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

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Quatermass
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13 Feb 2014, 5:02 am

REVIEW: The Next Life by Alan Barnes and Gary Russell

SERIAL:
8V, 6X30 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

Out of some necessity, I listen to the Big Finish stories in anachronic order. One of the first stories I listened to was Terror Firma, set just after the end of the Divergent Universe arc. Now, I have listened to Zagreus and The Creed of the Kromon, which are at the beginning. But now, I come to the grand finale, just before Terror Firma, a six-part epic from the team who brought me Zagreus. But would I like The Next Life as much as I did Zagreus?

The Doctor and his companions may have regained the TARDIS, but they aren't out of the Divergent Universe yet. But the TARDIS soon crashlands onto a blue moon. After being drawn into dreamscapes, Charley and C'rizz find themselves confronted by Rassilon, and his lackey, the former Divergent underling the Kro'ka. Rassilon reveals that the Doctor has been free of anti-time for some time, and may yet wish to leave the Divergent Universe, without his companions. Meanwhile, the Doctor washes up on an island, and is found by Perfection, the wife of hunter, billionaire, and head of the Church of the Foundation, Daqar Keep. Framing him for the murder of a native, Keep hunts the Doctor, as well as Perfection, through the jungles, while Keep's Eutermesan underling, Guidance, has an agenda of his own. Will Charley and C'rizz keep faith in the Doctor, let alone each other? What is truth and what is lies in Rassilon's words? What are the deadly secrets Keep, Perfection, and Guidance hide? And can the Doctor and his companions escape, or will they succumb to the end of a universe without time?

I am aware of some of the stories that went on previously, and while I haven't actually heard many of them, I know enough to follow the story. Like Zagreus, The Next Life is a big, sprawling adventure over three massive hours. They share a number of things, though it would spoil the story to even hint at them, but is ultimately a less surreal adventure. Some parts are surreal: the first episode, concentrating mostly on Charley and C'rizz's memories, is reminiscent of the similar first episode of The Mind Robber in being almost divorced from the rest of the storyline, and indeed, some parts seem placed to plump up the story. Not that this is a bad thing. Filler is good as long as it's entertaining. Ultimately, the story is a lot of answers to a lot of questions, tying up loose ends, but doing so in a way that's enjoyable.

Paul McGann, as usual, is good as the Doctor. However, it is India Fisher as Charley and Conrad Westmaas as C'rizz who, as regulars, get a lot more to do, with a lot of interesting character conflict between them that isn't quite resolved at the end, but in a good way. Stephen Cornicard is fine as Keep, who seems like a standard villain until his true nature is revealed. Daphne Ashbrook returns to Doctor Who in the very different role of Perfection, another character who isn't what she seems, and in a good way. Paul Darrow has a very understated role as the fanatical Guidance, certainly more interesting (if a little less entertaining) than his previous role in Doctor Who (as Maylin Tekker in Timelash). Finally, Don Warrington makes a welcome return as the manipulative Rassilon, and Stephen Perring as the obsequious Kro'ka.

What can I say about Big Finish's sound design that I haven't already? I know you must be getting sick and tired of my praise for them, and using the previous sentence so often, but it's the truth. And here is one of those stories where the stars align, and everything works just right. After some of the disappointments of The Creed of the Kromon's sound design, it's wonderful to listen to The Next Life directly afterwards, to remind me of what it's really like to listen to good audio drama.

What can I say about The Next Life to sum it up? Everything comes together to make sure that the Divergent Universe arc ends on a high note. Loved it. Epic and enjoyable, to the last moment...


SCORE: *****

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


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Quatermass
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17 Feb 2014, 12:40 am

REVIEW: Blood of the Daleks by Steve Lyons

SERIAL:
EDA 1.1, 2X50 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

The Eighth Doctor Adventures were a series of four seasons' worth of adventures, produced in the style of the new series. But although I had listened to the story Max Warp from the second series, I am yet to listen to anything from the rest of the series. Until now. The debut of the EDAs started with a two-part story called Blood of the Daleks...

The Doctor is startled, and distinctly unimpressed, when a young woman called Lucie Miller from the 21st century ends up on his TARDIS. She is not impressed either, and seems to have been dropped off with the Doctor by the Time Lords, and the Doctor can't take her home thanks to their actions. The pair end up on the human colony Red Rocket Rising, where a meteorite strike has rendered the local population desperate and hostile. Between a dithering politician, a haughty scientist, and a paranoid conspiracy theorist, the Doctor has his work cut out already when the Daleks arrive, offering help to the colony. What are the Daleks' real purpose in coming to the colony? What does this have to do with the human scientist Martez? And can the Doctor and Lucie stop bickering long enough to save Red Rocket Rising?

The plot is a fairly simple one. While not always a bad thing, here, it's more of a straightforward romp than the more impressive Colditz, by the same author. Certainly some excellent themes and points are raised, and it's not a bad story at all. But I am left wanting by the experience.

I believe that part of the problem is the characterisation. Paul McGann is definitely still good as the Doctor, but I have reservations about Sheridan Smith's Lucie Miller. Her performance is good, and to be fair to her character, her abrasiveness to the situation is somewhat understandable, but it also doesn't endear her to me very much at all. The other characters are acted okay, but are mostly cardboard cutouts as scripted. Klint is a typical indecisive politician, Tom is a typical conspiracy theorist/nutjob survivalist, and Gryvern, while more promising, could have been written just a touch more hammy, and her actions towards the end seem to come from very little. It says something when the Daleks are the most interestingly scripted versions of the guest characters.

But the sound design, as is the norm for Big Finish, at least makes up for these disappointments. Cinematic, bombastic, everything is spot-on, and all contributes to bolstering up the story where it needs to be. There's a few hiccups here and there, but nothing major, and the erratic voice treatment on the 'second race' Daleks actually helps give them a novel air.

Overall, Blood of the Daleks was something of a disappointment. Not a great one, as it still is a good story to listen to and a decent introduction to the Eighth Doctor Adventures. But some shoddy characterisation and a few story bumps here and there bring it down in my expectations, unfortunately.


SCORE: *** 1/2

I'll be taking another break, and then will be listening to and reviewing the following: Prisoners of Fate, Whispers of Terror, Bang-Bang-a-Boom!, UNIT: Dominion, Persuasion, Starlight Robbery, Neverland, I, Davros, and The Davros Mission.


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