. Thus, listening to The Lady of Mercia is the first Big Finish audio he wrote that I have listened to. But will it tickle my fancy?

1983, the University of Frodsham at Merseyside. The students are protesting about budget cuts mauling the humanities in favour of the physics department. However, Dr Philippa Stone is using the funding to create a form of time machine. Her husband, historian Professor John Bleak, is desperate for it to work, especially given that one of his fields of interest is Queen Aethelfrid, one of the forgotten queens of the Dark Ages. The Doctor and his companions show up, the Doctor investigating traces from Stone's time machine, but by the time he figures out who is involved, Tegan and Bleak are thrust back in time to 918 AD, with Aethelfrid's daughter, warrior princess Aelfwynn, making a return journey. With Tegan having no choice but to impersonate Aelfwynn, and the Doctor having to deal with a belligerent Mercian princess, the stage is set for history and the present to collide rather messily...

While not a brilliant and stellar story, The Lady of Mercia is nonetheless a pretty good one. Saving the time travel elements, this is almost a pure historical with the past elements. A bit too farcical and simple in the end for my liking, but one complaint that I did hear is a rather poor one. After all, if Professor Whitaker from Invasion of the Dinosaurs was able to create a time machine (of sorts) in the 1970s or 80s, why not Philippa Stone in 1983? The ending is a little too trite, and I would have enjoyed a little more dwelling on the politics of Mercia before everything came to a conclusion.

The regulars are all pretty good, with Janet Fielding as Tegan. I have to admit, though, while the character of Aethelfrid is well written, there are times when Rachel Atkins hams it up a tad too much, an argument that can apply tenfold to Catherine Grose as Aelfwynn. I can't say much about the other performances. They are good, but none are particularly outstanding.

And what can I say about the sound design that hasn't already been said? As usual, it is excellent. Music and sound blend together to give a cinematic soundscape. Nothing else could be said.

The Lady of Mercia was a good story. Not perfect by any means, but still a good enough romp.


SCORE: 9/10

The next story will probably be Loups-Garoux...


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28 Jun 2013, 12:57 am

REVIEW: Loups-Garoux by Marc Platt

SERIAL:
6P/B, 4X35 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

Werewolves have been in Doctor Who almost as much as vampires. The Primords of Inferno have been compared to a post-atomic werewolf, while there was Mags in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy and the werewolf in Tooth and Claw. But there seem to be as many wereweolf varieties in the Whoniverse as there are vampires, and Marc Platt, fast becoming my favourite writer for the Big Finish, wrote them into an early Big Finish story, Loups-Garoux...

Rio de Janiero, 2080. The Amazon Rainforest is now a vast desert. Rosa Cayman, the last of her native tribe, is on an initiation ritual. An aristocratic family and their suspicious associates are heading for a ranch, pursued by a giant grey wolf-man. And the Doctor and Turlough, in town for Carnival, are finding themselves caught up in events. What is Ileana de Santos and her entourage? Can Rosa fulfill her quest? And is the Doctor getting himself in over his head?

Loups-Garoux is another good story written by Marc Platt, painting a bleak future and with a new form of werewolf. There's a wonderful, lyrical and magical feel to the story, with allusions to Little Red Riding Hood. And there's an element of humour as well, when the Doctor, albeit untintentionally, draws the amorous attentions of Ileana de Santos.

The Doctor and Turlough are excellently portrayed by Peter Davison and Mark Strickson as usual. Sarah Gale as Rosa and Eleanor Bron as Ileana are also excellent. The other characters are good as well, though Nicky Henson as Pieter Stubbe is rather too hammy.

But compared to later Big Finish stories, the sound design is not as good. The sound effects sound cheesy and corny, especially compared to later releases. The sound mixing is also spotty at times, marring the enjoyment of the experience.

Loups-Garoux is an excellent story, marred by the sound design. Marc Platt shows his mettle, once more.


SCORE: 9.5/10

The next story will probably be The Church and the Crown...


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28 Jun 2013, 4:37 am

REVIEW: The Church and the Crown by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright

SERIAL:
6Q/C, 4X25 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

I have to confess that I am not fond of pure historical stories. They're excellent period dramas, but I don't like stories that lack a science fiction element. So it was with not the best of expectations that I listened to The Church and the Crown. It could be good, but would it be so? The proof of the pudding is in the tasting. Or the listening, as the case is...

Paris, 1626. The guards of Cardinal Richelieu and the musketeers of King Louis XIII are at each other's throats. Louis is a spoilt brat in a man's body, and Richelieu is struggling to keep things sane, both men determined to unite France. But the Doctor, Peri, and new companion Erimem end up in this time of turmoil, and Peri's resemblance to Queen Anne hasn't gone unnoticed, especially by the visiting Earl of Buckingham, Anne's former lover. Soon, Peri is kidnapped, and Louis and Richelieu are at loggerheads. And the Doctor is about to get swept up in a conspiracy that could change the face of Europe forever...

What can I say about The Church and the Crown? It's a brilliant historical, albeit one that uses a conceit that has been used in previous historicals, that of a double being amongst the TARDIS crew (the First Doctor in The Massacre, and Nyssa in Black Orchid). There's a wonderful seam of humour, and even a noticeable but mild set of sexual references, and it feels fresh and wonderful compared to most other historicals.

Peter Davison is excellent as the Doctor, as is Caroline Morris as Erimem. Nicola Bryant not only gets to play Peri, but the elegant and very different Queen Anne. Michael Shallard and Andrew Mackay are also excellent as Richelieu and Louis respectively, as are Marcus Hutton as Buckingham, Peter John as Delmarre and Andy Coleman as Rouffet.

Sound design wise, this story is certainly up there with the best. Music at times feels like music from the series during the era. And sound effects are also well-done.

The Church and the Crown was a revelation: a historical that is not just perfect, but absolute fun to listen to.


SCORE: 10/10

The next story will probably be The Kingmaker...


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29 Jun 2013, 2:58 am

REVIEW: The Kingmaker by Nev Fountain

SERIAL:
6Q/I, 4X35 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

Doctor Who isn't always great as comedy, but sometimes it works out well. City of Death and The Unicorn and the Wasp work out well, as did the serial Max Warp. But other serials didn't work out well enough. Even so, I heard good things about The Kingmaker, and I hoped that would be the case when I listened to it...

The Doctor has a publishing deadline to meet, emphasis on deadline. He needs to finish a book on historical mysteries or be killed by a publishing robot from the future, and after a disastrous meeting with Shakespeare about Richard III, the Doctor decides to head to 1485 to find out the truth about the Princes in the Tower. Unfortunately, the TARDIS then travels to 1483, due to the interference of the mysterious Mr Seyton, leaving Peri and Erimem to try and make their way through medieval England, where Richard, Duke of Gloucester, is about to take his first steps along the road to villainy. But is Richard truly the villain history paints him out to be? What dark secret is behind the Princes in the Tower? And who is Mr Seyton? A farce fraught with folly awaits the Doctor and his companions, and when it comes to history, the story may change, but the ending will stay the same...

Although the previous story The Church and the Crown was a fun and enjoyable historical, this story manages to up the humour quotient without completely sacrificing the drama. There's a very clever use of time travel, there's some wonderful twists on history, and just enough pathos to work with the comedy, including a sequence where Richard III calls the Doctor out on his nature as a time traveller. I've heard that the humour has been compared to that of Blackadder, and that's a fair comparison, albeit better.

The Doctor, Peri, and Erimem are all written well and acted well by their respective actors. Stephen Beckett makes a good Richard III, who is written as a complex and dark role, while Michael Fenton Stevens has another good role as Mr Seyton, who is not who you think (or Peri thinks) at all. All the other parts are well cast and played too, with highlights being Chris Neill as Tyrell and Jon Culshaw in a cameo as the Fourth Doctor.

Again, as I seem to say a lot, what can I say about Big Finish's sound design that I haven't already? Brilliant cinematic sound, and there's some lovely choice of direction, with one pivotal scene in the third episode alternating with another. It all works together wonderfully...

The Kingmaker, despite the large amount of humour, is a wonderful story, fun, funny, and with just enough seriousness to bring it to the top echelons of the series...


SCORE: 10/10

The next story will probably be ...Ish...


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30 Jun 2013, 1:46 am

REVIEW: ...Ish by Phil Pascoe

SERIAL:
6Z/B, 4X25 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

Although it hasn't always done so within the TV series, Doctor Who has, in its spinoffs, tackled complex and profound concepts. Concepts involving time and space are often tackled, but other stories have occasionally tackled even stranger concepts. Some, including Lawrence Miles' Doctor Who and Faction Paradox books, enter a stranger realm, one that also made its way to other authors' works, including Phil Pascoe's ...Ish...

The Doctor and Peri arrive at a university within the Articulate Worlds, there to help the Doctor's old friend, Professor Osefa, with the compilation of the Lexicon, the ultimate English dictionary. But things are going wrong. Book, the artificial intelligence linked to the Lexicon helping Osefa, is becoming unstable. Osefa has apparently committed suicide. And the anarchic lexicographical saboteur Warren is determined to wreck Osefa and Book's work. But what is behind all these events? What does this have to do with the Omniverbum, held by some to be the first word in the universe? And why is Book stuck on the word ...ish? It seems that not just language is under threat, but meaning itself...

...Ish starts from perhaps one of the cleverest and bizarre concepts in the series, and goes from there, putting a whole new twist on the 'monster of the week' standard story. It's a story singularly well suited to the sesquipedalian and verbose Sixth Doctor, with his love of florid language, not to mention the rather abstract medium of audio. While this concept has been used before and since in spinoff media for Doctor Who, here, it is brought to life wonderfully.

Colin Baker's Doctor is on fine form and at his most eloquent, while Nicola Bryant as Peri is good as well. The other members of the cast are fine enough. Particular praise should go to Moray Treadwell as Book, who could easily have made the character bland and machine-like, but infuses him with pathos and depth, as well as Chris Eley as the anarchic Warren.

Again, sound design works well. There are times when the sound mix makes things obscure beneath the sound effects, but at least it is justifiable, especially given that part of it takes place in a very abstract sequence towards the end. There's some creative use of sound effects too: I heard a sound effect that was definitely that of the Guide from The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

...Ish marks a trifecta of perfect Big Finish audios I have listened to. A brilliant celebration of language that also manages to be a thrilling Doctor Who story, I'd happily listen to it again, if I was feeling a bit bored...ish.


SCORE: 10/10

The next story will probably be Dust Breeding...


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30 Jun 2013, 11:52 pm

REVIEW: Dust Breeding by Mike Tucker

SERIAL:
7T, 4X25 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

Mike Tucker used to be one of the special effects people working for the series during its final seasons, but he also had intended to write stories for later seasons. With Robert Perry, he would later write the books Illegal Alien, Matrix, Storm Harvest, and Loving the Alien, as well as Prime Time alone. He would also write the Big Finish story The Genocide Machine, as well as a later Big Finish story, Dust Breeding...

Duchamp 331. A godforsaken dustbowl of a planet, used as a refuelling station. And yet, it is the location of an artist's commune, its deranged leader, Damien, comissioned by the rich and vicious Madame Salvadori to create the ultimate work of art. And she is funded by the mysterious and rich Mr Seta, who has mysterious crates in the hold of her ship. The Doctor and Ace answer a distress call on Duchamp 331, though the Doctor is already intending to to visit the world, and find The Scream, the Edvard Munch painting which is due to disappear at this point. In the process, they meet old ally and skilled thief Bev Tarrant. But what hideous, monstrous intelligence remains hidden within the painting? What similarly hideous monsters lay hidden within Seta's crates? And who is Seta, and what are his plans for Duchamp 331?

The story is quite a good one. There are shades of what would eventually come about in the new series episode The Pandorica Opens. Not only that, but they bring back not merely one old enemy (the Krill from Tucker and Perry's Storm Harvest), but another, one which I should not really spoil. It just lacks just a tiny bit more to bring it up a notch, and the incident at the end of episode one isn't completely explained, which is irritating.

As usual, the Seventh Doctor and Ace are protrayed well by Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, save for when the Scream possesses the Doctor. Ironically enough, the reverse is true for Johnson Willis' Damien, who is too unrealistically deranged at first, but ends up better when possessed, albeit because the hammy deranged acting is appropriate by that point. Geoffrey Beevers is a delight as the evil Mr Seta, though I am afraid that his late wife, Caroline 'Liz Shaw' John affects a ridiculous accent as Salvadori, a shame, really, for an actress of her calibre. Of the other cast, Louise Faulkner is good as Tarrant, though Ian Ricketts as Guthrie doesn't quite feel right.

For the most part, much of the sound design is good. Not excellent, but good. However, this is one of those stories where the sound mixing is rather bad at times, I have to admit. Often, important dialogue is obscured or overwhelmed, sometimes by the sound mix, and in a few cases, by the voice treatment used for those possessed by the Warp Core.

Dust Breeding was a good Doctor Who story, but for some acting choices and some bad sound mixing, it could have been a truly great story. Shame, really.


SCORE: 9/10

The next story will be The Time of the Daleks...


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03 Jul 2013, 1:58 am

REVIEW: The Time of the Daleks by Justin Richards

SERIAL:
8K, 4X30 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

I have to confess that the Daleks are far from my favourite Doctor Who monster. Used well, they can be frighteningly effective, but I feel that they are often overused and underutilised. Even so, I felt intrigued by the concept of The Time of the Daleks, pitting the Eighth Doctor against Shakespeare-quoting Daleks...

The Doctor is worried. After all, Charley doesn't know who Shakespeare is, and neither did Orson Welles when they met him recently, and the Doctor concludes that something is very wrong indeed. A fissure in time, ending in the 16th century, but beginning in the middle of the 21st, may be the answer, but to find out what's going on, the Doctor and Charley must investigate in the midst of the supposedly benevolent dictatorship of General Mariah Learman, the dictator of Britain. Rebels against her rule are convinced that her experiments in time travel are to blame for their memories of Shakespeare disappearing, and Learman's allies, and supposed fans of the playwright, are none other than Daleks. Are Learman and the Daleks really going to save Shakespeare from oblivion as they claim? Or is their purpose not just more sinister, but downright catastrophic? What caused the time fissure in the first place? And will the time of the Daleks be at hand?

The story, to many degrees, is a rather bog-standard rebels against Daleks and a human dictator. However, the time travel aspect to it does actually add a certain complexity, and an enjoyable one. It all comes together well enough, but I find myself wanting just a touch more. And there certainly seems to be an oversaturation of Shakespeare quotes.

Paul McGann and India Fisher are good as the regulars, as usual. The other characters are competently but not stellarly written. Dot Smith does make the best of Learman, but I have to confess that while a slightly more complex dictator character than usual, her habit of quoting Shakespeare gets on my wick after a while. Nicola Boyce as Viola and Julian Harries as Ferdinand are better, and Nick Briggs makes good Dalek voices as usual.

While not quite at the level of other Big Finish productions, this is still a fine enough audio drama. The sound mixing makes sure that everything that needs to be clear is clear. Sound effects are all on cue, and while the music itself is a bit discordant at times, it evokes the feeling of music of Dalek stories past.

The Time of the Daleks is a good Dalek story. Not amongst the best that Big Finish has done, but certainly very good indeed...


SCORE: 9/10

The next story will be The Book of Kells...


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05 Jul 2013, 6:22 am

Okay, so I'll be leaving The Book of Kells for a while. I've managed to get a bunch of audios from a library, and reviewing those will be the priority. Then, I'll leave The Book of Kells until I get some more audios bought.

The audios next to be reviewed will be Creatures of Beauty, Nekromanteia, The Marian Conspiracy, The Spectre of Lanyon Moor, and Jubilee. I might add the free downloadable stories Mission of the Viryans and Urgent Calls as well.


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10 Jul 2013, 1:48 am

REVIEW: Creatures of Beauty by Nicholas Briggs

SERIAL:
6C/F, 4X25 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No


Nicholas Briggs is not only one of the main people behind Big Finish Productions, nor is he just a voice actor, specialising in Dalek and Cybermen voices, but he is also one of its most frequent writers. Having listened to the average Sword of Orion, and the stellar epic Dark Eyes, I have now come to a third Big Finish audio, Creatures of Beauty. Not featuring any noted monsters, this story's main gimmick is being told out of story order, and from differing points of view. But will it be an elegant jigsaw puzzle, or just a messy jumble?

Veln, a world isolated from the rest of the galaxy, as it is only just beginning to emerge into a space age. But now, its atmosphere is cloaked in deadly dyestrial toxins, causing mutations, deformities and disease in most of the population, with only a small elite able to afford cosmetic surgery. Into this world are hurled the Doctor and Nyssa, whose attempts to help get them embroiled in the battle between the beautiful and the ugly. But fair is foul, and foul is fair, and not all the answers come immediately...

The story itself, once you take away the gimmick of the anachronic order, done more confusingly than Pulp Fiction, is actually rather simple and without a proper conclusion. Even so, it still has enough to make sure that it doesn't fall into mediocrity. There's significant moral ambiguity, and the scenes are put together well with a marvellous twist at the end, but good luck figuring out what is going on without a decent synopsis.

Peter Davison as the Doctor and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa are excellent, as usual. I can't say the same for David Daker as Gilbrook, because while the performance is good, the character is utterly repulsive. He may be the closest thing to a villain in the show, but he is far more repulsive than many other villains in the series. And David Mallinson as Brodlik seems a little too diffident. The other characters are all right, but not great. Shame, really.

As usual, Big Finish is excellent for doing its sound design in a cinematic manner. Music goes well, and so do sound effects. In short, it's pretty much par for the course.

While nowhere near the best of Big Finish, or even quite at the standard level, Creatures of Beauty is a good experiment, and certainly an intriguing story.


SCORE: 8/10

The next story will be Nekromanteia...


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10 Jul 2013, 6:00 am

REVIEW: Nekromanteia by Austen Atkinson

SERIAL:
6Q/D, 4X25 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

Of all the Doctor Who Big Finish audio plays, perhaps one of the most infamous amongst the fans is Nekromanteia. So it was probably just as well that I found a copy at a library I have access to. After all, it saved me from having to buy a copy. But even so, I like to keep an open mind, and so, I decided to try Nekromanteia...

In the dark district of space known as Nekromanteia is the world Talderun, the home of a witch-cult worshipping the centaur-like deity known as Shara. And during a visit to the Garazone bazaar for TARDIS spare parts, Erimem ends up curious about Nekromanteia. But they're not the only ones interested in the world. The corrupt and ruthless corporate leader Wendle Marr has sent a military attachment to Talderun, one that is soon massacred by the witches of the world. A mysterious historian called Yal Rom watches from the shadows, waiting for the moment to act. And at the heart of it is a mysterious energy converter, desired by all. What is the truth behind Shara? What does Marr want with Talderun? And who is his mysterious ally on Talderun? It is a trek into darkness, and not everyone will survive...

The story of Nekromanteia looks great on paper, and many of the things work well, in theory. However, the little details are the ones that trip it up. While dark stories can potentially be good, this story is a tad too dark, with it being a case of darkness vs darkness (barring the Doctor and his companions, of course). There's also just a touch too much violence for the Big Finish audios either, and is certainly not for any young ones. If it were polished and edited some more, it could have been great.

Another part of the problem are the characters, perhaps too many. The regulars are all good, as usual, so I have no objection with them. However, while Nigel Fairs as Yal Rom is good, his character isn't that well developed, and neither is the characters of Cochrane or Tallis, who are still among the best played. Ivor Danvers' Marr is a pretty decent villain, but with not enough development. However, Glyn Owen's Harlon is not that great, and Gilly Cohen's Jal Dor Kal is played too much like a pantomime witch, robbing the character of much-needed gravitas. And all barring the regulars are dark, anti-heroes at best, and villains at worst.

Usually, the sound design of Big Finish audios are quite good, however, this one seems to be a major distinction. While the sound effects and music, in isolation, are good for the most part, the sound mixing is choppy. Music and sound effects obscure or even drown out the dialogue at points, and there's at least one sound effect used that is too discordant for transitions between scenes.

Nekromanteia isn't the worst Doctor Who story of all time, but it is certainly one of the worst Big Finish stories, a major contrast to the usual high quality of the audios. A shame, really. It was a story that had far more potential than was later realised.


SCORE: 6.5/10

The next story will be The Marian Conspiracy...


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13 Jul 2013, 12:26 am

REVIEW: The Marian Conspiracy by Jacqueline Rayner

SERIAL:
7C/A, 4X25 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

The first original companion to be introduced to the Big Finish audio series was Evelyn Smythe, brought in to be a new companion for the Sixth Doctor. I have listened to only one audio story with her so far, Jonathan Morris' Bloodtide. But thanks to a library I have access to, I now have the story she was introduced in, the full historical known as The Marian Conspiracy...

Professor Evelyn Smythe is being bothered by a man with a hideously coloured coat, who claims that her Tudor ancestor John Whiteside-Smith never existed. But soon, Evelyn finds that she is fading from history, and the man, the Doctor, is trying to help. When he declares that he needs to travel back in time to save her ancestor, and herself, from erasure, Evelyn, a history professor, jumps at the chance. Problem is, instead of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, they end up in the reign of Bloody Mary, and while the Doctor ingratiates himself into Mary's court, Evelyn stumbles into a plot against the Queen. Unfortunately, court politics are a tricky thing, and the Doctor and Evelyn may lose their lives...

The story of The Marian Conspiracy was enjoyable enough, although I'm not a fan of pure historicals. However, it is rather too simple a story, for one filled with plots and conspiracy. I just thought that the reign of Mary would have been infected with intrigue that would have been a tad more complex, and the time erasure element wasn't fully explored. But there's an interesting examination of the morality of the Doctor.

Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor is great as usual, and this story certainly makes a good debut for Maggie Stables as Evelyn Smythe. Anah Ruddin is a good Queen Mary, though I feel that, despite her still-present religious fanaticism, I feel she needed a bit more of a darker characterisation. The other characters are okay, with the standouts being Nicholas Pegg as Reverend Thomas and Jo Castleton as Sarah.

Even for such an early release, this story has very good sound design. The music sounds good, and the sound effects are good. And the sound mixing certainly makes a pleasant change from Nekromanteia.

While not quite at the level of most Big Finish audios, The Marian Conspiracy was a good introduction for a new companion. A decent historical story...

SCORE: 8.5/10

The next story will be The Spectre of Lanyon Moor...


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13 Jul 2013, 5:19 am

REVIEW: The Spectre of Lanyon Moor by Nicholas Pegg

SERIAL:
7C/B, 4X30 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

The Brigadier has been a stalwart character throughout Doctor Who, but with the exception of the Sixth Doctor and Eighth Doctor, he had met all the classic Doctors. While the Sixth Doctor and the Brigadier have met in the non-canonical story Dimensions in Time, it took until 2000 for them to meet. But would their first official meeting in the Big Finish stories turn out any good?

The TARDIS is drawn to Cornwall in the modern day, to Pengriffen and the nearby Lanyon Moor, an area long since haunted by tales of imps and demons. The Brigadier is assisting Professor Morgan at an archaeological dig, a dig that local baronet Sir Archibald Flint has taken some substantial interest. But the Doctor and Evelyn soon realise that behind the ancient folklore lies an ancient threat from beyond the stars. What is the agenda of Morgan's housekeeper Mrs Moynihan? Is Flint truly what he seems? And can the Doctor, the Brigadier, and Evelyn stop the spectre of Lanyon Moor?

The story itself is a pretty damn good one. But then again, it does take cues from some of the best Doctor Who stories, like The Daemons and Image of the Fendahl, along with the famous serial Quatermass and the Pit. It's hardly original, but that doesn't mean it's not a good story. It just feels like it has been done.

Colin Baker and Maggie Stables are good as the Doctor and Evelyn, and Nicholas Courtney feels like he just stepped right back into the role of the Brigadier. James Bolam as Flint and Susan Jameson as Moynihan are very different to the roles in New Tricks that I am more familiar with, and good roles at that. Toby Longworth as Morgan is better than his role as the impish Sancreda, which is just a touch too OTT.

Sound design wise, it's pretty good. It's not quite at the level of The Marian Conspiracy, because the sound mixing isn't always at its best. Unfortunately, at times, some vital dialogue gets obscured by the sound effects. Pity, really.

The Spectre of Lanyon Moor was an enjoyable, if rather standard romp. I did enjoy it, but there are better Big Finish stories...


SCORE: 8.5/10

The next story will probably be Jubilee...


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15 Jul 2013, 1:21 am

REVIEW: Jubilee by Robert Shearman

SERIAL:
7C/G, 4X35 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

The first Dalek story for the new series, Dalek, was written by Robert Shearman, his only contribution to the TV series proper. However, it didn't come from nowhere. It had elements taken from the Big Finish story Jubilee, a story well-acclaimed. So I came to the story with very high expectations, and hoped to have them fulfilled...

In 1903, the Daleks invaded England, and the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe helped beat them off. Except that shouldn't have happened. The English Empire has sunk its claws into the world, establishing an evil regime that has lasted over a century. Except that shouldn't have happened either. And the Doctor and the Daleks have been reduced to the ultimate hero and the ultimate boogeyman, two sides of the same propaganda coin. Except that shouldn't have happened at all. Arriving in a very different 2003, where the world is ruled by the English President Nigel Rochester, where women and impure races know their place, the Doctor and Evelyn have found that time has gone badly awry. A lone Dalek is tortured in the Tower of London, in preparation for the centennial Jubilee of the defeat of the Daleks. Another, more frightening prisoner in a wheelchair broods in solitary insanity. And humanity, the Doctor and Evelyn soon find out, have become a mirror of the Daleks themselves...

Whoa. Dalek was a brilliant story, reintroducing the Doctor's enemies with such panache, that I wasn't sure how well the source material would stand up to it by comparison. And yet...Jubilee, partly due to differences in format as well as a brilliant conception by Robert Shearman, surpasses it in many ways. He holds up a mirror between Daleks and humanity, and the comparison is far from flattering, as a key speech by the Doctor in the final episode points out. One Dalek is made sympathetic without betraying its character. There is comedy and horror in equal measure, and the result is highly disturbing, albeit in an excellent way. The only real fault with the story is a lack of explanation with the time travel paradox and alternate timelines elements, and even that is easily forgiven.

Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor is at the height of his ability, with him playing well, as does Maggie Stables as Evelyn Smythe. Of the guest cast, the talented and experienced Martin Jarvis and his wife Rosalind Ayres play the insane President Rochester and his equally insane and ambitious wife Miriam with utter panache. Nicholas Briggs works with the dialogue to make the lone Dalek sympathetic.

As usual, the Big Finish audios have excellent sound design. Sound effects sound like they should, and the music works well. In the end, it sounds as well as it should.

Jubilee was surprisingly excellent, and even better than I thought. A superb example of what Big Finish is capable of.


SCORE: 10/10


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04 Aug 2013, 4:29 am

Okay, coming soon will be reviews of the BBC audio story series Demon Quest, as well as the Big Finish stories Winter for the Adept, The Sandman, and The Genocide Machine. Watch this space...


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04 Aug 2013, 6:37 am

REVIEW: Demon Quest: The Relics of Time by Paul Magrs

SERIAL:
DQ1, 1x60 minute special

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

With this new round of the review blog, I go back to the BBC-made audio plays, with the second quintet of audios featuring Tom Baker as the Doctor. Given the umbrella title of Demon Quest, this quintet brings back Tom Baker as the Doctor, Susan Jameson as Mrs Wibbsey, and Richard Franklin as Mike Yates. So would this story turn out any good?

Trying to repair the TARDIS at Nest Cottage, the Doctor is paying little attention when his ornery housekeeper, Mrs Fenella Wibbsey, takes a component and sells it at a church sale until it is too late. But in return for the Doctor's spatial geometer, Wibbsey has received four strange items, all featuring the Doctor's likeness, clues that might lead to him finding his lost property. The Doctor decides to start with a mural from Britain at the time of the Celts, before the Romans got a permanent foothold on the country, taking Wibbsey with him, as she seems to have been mistaken for a goddess. But there are warring tribes, one of whom is aided by a mysterious wizard, who may be an important historical figure, or may be something else entirely...

The story itself is quite simple, and fun enough. It's more to set up the overarching story arc of finding the Doctor's spatial geometer. Not enough is explained, including things that should have been explained in this story, rather than later in the story arc. It's enjoyable, but rather thin on the ground, unfortunately, and I prefer full-cast audios to the enhanced audiobook that this story seems to be.

Tom Baker as the Doctor is excellent as usual, and Susan Jameson is getting better as the much less bitter Wibbsey. Of the other performers, Nigel Anthony was all right as the Wizard, aka Claudius, but I felt that a touch more menace was needed towards the end. The other two main performers were a bit generic, and Richard Franklin's cameo was a bit too brief.

As usual, this story has good sound design. Not quite at the level that Big Finish is capable of, not by any means, but it's good enough. Some of the sound effects sound rather generic, though, I have to confess.

Not a bad start to the Demon Quest arc, but I wish there are just a tad more to The Relics of Time. I just hope that there's a good payoff later...


SCORE: 8/10


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