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

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07 Aug 2013, 5:01 am

REVIEW: Winter for the Adept by Andrew Cartmel

SERIAL:
6C/B, 4X25 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

Andrew Cartmel was key to the development of the Seventh Doctor. But he is also responsible for writing a number of stories for the books and the Big Finish audios. His first for Big Finish was also one of the first in the main range of audios, with Winter for the Adept featuring Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor, and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa...

Ms Tremayne, a Scottish religious fundamentalist, runs a finishing school for teenage girls of rich families in the Swiss Alps in 1963. While Peril and Allison, two girls trapped during the cold winter, try to escape, Nyssa is transported by accident to the same area, where she is rescued by Lieutenant Sandoz of the mountain patrol. Soon, the Doctor follows, finding that the finishing school is haunted by ghosts. But what theory does the Doctor have about the ghosts? What are the Spillagers? And what does it have to do with Peril and Allison?

The story is one of the better ones in the early Big Finish series. It's enjoyable, with an interesting mystery. Simple, but certainly better than the Demon Quest stories. There are themes of psychic powers, ghosts and supernatural goings-on. I just wish more details were given about the Spillagers earlier, and it feels like a few cracks have been papered up here and there.

Peter Davison as the Doctor is pretty good, although he acts a bit like the Seventh Doctor. Sarah Sutton as Nyssa is good, with her calling the Doctor out and giving her some depth. The other characters are all pretty good, with India Fisher as Peril and Liz Sutherland as Allison pretty good, as well as Sally Faulkner as the fanatical Tremayne.

Big Finish's sound design is good, as usual. Some bits here and there (like the voice processing for the Spillagers, which sometimes makes them a touch hard to understand) aren't as good as they could be. But the music is not only good, it's very similar to that used for the Peter Davison era.

Overall, Winter for the Adept is a pretty good story in the Big Finish audio stories, and one of the best of the early ones. A pleasant surprise.


SCORE: 9/10

The next story will be The Sandman...


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08 Aug 2013, 2:01 am

REVIEW: The Sandman by Simon A Forward

SERIAL:
7C/F, 4X30 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

One theme in the new series was how horrifying the Doctor had become to his adversaries. But this in itself wasn't quite new. In 2002, Simon A Forward wrote The Sandman, a story that explores the Doctor as the boogyman of an entire alien species. But how does it turn out?

The Galyari live in fear of the Sandman, a malevolent entity with a multicoloured skin that kills any who look upon it. Cursed to wander the galaxy in a vast space fleet for eternity, the Sandman is a boogyman who is also known as the Doctor. When the Doctor and Evelyn Smythe make their way to the Galyari's fleet, the Clutch, Evelyn is disturbed to find out how much the Doctor is feared, and how much he relishes it. But the Sandman has been blamed for a series of murders in the Clutch, and one of the Galyari has sworn vengeance on the Doctor for the deaths of her children. Who is the real killer? Why has the Doctor become devil to the Galyari? And what murky deal does itinerant merchant Mordecan and his timid compatriot Nintaru have to do with it?

Reading about this story on TV Tropes, I got the impression that the story had a mildly offensive nature to it, for the same reason that Jar-Jar Binks and Watto of the Star Wars prequels were derided, for making ethnic stereotypes into aliens. I don't quite get that impression here, not as much as I did, and the concept of the story is a pretty good one, to tell the truth. More of the problem is to do with a few other characters, who are a bit stereotypical.

One of the places where it falls down are the characters. Colin Baker is good as the Doctor, but I think he's acting way too much like a bully as the Galyari's demon, albeit due to the writing rather than anything on Colin Baker's part. It might have worked better with Nicola Bryant's Peri than with Maggie Stable's Evelyn, as the Sixth Doctor at that point was a more darker type. Anneke Wills plays a very different role to Polly, the companion she played in the series, as the vengeance-driven Nrosha. The other characters are fine enough, barring Stephanie Colburn as the rather too timid and annoying Nintaru.

If there is one thing that really lets the side down, it's the sound design. Most of it's good, up to Big Finish's usual standards. But the voice processing used in this for both the Galyari and Nintaru is not quite right, and the voice processing interferes at times with the communications effects, making it hard to discern what the characters are saying. And at times, the background interferes too much with the dialogue as well.

The Sandman was a great story, let down by some poor characterisation and sound design. A shame, really.


SCORE: 8.5/10

The next story will probably be The Genocide Machine...


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09 Aug 2013, 1:56 am

REVIEW: The Genocide Machine by Mike Tucker

SERIAL:
7S, 4X25 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

One of the early story arcs done by Big Finish was the Dalek Empire arc, a quartet of Dalek stories, linked by some story elements that would later be put into Big Finish's Dalek Empire spinoff series. The first of these was written by Mike Tucker, a former special effects maker for Doctor Who. Featuring the Seventh Doctor and Ace, it would foreshadow stories made for the new series...

Kar-Charrat, a wet jungle world where the ultimate library resides, hidden behind an impenetrable time barrier. The Doctor and Ace visit, intending to return some overdue library books. Bev Tarrant and her comrades are investigating a mysterious ziggurat, intending to steal it for a collector, only for everyone but Tarrant to be exterminated by a group of Daleks. And there are strange phantoms whispering in the rain. What is the Daleks' plan? Why do they need a Time Lord? And what secret do the librarians hide?

Many elements of The Genocide Machine foreshadow stories used in the new series (Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead and The Waters of Mars), and it's very intelligently written. There's some very good twists, and the title, funnily enough for a Dalek story, is surprisingly non-indicative. Straightforward, yes, but enjoyable.

Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred as the Doctor and Ace respectively are excellent, as usual, with the latter getting to play a Dalek duplicate. Louise Faulkner as Bev is fine, if not quite as developed as I found her in the later story Dust Breeding (it's not as blatantly stated that she is a thief, save for one mention), while Bruce Montague as Elgin is good. For the first couple of episodes, however, Nicholas Briggs (playing Daleks for the first time in the Big Finish stories) doesn't quite sound right, though he improves as the story progresses.

Where the story falls down somewhat is the sound design. Being one of the earlier stories done by Big Finish, sometimes, the sound design isn't as refined as it could be. The Kar-Charratians' effects aren't quite as good as they could be. A shame, really, as the story is fairly good, and the sound design isn't abysmal, just not quite up to standard.

The Genocide Machine was an excellent story hampered by a few things here and there. Shame, really.


SCORE: 9/10

The next story will be The Chimes of Midnight...


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10 Aug 2013, 12:44 am

REVIEW: The Chimes of Midnight by Robert Shearman

SERIAL:
8G, 4X25 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

For a series so concerned with time travel, Doctor Who rarely explores it to its full potential. But at times, it does try to explore the possibilities of time being warped and distorted. One of the most famous Big Finish stories, The Chimes of Midnight, deals with these concepts...

Landing in an Edwardian house, the Doctor and Charley find the house shrouded in darkness, time standing still. Meanwhile, on the other side of a veil of frozen time, the servants of the house are busying for Christmas, but put-upon scullery maid Edith Thompson is at the bottom of the pile. Soon, the Doctor and Charley are brought into the house, just as Edith dies. But the servants believe that it's suicide, and soon, there's a death on the hour, every hour, with the time loop resetting on the chimes of midnight. Why does Charley seem to be hearing another Edith? Who is Edward Grove? And can the Doctor and Charley escape the paradox and save everyone else?

Whoo. What a story. It's a wonderful mix of complex usage of time, horror story, black comedy, and a tragedy all in one. Robert Shearman has a habit of reusing the same story elements in his stories, but this is by no means a bad thing at all. It's so atmospheric and wonderful, with some marvellous dialogue. Like the mutant offspring of House of Leaves and Upstairs, Downstairs.

Paul McGann is excellent as the Doctor, as usual, while India Fisher has some very good emotional scenes as Charley as she comes to terms with her past. Louise Rolfe is pretty good as the tragic figure of Edith, while the other characters are fine enough. Particular praise should go to Lennox Greaves as officious butler Shaugnessy, who also plays Edward Grove...

The sound design of the Big Finish audios is usually quite excellent, and The Chimes of Midnight is no exception. The music is wonderfully movie-like, and the sound effects are eerie. All of this contributes to the wonderful atmosphere of the story, an eerie and dark atmosphere that contributes to the story.

The Chimes of Midnight is a bloody brilliant and dark work, a credit to the author, and one of the best ever Big Finish audios...


SCORE: 10/10


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01 Oct 2013, 5:10 am

BTW, once I'm done with Red Dawn, I'll put my Randomiser technique into play.

I'll roll a standard die, six-sided, and whatever value comes up dictates the Doctor whose play I choose. So...

1= Fourth Doctor

2= Fifth Doctor

3= Sixth Doctor

4= Seventh Doctor

5= Eighth Doctor

6= Specials


Now, what choice I make after that might be a story I choose without further randomisation, or one that I choose with a die (or a coin, in one case). So, just to further break it down, the stories that I currently have are, with each Doctor and the random method of choosing...

Fourth Doctor (flipping a coin):

Heads: The Foe from the Future

Tails: The Valley of Death


Fifth Doctor (d4, 4= reroll):

1: Prisoners of Fate

2: The Eye of the Scorpion

3: Mission of the Viyrans


Sixth Doctor (d4):

1. Urgent Calls

2. The Apocalypse Element

3. Project: Twilight and Project: Lazarus

4. Doctor Who and the Pirates


Seventh Doctor (d6):

1. Colditz

2. Forty-Five: False Gods

3. Forty-Five: Order of Simplicity

4. Forty-Five: Casualties of War

5. Forty-Five: The Word Lord

6. The Shadow of the Scourge


Eighth Doctor (d4):

1. Neverland

2. The Creed of the Kromon

3. Blood of the Daleks

4. The Book of Kells


The specials (d4):

1. UNIT: The Coup

2. Bernice Summerfield: Silver Lining

3. The Davros Collection (I, Davros episodes 1-4, and The Davros Mission)

4. Iris Wildthyme: The Iris Wildthyme Appreciation Society


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19 Oct 2013, 12:32 am

Soon, a review of Red Dawn...


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19 Oct 2013, 5:15 am

REVIEW: Red Dawn by Justin Richards

SERIAL:
6Q/A, 4X20 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No


The Ice Warriors are one of the best-known monsters in Doctor Who, and it was not surprising that they were chosen for one of the first Big Finish stories. Red Dawn also featured the Fifth Doctor and Peri as they encountered these aliens, and also featured Peter Davison's daughter, Georgia Moffet. But would it be any good?

At the dawn of the 21st century, a NASA expedition to Mars, funded by the Webster Corporation, has landed. They're investigating a mysterious anomaly, a complex that the Doctor and Peri have just landed within. Soon, the complex is revealed to be the tomb of Izdal, the greatest warrior of Mars, and his guardians, frozen in cryogenic sleep, are waking up. But communications have been cut off from Earth, and Paul Webster is determined to get Ice Warrior technology at all costs. Can Lord Zzaal and his newly awoken warriors stop Webster? Why does Paul Webster's cousin, Tanya, find everything so familiar? And can the Doctor stop a war between humanity and the Martians from breaking out?

The story of Red Dawn is enjoyable enough, and is interesting in its characterisation of the Ice Warriors, with a few twists. But it's no The Tomb of the Cybermen. The story is almost as thin on the ground as the atmosphere of Mars, and the cliffhanger for the third episode is pretty much a cop-out. It's a shame, really, as the Ice Warriors have not been quite used to their full potential.

Peter Davison and Nicola Bryant as the Doctor and Peri are pretty good. Matthew Brenher's Zzaal is an excellent successor to Alan Bennion's Ice Lords from the TV series, while the various Ice Warriors are well-acted. I can't say the same for Stephen Fewell's Paul Webster, who is a rather idiotic villain, though the other characters, especially Robert Jezek's Forbes and Georgia Moffet's Tanya.

While not quite at the level of later Big Finish audios, the sound design is fine enough. The music is a bit cheesy, more Nineties than Eighties. The sound effects are quite good, using some of the old sound effects for the Ice Warriors. But the sound mixing, as is often the case, isn't quite at the cinematic level of many other stories.

Red Dawn is a fairly good story. Not quite as good as I wished it could be, but still fine enough.


SCORE: 8.5/10


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19 Oct 2013, 5:22 am

Okay, my first roll in my randomisation thing came up a six, meaning the specials. So, I can either roll a d4 and come up with something random in the specials, or else choose one to listen to.

I've decided on my own that the next story to be reviewed will be Bernice Summerfield: Silver Lining. Watch this space...


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19 Oct 2013, 6:16 am

REVIEW: Bernice Summerfield: Silver Lining by Colin Brake

SERIAL:
BSDWM05, 1X30 minute episode

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

Big Finish started not with Doctor Who, but with a spinoff, dramatising a series of novels starring Bernice Summerfield, a former companion of the Doctor's from the New Adventures novels. As part of a promotion, a short half-hour story was given away on a CD with Doctor Who Magazine, along with the pilot for another Big Finish series, UNIT. Silver Lining would pit Bernice Summerfield against the Cybermen, but would it turn out well?

Summoned to the colony of Tysir IV, Bernice Summerfield has been requested by Lynton Jarvis, a man who is one of her biggest fans. During mining work, the remnants of what may be a previous civilisation has been uncovered, and Bernice has been requested as a second opinion, in order to make sure the colony doesn't disrupt an existing civilisation. Descending into the depths of the ruins with Lynton, Bernice discovers something shocking, but a Cybermen tomb may be the least of her worries...

Being only a single half-hour episode, it's not exactly the most complex of plots. But it has a decent enough twist partway through, it's an entertaining enough romp, and it's certainly a good introduction to her adventures. So for a free story, it's not bad at all.

I have heard Lisa Bowerman as Bernice Summerfield previously in the excellent adaptation of the New Adventures novel Love and War. Here, her performance is stellar, as it was previously. The story is effectively a two-handed play, however, with Big Finish stalwart Nicholas Briggs playing both Lynton, as well as the Cyberman.

As usual, the sound design is pretty stellar. True, there are some points where the soundscape drowns out the dialogue, but it's otherwise quite good. The sound effects are good, as is the voice processing for the Cyberman.

I came in with suitably low expectations, if only because a single half-hour isn't much time to develop a story, but Silver Lining was a good enough introduction to the Bernice Summerfield series. Here's hoping that there's better stories to come...


SCORE: 8.5/10


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19 Oct 2013, 6:17 am

Having rolled a two this time, that means a Fifth Doctor story is next. I have chosen The Eye of the Scorpion. Watch this space...


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23 Oct 2013, 2:38 am

REVIEW: The Eye of the Scorpion by Iain McLaughlin

SERIAL:
6Q/B, 4X30 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

The Big Finish audios have brought new companions into the canon of the series, like Evelyn Smythe, the middle-aged history professor who mellows the Sixth Doctor, and Charley Pollard, Edwardian adventuress and living paradox. But one of the more extraordinary companions is Fifth Doctor companion Erimem, a female pharaoh. So it's fitting that I listen to her origin story, The Eye of the Scorpion...

1400 BC, and the pharaoh and almost all his heirs are dead. The Doctor and Peri land near Thebes when the TARDIS is seemingly hijacked on the Doctor's orders, and save a young woman from a pursuing mercenary. Said woman is Erimemushinteperem, the pharaoh-to-be, and she has declared the Doctor and Peri friends of the pharaoh. But an assassination attempt is thwarted, and the mercenaries have a mysterious artefact in their possession, given to them by High Priest of Horus, Horemshep. Is the Doctor's memory of Egyptian pharaohs faulty, or was there never a pharaoh Erimem? What is the purpose of the conspiracy against Erimem? And will she survive to see herself crowned?

The story is a fine enough one, and a good introduction to Erimem. It's a good pseudohistorical, with pretty good dialogue. The main problem I have with the story itself is that the mental parasite and its motives. I don't think that they are explored to the full, and so the main villain is something of a nonentity, unfortunately. And the title has very little bearing on the story itself.

Peter Davison and Nicola Bryant as the Doctor and Peri are good, as usual, with Peri getting a good turn towards the end when possessed, while Caroline Morris makes an excellent debut as Erimem. Jonathan Owen as Antranak and Jack Galagher as Fayum are good. However, I have to confess that Harry Myers as Yanis is a bit too hammy, and I'm not sure that enough reasons were given for Stephen Perring's Horemshep's treachery, whether he was working for the alien entity or for his own power.

As usual, the sound design for the serial ranks highly. There are occasions when the sound mixing does obscure the dialogue. But the music works well, if a bit stereotypically Egyptian, and the sound effects are good.

Ultimately, while not a brilliant story, The Eye of the Scorpion is a pretty damn good one. A good debut for a companion, and a decent pseudohistorical...


SCORE: 9/10

The next story will probably be The Mahogany Murderers...


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23 Oct 2013, 6:05 am

REVIEW: The Mahogany Murderers by Andy Lane

SERIAL:
CC 3.11, 2x30 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

In 1977, the Doctor Who story The Talons of Weng-Chiang was transmitted. During production, there was consideration to give two characters a spin-off. Henry Gordon Jago, a theatre owner and showman, and Professor George Litefoot, a pathologist, had both assisted the Doctor in that adventure. But the actors Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter would have to wait three decades for their chance, in a Companion Chronicle used as a backdoor pilot for the later series Jago and Litefoot...

Professor George Litefoot, noted pathologist, is delivered a strange body, which seems to be an extraordinarily-detailed mahogany mannequin. Thinking it to be theatrical, he contacts his old comrade, the down-on-his-luck theatre owner Henry Gordon Jago, who agrees to investigate. What the two old brothers-in-arms, who had fought Magnus Greel alongside the Doctor and Leela, discover is a conspiracy, involving criminals and the mysterious Mr Tulp...

I'm not a fan of audiobooks and dramatic readings, and while The Scorchies made an excellent impression on me, there was no guarantee that the same would happen here. And I had to confess that the story is rather thin on the ground. Sure, the framing story is very excellently done, and makes the main story more interesting than it would normally, and it has very excellent dialogue, humour, and language, a worthy successor to Robert Holmes' work on The Talons of Weng-Chiang. It's just that the actual Mahogany Murderers, while intriguing, is very thin, and not enough is explained.

However, the story mostly rides on the performance of the main two actors, and despite their age, it feels like they've never stopped being their two characters. Christopher Benjamin is a delight as the plummy Jago, while Trevor Baxter is a great Litefoot. Lisa Bowerman completes the ensemble as the minor character Ellie, a far cry from her usual role of Bernice Summerfield, but that's not a bad thing.

As usual, the sound design is brilliant. What else can I say about it? It creates the atmosphere briefly visited in The Talons of Weng-Chiang wonderfully. Big Finish is to be commended, as usual, for performing the sound-based alchemy that makes their stories so good.

Overall, while not bad, The Mahogany Murderers was not brilliant. Shame, really, but it's good to see the return of the pair of Jago and Litefoot...

SCORE: 8.5/10

The next stories will probably be The Time Museum and Mastermind...


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24 Oct 2013, 8:13 pm

I've used my randomiser technique enough times to seriously unbalance matters. So, I will modify it every now and then to update it.

I'll combine the Fourth and Fifth Doctors, and the Seventh and Eighth Doctors, so now I only have to roll a d4 for the initial category choice (I can then choose to roll another dice to choose a story at random, or else choose a story to listen to from the category). So, the categories and numbers are as follows...

1= Fourth and Fifth Doctors

2= Sixth Doctor

3= Seventh and Eighth Doctors

4= Specials and Companion Chronicles


For category one (d4)...

1= The Foe from the Future

2= The Valley of Death

3= Prisoners of Fate

4= Mission of the Viyrans


For category two, as above.

For category three (d8)...

1= Colditz

2= Forty-Five

3= The Shadow of the Scourge

4= Neverland

5= The Creed of the Kromon

6= Blood of the Daleks

7= The Book of Kells

8= The Silver Turk (which I am getting tomorrow)

The specials, as above. I am listening to both The Time Museum and Mastermind before long, so the list doesn't need altering.


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25 Oct 2013, 2:05 am

REVIEW: The Time Museum by James Goss

SERIAL:
CC 7.01, 2x30 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

It is a sad fact that half of the original TARDIS crew's actors are now dead. However, William Russell and Carole Ann Ford not only are still alive, but still playing the roles for Big Finish. Having heard that one of William Russell's Companion Chronicles is more like a two-handed play than a dramatic reading, I decided to make getting The Time Museum a priority, though whether my faith was rewarded was another matter entirely...

A lifetime after he departed from the TARDIS, Ian wakes up in a Time Museum, in an exhibit dedicated to his life. Hurried out by Pendolin, a mysterious man who created the exhibit, Ian begins a journey through his memories, tangled and mangled almost beyond recognition. As Ian struggles to reclaim his true memories, and he and Pendolin flee for their lives, going from one bad situation to another from his memories, he has to wonder about his situation. How did he get here? Can he get home? And can he trust Pendolin? Is Pendolin merely an obsessed collector, or a darker entity?

This story seems tailor-made for long-term fans of the series. In fact, it has a greater effect if you understand the references, as you understand that Ian is either getting things wrong, or jumbling them all together, adding a further edge of psychological horror to a story based on it. While not particularly complex, it's still an excellent story, and there's an interesting twist after the credits. My main problem is with how long Ian takes to find out who the real villain is, though it could be down to his mental confusion.

William Russell, while sounding rather old for the role, is nonetheless great as an admittedly old and doddery Ian. He is a delight to listen to, and gets more than a few badass moments of his own. Philip Pope as Pendolin is a wonderfully ambiguous character, although the central twist is easy to see coming.

The sound design is pretty damn good, as it usually is. Unfortunately, a recurring problem throughout the story is that the sound mixing does obscure the dialogue at times. But it was otherwise enjoyable, with wonderful atmosphere.

The Time Museum was a pretty fine Companion Chronicles story. A trip down memory lane in more ways than one...


SCORE: 9/10


The next story will be Mastermind...


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25 Oct 2013, 4:39 am

REVIEW: Mastermind by Jonathan Morris

SERIAL:
CC 8.01, 1X60 minute special

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No


The Companion Chronicles usually do things from the point of view of companions, particularly those who were alongside Doctors whose actors are dead. But this is not a hard and fast rule, and one story reunited the actors who played the companions from the television movie. However, Daphne Ashbrook and Yee Jee Tso had to play two very different characters due to copyright issues, and their story focused on four companions of the Doctor. This time around, however, this story isn't just about them, but also about the Master...

In UNIT's secret facility known as the Vault, or even the Museum of Terrors, Captain Ruth Matheson and Warrant Officer Charlie Sato have been alerted to the awakening of the one and only prisoner of the Vault, Artifact Alpha One, otherwise known as the Master. Captured by UNIT from a sealed penthouse in the late Nineties, the Master only wakes up for an hour every five years. Matheson and Sato take turns in interrogating the Master about his life after the events in San Francisco, but even as he relates his stories, the Master may yet be planning an escape, and Matheson and Sato may be his dupes...

If there was ever a paragon about how the Companion Chronicles should be done, this story would be it. Although the story itself is a little thin, it's an excellent one, very well structured around the Master's recollections, as well as a few sequences towards the end where the Master begins his manipulations. While it is so obviously patterned in many respects after, for example, The Silence of the Lambs, that's not a bad thing. Indeed, the story is chilling, enjoyable, and a wonderful exploration of the evil of the Master. It is, pun intended, Masterful...

Geoffrey Beevers seems to be the go-to guy for playing the Master for Big Finish, and it is here that he is given free reign, with the Master's psychology and actions explored. And the Master is wonderfully written in this story, as it is his story. Daphne Ashbrook and Yee Jee Tso really get to shine, even though it isn't quite their story, and are very different to their TV movie counterparts. And all three actors play other roles as well.

What can I say about the sound design that hasn't been said already? It's very good, with the music and sound effects being slotted in perfectly. Unlike some stories, where the dialogue is sometimes drowned out, here, the sound mix is perfect.

Mastermind is a masterly story. Enough said.

SCORE: 10/10


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25 Oct 2013, 5:03 am

I rolled a 1. I've chosen my next story: The Foe from the Future.


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