Thursday, 3 September 2015

Prisoners of the Lake written by Justin Richards and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What's it about: Captain Mike Yates is investigating the disappearance of artefacts from an archaeological site deep below Dunstanton Lake. It’s hardly a job for UNIT. But when the team discover a mysterious ancient structure buried deep underwater, all that changes. When chief archaeologist Freda Mattingly ventures inside, she soon realises that her skills do not begin to equip her to deal with what she finds. As an ancient menace begins to stir the Doctor, Jo Grant and Mike Yates must dive down to the lake bed and discover the secrets hidden there. Secrets that could mean the end of all life on Earth…

Good Grief: The Doctor is not remotely interested in chasing after the Brigadier's mysteries, even when Jo tries to put an exciting spin on them. He walks into any establishment and acts as if he owns the place and doesn't give a damn if it upsets anybody or not. Something of an expert in everything, especially modesty. He might be a pompous know it all but he will step into danger at a moments notice to save his friends. Confidence is his key characteristic, for good or for ill. If anyone can talk himself out of trouble it is the Doctor. It's in the moments of real gravity that Trelor sounds bang on like Pertwee, where he has to issue an order and take command of a situation. The third Doctor had a way of making any situation, no matter how absurd (think Gell Guards or blobby anti-matter jelly) seem like it was the end of the world. And Treloar captures that beautifully. The Doctor might bang on about how much humanity bores/irritates/frustrates him but he will fight until his last breath to prevent any harm coming to the people on the planet he is stuck on. That's why he's the hero.

Dippy Agent: Jo went on an underwater assault course just last this another of her fabricated stories so she doesn't get left out of the action and will she cause a massive plot complication because of it? I suppose that is the most extreme description you could give Jo - a useful plot complication. She was a way of stretching a four parter to a six parter. It's omitting to mention the great charm and humour that Manning brought to the role and the series though. Richards gives Jo an authentic series eight showing here; a buddy for the Doctor, someone who stumbles around in dangerous environments and gets into blunders and somebody who can be relied on to provide the humanity in any given situation. Strangely Manning fares less well in full cast dramas than she does in stories she narrates in their entirety (she was similarly uncomfortable in The Defectors). She's adequate in Prisoners without giving the sort of full throttle performance that rocketed stories like Find and Replace into something truly special.

Camp Soldier: Mike Yates has enjoyed a quiet revolution on audio between the Nest Cottage audios and his appearances in Big Finish stories. He's actually racked up an impressive number of stories now and it certainly helps that Richard Franklin sounds as though he hasn't aged a day since Planet of the Spiders. Mike was never the most exciting character on television (until he turned rogue and even then he was a bit wet) but on audio he has been re-interpreted as somebody a bit more thoughtful and resourceful, somebody grounded that the Doctor can rely on in a crisis. Somebody I like, rather than tolerate. When the Doctor starts insulting people willy nilly, Mike steps in to point out he is being rude and the man he is insulting is actually highly qualified.

Standout Performance: How do I feel about Big Finish recasting the third Doctor? How do I feel about recasting the Doctors in general? If you had asked me fifteen years ago when I was still a precocious youth I probably would have ran around the room declaring it the worst idea ever conceived, hurl some abuse in your face and refuse to talk to you again. Something extraordinary happened when the companion chronicles were devised and produced, Big Finish were able to find a subtle way of recasting the Doctors over and over again as the performers who played their companions offered authentic and often poignant portrayals of the Doctors that they travelled with. William Russell, Peter Purves, Frazer Hines and Katy Manning in particular captured their Doctor with a touching sense of nostalgia for the actor they once worked with. Such was the success of the range it paved the way for Big Finish to definitively recast certain performers that are no longer with us in full cast audios. Was this crossing a line? I don't think so. It's finding new avenues to tell stories that otherwise wouldn't be able to be told given that the original actors are no longer with us. That is a fact and it is hardly an affront to them when the replacements are trying to tap into the same magic that they created in the first play. More an homage than an interpretation. For some people, this is a complete no-no. I get that. I hope that those same people can't bring themselves to watch The Five Doctors. Prisoners of the Lake sees Tim Treloar making his debut in a full length story as the third Doctor. Is he a spot on mimic of Pertwee? No. But the gravelly tones, petulance and good humour capture enough of what Pertwee brought to the role for you to be able to suspend your belief and enjoy the story unfold. It's an enjoyable performance in an enjoyable story and the fact that Treloar allowed me to imagine Jon Pertwee alive and in action again felt like a real gift. I certainly don't object to more of the same, it means that the Pertwee era can now be represented in the same lavish way as the other classic eras of the show.

Great Ideas: Something sinister has occurred in an underwater base. In one sentence Justin Richards manages to sum up the essence of a great Doctor Who story. A mystery in an exciting setting. I certainly don't object to narration in a full cast drama, it sure cuts away all that awkward and flabby descriptive dialogue that can sink an otherwise good story. There is a touch of The Sea Devils to the Doctor heading underwater in a diving bell to an underwater base but I don't think it does this range any harm at all to mimic the era it is supposed to be set in to get itself established. If, like the fourth Doctor adventures, it continues to play the nostalgia card it could get a little wearying but at this stage this is exactly the sort of thing I am looking for. Something that feels like a Pertwee adventure that could have taken place. The structure under the water turns out to be an alien spaceship...well of course it does! And a stone spaceship at that (see The Daemons). The Dastrons are some of the most callous, vicious and murderous life forms in the cosmos, their expansionist imperialism cost the lives of millions. The prisoners of the lake are the leaders of the Dastron military forces, the ones responsible for attempting to annex their neighbouring star systems. The two stone robots are prosecutor and defender and the transport vessel is a justice environment to try the Dastron leaders. Operating a hyperdrive in the atmosphere of the Earth would be catastrophic, causing massive devastation to an enormous area. Millions will die.

Musical Cues: Hah. When I heard how authentic the brassy and bold musical score was for this story I knew Graeme Robertson had to be involved somewhere along the line. It seems that whatever era of the show he is scoring, he manages to nail the feel of the music. Early Pertwee was electronic madness, melodramatic blasts, beeps and whistles and all of that is in here. Robertson doesn't just copy the music, he captures the essence of it and does his own thing. Nicholas Briggs is one of the most underrated musicians at Big Finish and his presence is also felt. 

Isn't it Odd: If out of the unusual Who is your bag then this will not appeal to you in the slightest. It doesn't come much more traditional than this. The only element that differs from the norm is Trelor in the title role. And for those of you who remember how simplistic and escape/capture the Pertwee years could be at time, do not prepare to have your intellect tested.

Standout Scene: As strange it might sound, my favourite scene was the initial scene in the UNIT lab featuring the Doctor and Jo. Simply because my fears were unfounded and that chemistry was recaptured with a new actor in the role.

Result: A UNIT assignment? Check. A base under siege? Check. An alien presence on Earth? Check. Somebody in authority turned corrupt? Check. A pompous, arrogant Doctor, a ditzy female agent and a stalwart Captain? Check, check and check. Prisoners of the Lake is the archetypal Pertwee adventure and to kick start this new thread of stories that is something of a relief. To bound into a new series of full cast third Doctor adventures with an experimental tale (like Carnival of Monsters) would have been an odd choice. So I can understand why the most reliable pair of hands (and I mean that in a positive way) at Big Finish's disposal was drafted in to smooth the way for Tim Treloar in his debut adventure. Justin Richards has turned his hand to every Doctor and every type of Doctor Who story, usually with some degree of success and he understands exactly the sort of nostalgia kick that the fans of this era might be looking for. There is nothing extraordinary going on in Prisoners but it chugs along very entertainingly indeed and ticks pretty much every Pertwee adventure box. Treloar gives a wonderful turn in what is a pretty thankless task of recreating Pertwee's Doctor, given that half the audience is against him from the start. There were moments when I could see Pertwee in action and it was certainly convincing enough to make an authentic story even more agreeable. I think you would have to really want this experiment to fail to not appreciate all the effort that has gone into Treloar's performance here and the energy he injects into the piece. As good as some of the Companion Chronicles were at capturing the essence of the era, this feels like a genuine lost story. There are lots of other bonuses; a gorgeously bombastic score, a star turn from Carolyn Seymour who I have always wanted to appear in a Doctor Who story, narration enabling the story to skip past without dodgy expository dialogue and a story that comes together like a perfectly crafted puzzle. The writer that most resembles Terrance Dicks for clarity, rock solid plotting and firm characterisation of the regulars is Justin Richards so whilst this story is essentially a lot of running about from place to place (so many Doctor Who stories are), it lives and breathes the early seventies and transports you back to that cosy time effortlessly: 8/10

Adrift written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Mark Everest

This story in a nutshell: A boy has gone missing and Gwen investigates the case…

Hunky Hero: Jack lies through his teeth to Gwen when she asks him why he might have been on the barge on the night of Jonah’s disappearance but at this stage we have no reason not to believe him which makes the revelation that he has been lying a heart stopping moment. What could be so bad that he would hid the truth from his best friend who has been investigating this case with some interest? I wanted to slap Jack around the face with a wet halibut when he told Gwen he wasn’t sure shat she wanted him to do after he is presented with the horrifying accumulation of evidence that the Rift is gobbling innocent people up. It’s a clever scene because this is exactly the sort of inhuman response we have come to expect from him and yet it is hiding the real truth that he has been helping these people for years without anybody know about it. The way this episode gives this cold-blooded automaton a heart is worthy of applause. Gwen realising that these are all the people she has been investigating and discovering Jack at the heart of it throws a dark shroud of mystery over his character again. It’s the most interesting he has been in the first two seasons. Setting up the facility to help the victims of the Rift is the most human thing he has done yet in the series and I especially like the fact that there are only seventeen victims at the moment. Proof that there are still loads of victims out there that haven’t been found. That has an honesty to it too.

Jack’s Crew: Gwen has always been the emotional face of Torchwood and she is exactly the character to take up the heartbreaking challenge of having to find a missing boy. At first her Torchwood attitude seems prevalent until Andy asks her if something as simple as a missing child is beneath her these days which was exactly the sort of slap around the face she needed. I was literally applauding when Andy told Gwen that she had become hard and that she used to care about people no matter who they were…it’s the wake up call she has needed for a while to snap her out of the slow motion swaggering, gun toting ways she has developed since joining this ridiculous organisation. This episode is as much about Gwen coming to terms with herself as it is the mystery and she feels so strongly about the condemnation of her character she asks the closest independent observer – Rhys. Gwen and Rhys discussing children has some emotional weight to it in hindsight since in three episodes time she would be announcing her pregnancy. Gwen tries to do her best by Nikki and to give her the son she so desperately wants to see again. When confronted with the horrifying truth Nikki asks Gwen to promise to not do this to any of the other parents who have lost their children because the hope that one day their kid will walk through the door unharmed is preferable to facing such a monstrosity. It’s a marvellous moment of ingratitude that is completely understandable and as a result you really feel for Gwen despite the fact that she has only done what she thought was the right thing.

Catching up with PC Andy is always a joy because he is stuck in the uncomfortable position of both condemning Torchwood for the way they walk all over everybody (and who wouldn’t think that?) and wanting to join them because it looks cool. Andy also has the hots for Gwen but now she has learnt where her loyalties lie (the fabulous Rhys) his feelings are unreciprocated (unusually for this show). Its almost as if Torchwood has learnt that holding back every once and a while creates tension and drama – go figure! Like a tap he cannot switch his feelings for her off and he wont be a hypocrite and endorse their wedding when he thinks that Rhys is beneath her. When she cuts him out of the investigation when it gets too ‘Torchwood’ you feel genuinely sorry for the guy who kick started this whole thing because he had a heart. Even the sudden ‘no’ when he asks her if she would ever ask if he could join Torchwood felt real because Andy’s ‘thank you’ isn’t the reaction to an insult but a thankful response for some honesty at last.

Rhys laughing his head off at Andy’s feelings for Gwen feels very real to me. Its so much more entertaining than had he gone off in a jealous rant (and had this episode taken place earlier in the run before Torchwood discovered subtlety it so would have taken that angle!). Their toasty passion in the morning make me smile, Myles and Owen have such lovely chemistry at this stage. Gwen viciously fights the idea of having kids because of her job and Rhys (always the voice of reason) reminds her that she is saving the world over and over for a reason (with a couple of fucks thrown in to drive the point home and make her really listen). They do it so people can live their lives and they have the right to do that as well. Gwen seriously needs someone like Rhys in her life to provide the perspective of normality otherwise she would get entirely whisked up into the delusions of grandeur and sacrifice that Torchwood peddles. She cannot think that he extraterrestrial shit she deals with is more important than real life and that is exactly the tone the series has needed to adopt since the beginning. It got so caught up in the camp excesses of violence, swearing and sex that it forgot that the show needed a beating heart of emotion too.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I sleep in here some nights. Bury my head in the pillow. It still smells of him except the more I do it the more it smells like me.’
‘What is the Rift doesn’t just leave stuff behind? What if it also takes?’ – it’s a fresh idea and one tied into the shows mythology. Coming just a few weeks after a zombie fest at a wedding it proves that Torchwood still has some tricks up its sleeve.
‘We don’t have to be this hard! It isn’t a badge of honour!’ – hurrah! Its like Chibnall has taken away a list of all my complaints about this show and decided to do something about them!
‘It was better that I didn’t know. Before you I had hope.’

The Good: Do you know I fell in love with Gavin & Stacey and especially with the character of Nessa without realising that I had already seen Ruth Jones play this character on Torchwood. Not because she is unmemorable in the role, quite the opposite. She gives a touching performance and imbues her character with an uncomfortable, almost incestual longing to find her son (curling up on his bed is a discomforting moment for this viewer whose mother in law invests a similar sort of emotional attachment to his husband!) but it was because she is so different from Nessa (even to look at) that I did not make the connection. The pre titles sequence is nicely shot to resemble some kind of alien abduction – it actually feels as if the scene has leapt straight from The X-Files because of its dramatic simplicity and attention grabbing execution. The music is superlative in this episode – Torchwood has often employed a bombastic and unsubtle score because that is exactly the sort of show it is but with the delicate, emotional atmosphere of Adrift it gives the composer a chance to really show what he is made of and he takes you on an emotional musical journey too. The way the episode shows that Nikki has turned the search for her son into a crusade is heartbreaking because it has consumed her entire life and you know that whatever the answer is, even the finality of death, it will force her to break down and accept the loss she is denying herself. All the tapes scattered around her front room where she has been monitoring all the CCTV footage is a strong image that captures the obsession that has gripped her. What Ruth Jones brings to the role is a calm acceptance of this mania that is hypnotic. Everybody can see how unhealthy this except Nikki. It’s the most emotionally honest the show has been since Random Shoes. I love the sequence where Nikki accepts with some solemnity that she will be the only person who will come to her ‘missing persons’ meeting and then the room starts filling up with grieving parents who have also lost their kids. It opens up the episode by suggesting there is some much more frightening and far reaching going on here through a moment of spine tingling sentiment and not the usual Torchwood leap of logic (and the music is superb). Gwen and Tosh investigating all the missing cases grips because for once the investigation actually means something. It wouldn’t surprise me if Russell T Davies said he stole the idea of exploiting the horror of losing children for Children of Earth from this episode because it is such a palpable threat in both pieces of storytelling. I don’t know what kind of answer I was expecting to the mystery of Jonah’s disappearance but I didn’t think it would be as surprising and satisfying as a mental hospital set up out of the way for victims that have been swallowed up and spat out by the Rift, all with emotional and physical scars. It’s a chilling place and feels very real. Robert Pugh pulls off the superb feat of being both tragic and menacing as the older Jonah and the scenes of him screaming silently as the horror of the Rift grips him stayed with me long after the episode had ended. Its one of my enduring images of this episode, his eyes full of terror as he screams an endless scream. The moment Gwen has to tell Ruth that she has found Jonah was the moment I broke, I couldn’t hold the tears back any longer. Mother and son reunited and she rejects him outright before her the evidence she needs to realise this scarred monster is her boy. Being dragged away from him because he needs special care is a harsh ending for a character who deserved a happy ending.

The Bad: Just to remind us this is still Torchwood there is a scene with Jack and Ianto stark bollock naked grinding away over his desk. Is it really necessary? If I want to watch pornography I know where to look and I don’t usually look for it in a Doctor Who spin off. It’s the one off kilter moment of unsubtlety in an episode that treads a fine line of delicacy throughout.

The Shallow Bit: Although neither of them is what would accepted as conventionally attractive (whatever that means?) I find both Kai Owen as Rhys and Tom Price as Andy to be absolutely gorgeous. It could because the characters feel so real and likable but there is definitely something special about both of these blokes that draws me to them.

Result: Is this really a Chris Chibnall script? Adrift is so tightly focussed on the story it wants to tell and approaches the material with an emotional honesty that before the end titles my eyes were full of tears. It wears its Welsh setting as a badge of honour and the location filming is as beautiful and attention grabbing as the episode itself. What I really love about Adrift is that it doesn’t cheat the audience at any point. It promises them us the mystery of the missing boy and we see how Gwen (who has always been the beating heart of this team) slowly puts the pieces together to lead to a satisfactory and shocking conclusion. Along the way we discover a great deal about Jack and the nature of Torchwood which manages to genuinely shock and we reach a devastating conclusion about what really happened to Jonah. It isn’t camp, shallow, stupid or illogical – all of Chibnall’s worse script excesses and it makes me wonder if he can produce something this good why hasn’t he done it before? If Torchwood was as good as this all the time during its standalone period they would have never moved to the serial storylines. Adrift is emotionally sincere and gripping, it is excellent9/10

Monday, 17 August 2015

The Last Adventure: The Brink of Death written and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What's it about: The Doctor and Mel must face the final confrontation with the Valeyard - and the Doctor must make the ultimate sacrifice...

Softer Six: 'I hope the footprint I leave will be light, but apposite...' We enter his final adventure with the Doctor in full heroic flow, beaming in to rescue his companion and performing a death defying stunt to get them out of danger. The beauty of improvising is that sometimes things can go right. He's back at the same location that his darkest hours took place - back on the CIA Trial ship and he is genuinely haunted by the prospect. It's easy to see why Genesta might think that the Doctor is dead, a Time Lord echo left swimming about in the Matrix. Otherwise why would he be trapped in there? Genesta reminds him of himself, a youngster who slipped away from life on Gallifrey to pastures new and funnily enough they both ended up on Earth. Before he takes his final bow the sixth Doctor gets to do what he does best, butt heads with the Time Lords (I wish he would head butt one of them) and points out their hypocrisy (loudly). Somebody has to do it. He's willing to take his complaint all the way to the High Council where I wish he would recapture some of that season 22 attitude, brandish a weapon and force them to get off their arses and act against the Valeyard. There's a tenseness running through this story as the Doctor's time bleeds away each time he leaves the Matrix. It's not quite the 24 ticking clock but it does reminds us that his eleventh hour is approaching. Would the Doctor do anything to stop the Valeyard? Even break the Laws of Time? Ultimately when the time comes for the big climax the Doctor is alone with no friends and his greatest foe taunting him. And he's still defiant. When it comes to it, the Doctor is willing to murder himself to save the Time Lords - those perfidious, interfering, morally questionable meddlers. The sixth Doctor is the only Doctor to have the nuts to (metaphorically speaking) put a gun to his own head and pull the trigger in order to do the right thing. What a fucking guy.

Computer Programmer: Always a pleasure to hear Bonnie Langford back in the role of Mel and its a pleasing double hit given she is currently enjoying a three story stint with Sylvester McCoy over in the main range at the moment. A much criticised character on TV, Mel has truly come into her own on audio in the hands of writers that are willing to take risks with her and an actress who can look back at how she used to play the part and temper her excitable excesses. The net result: a maligned character that people are often begging for more of. What a turnaround. It's unexpectedly enjoyable to hear the Valeyard and Mel off having adventures together, a surprise given it is reminiscent of He Jests at Scars (brrr boils just broke out all over my body writing that). When a seer threatens to tell Mel secrets about the Doctor that she doesn't know she starts to question just how well she does know him.

Standout Performance: Colin Baker, of course. Perhaps they deliberately gave Michael Jayston such a starring role in Stage Fright so that Baker could own his last adventure. What a masterful turn from the most consistently excellent Big Finish Doctor. 

Sparkling Dialogue: 'I will stop you even if it is the last thing I do!'
'He's a diminished, shrunken parody of me!' So much for Colin Baker to get his teeth into...

Great Ideas: The climax of this adventure is set up in the first couple of minutes. Somebody has been aiming radiation bolts at the TARDIS from the Lakertyan system. Now I wonder what Dynasty reject with mad hair, a nose stud and hands that rarely stray from her hips that could be? Genesta is a great character, immediately likeable and down to Earth. She's a demolition expert from the Capitol here to destroy the derelict Trial ship and instantly that is an arresting setting. Genesta did a field trip to a planet called Earth when she was very young and was afflicted with a Yorkshire and colourful slang terms as a result. The ultimate Matrix tinkerer (you know leather fetish, retarded lexicographer) has been at it again, adjusting the facts so that the sixth incarnation of the Doctor is reborn in his image. Was the Valeyard created by a Black Ops weapons department of the Time Lords? As a weapon? With the sum total of all Time Lord knowledge. The Valeyard has inserted something into the symbiotic nuclei of the Doctor's TARDIS, the Nafemos. He rescued them from the moon of Plestinius and they have been feeding off the Doctor's mind ever since the Valeyard left them in there all those years ago. Through the symbiotic nuclei of the Doctor's TARDIS the Nathemos have a direct link to the Matrix, they are transmitting mental impulses of the Valeyard directly into the Matrix. Just as he replaced the Doctor he wants to replace every living Time Lord, perhaps even Rassilon himself. He wants to fashion the destiny of the Time Lords in his own image. That batshit darker version of the Doctor is probably the one who gave the Master the idea in The End of Time.

Audio Landscape: Crickets, a skimmer out of power, the Doctor and Mel screaming as the ejector blasts from the skimmer, a bazaar atmosphere, whispering voices.

Musical Cues: Howard Carter, let me count the ways I love thee. I'm so often used to him providing robust backup for the Jago & Litefoot range that it is rare for me to lavish praise on him in a Doctor Who release. They need to toss him over to the main range where he would no doubt work his magic there too. His music and post-production throughout this box set has been nothing short of phenomenal, conjuring a myriad of locations atmospherically and switching styles musically like he has barely broken a sweat. Listen to the wistful, brooding music when the Doctor first spots the Valeyard in The Brink of Death, capturing the moment in a way that took my breath away.

Isn't it Odd: Mel has to be involved because she was there at the end of The Ultimate Foe and she was there at the start of Time and the Rani but it feels like she is more of an afterthought than a necessary requirement. She's usurped by Genesta and I think I would object more strongly if Liz White wasn't as stunning as she is in the role.

Standout Scene: Was the Valeyard Genesta from the very beginning? He asks if it matters which is probably the most evil thing he has ever contemplated. The Doctor has grown close to her, enjoys her company, has relied on her. He wants to take her on adventures when this is all over. It's a murder that has impact because the Doctor had grown to like her. And so had I.

Result: 'It's far from being all over...' I find it extremely apt that the sixth Doctor should sacrifice his life in order to save the Time Lords. If you watch throughout his televised era they are built up as ultimate villains of that point in his life - placing him on Telos in Attack of the Cybermen, framed for the massacre on Space Station Chimera, setting up a farce of a Trial to cover up their mistreatment of the Earth and doing a deal with the Devil to keep it all hush hush. They have become an intolerable, corrupt menace in his life. But they are still his people. And ultimately no matter what damage they have done, no matter how much they have mistreated him, he is still the Doctor and he will do anything - even if that means resorting to bending the Laws of Time and murdering his foe - to save them. That's the actions of a hero. To do what he knows is right even if every fibre of his being is begging him to do otherwise. The Brink of Death wasn't what I was expecting at all. Perhaps I have been tainted by the saccharine regeneration stories on the TV (which have grown steadily sicklier until I physically wanted throw up all over the console in The Time of the Doctor) but I was expecting more of the same. Nick Briggs doesn't take that route. Instead he goes for a more disquieting, high concept affair. More Logopolis than The End of Time. Rightly he places the Doctor centre stage and affords Colin Baker the chance to show a whole range of emotions from moral outrage to terrorising fear right the through to blazing heroism at the climax. He must have been delighted when he read the script and he delivers a pitch perfect performance. Throughout there is a feeling of time catching up with the Doctor; his ship is stripped of him, his companion, his allies and finally even his time. It's that unsettling tone of despair that makes the final ten minutes so riveting with the sixth Doctor rising from the nightmare scenario he is in and making the ultimate sacrifice. Is this is climactic as Lucie Miller/To The Death? In a very different way, yes it is. It touches on the best of the character and gives him the chance to go out kicking and screaming and sticking one finger at the odds. Which is just how he exploded into life. I'm not sure if the first half an hour wasn't a little too quiet for a finale but Briggs more than makes up for it come the climax. An epic Masterplan foiled by an intimate sacrifice: 9/10

The Last Adventure: Stage Fright written by Matt Fitton and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What's it about: The Doctor and Flip visit Victorian London, where investigators Jago and Litefoot explore theatrical performances that have echoes through the Doctor's past lives...

Softer Six: The Doctor is trying to offer Flip a little history and culture, like a father trying to get his child into history. Because his latest companion is from 21st Century Earth he is willing to make pop culture references but it clearly pains him to do so. The Doctor tends to bring a fresh perspective to a grisly murder. In a multitude of realities there must be some where the Doctor did succumb to his darker impulses. A wardrobe featuring hundreds and hundreds of the Doctor's coat? He's mocking the Doctor, as good as waiting outside the TARDIS and squirting a water flower in his face. If it is emotions that the Valeyard is feeding on, can you imagine an incarnation of the Doctor that was more suited for the larder? It suddenly makes sense of the Doctor's erratic behaviour during his Trial. The Valeyard was deliberately providing him with as much fuel for the fire as possible to set him off like a powder keg. The more he emotes, the more it nourishes his nemesis. It will make me watch season 23 in a whole new light. All the Valeyard understands is corruption and degradation of everything the Doctor holds dear. He threatens to tell the Doctor what becomes of Flip. Stage Fright reaches a fine conclusion about why the Doctor will always best the Valeyard. Because he has friends to support him. If that sounds remarkably twee then don't worry, it's played out in an uplifting, can't get the smile off my face way. He ponders what he must do that makes the Valeyard (who is essentially the Doctor) hate himself so much. The Doctor knows the Valeyard will find him when he is ready.

Flipping Heck: 'Lad! Oi whiskers, d'you wanna wear that pie?' I think the best way to describe the reaction to Flip has been mixed. She's appeared in eight adventures in total, only two more than Mel did on the television, and it looks like after the cliffhanger of Scavenger and the reveal of what happened to her in The Widow's Assassin her story has been pretty much tied up. That's not to say that further adventures cannot be written, it would seem that some time passed between the end of her first trilogy (Wirrn Isle) and the beginning of her second (Antidote to Oblivion). This is not a companion in the mould of Evelyn Smythe who took the sixth Doctor on a journey of discovery, she's more like a companion of old. A mate, somebody to tag along on adventures and bring some danger and derring do with her. Whilst that might be underselling her slightly, Flip's biggest salvation comes in the form of Lisa Greenwood who plays her with infectious enthusiasm and brings a bit of street cred to the sixth Doctor's tenure. The relationship between her and Sixie is more akin to that of a father and child than I have seen in Doctor Who, the age gap between Colin Baker and Lisa Greenwood is a factor but so is the fact that Flip is so reckless and like a frustrated parent the Doctor is often heard berating her for it. I thought they were a fun combination and I would have welcomed some more adventures but ultimately I'm not entirely sure where Flip could have taken us if there wasn't that much of her character to explore beyond 'street wise.' However her inclusion in this set is very welcome since we are covering a lot of ground in Sixie's Big Finish tenure. Flip recalling her trip to the London Dungeon is hilarious, it is exactly that sort of (sorry) flippant remark that made her so funny. She has no hankering to tread the boards herself, it isn't really her thing after the year three talent show where she got terrible stage fright. The Doctor is surprised, he didn't think she was afraid of anything. Somehow Flip manages to boil down the enormous concept of the Valeyard down to a single pop culture reference: he's Darth Vader. The Doctor, if he turned to the Dark Side. When it comes to calming the Doctor down, Flip provides some really terrible entertainment to shake him out of his rage.

Theatrical Fellow: You would think that Jago & Litefoot would be synonymous with Tom Baker's fourth Doctor but after paring the dynamic duo with Sixie for a series of their own range and then two trips in the TARDIS with him too the man with the rainbow coloured coat has taken the lead with them. Jago's pockets are ladened with coins at the moment and it is having a transformative effect on his character. Described by the Valeyard as providing effusively entertaining and eruditely epigrammatic introductions to his stage shows. Jago considers the plot of Planet of the Spiders 'a bit far fetched.'

Posh Professor: Just as the Doctor adopts a parental role towards Flip, Litefoot often has to assume that role for Jago who is a man of extremes and needs them tempered on occasion. He receives the highest of accolades from the Doctor; there is no ailment so serious and no death too macabre that the good Professor Litefoot cannot diagnose. The Doctor and Litefoot spend more time around death than is healthy for any soul.

Standout Performance: Jayston finally gets the chance to swish his cloak again and give the audio performance of a lifetime. I'm not sure how he is going to top what he achieves here in The Brink of Death. In the latter half of Stage Fright I would go as far as to say we've not heard such masterful villainy in many a year.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'My society is divided between various houses. It follows you all the way through the Academy' 'What like Hufflepuff and Slitheren?' '...I suppose.'
'These scenes are all echoes of how I died.'
'You can maketh yourself whatever the heck you wanteth!'

Great Ideas: Why is the Valeyard staging the Doctor's deaths on stage in Victorian London and then claiming the lives of the other actors? The Palace Theatre has been closed all month, paid for upfront by a mysterious benefactor. A vanity project, perhaps? The Valeyard is trying to get the Doctor's attention by killing his victims and carting them off to the morgue dressed as friends of his. Litefoot has the concept of regeneration explained to him in detail by the Doctor and an explanation of who the Valeyard is...the foreshadowing begins. The Valeyard has been bleeding these kids of their life force to prolong his own obscene existence.

Audio Landscape: Rats, cobbled streets, pub atmosphere, ruffled paper, doorbell, a tiny explosion pipped by an enormous one.

Isn't it Odd: It seems that the Valeyard has taken a leaf out the Master's school of pseudonyms. He's calling himself Mr Yardvale, a name so tough to crack it might just take the Doctor to the end of time to decipher its meaning and uncover his foe. Although to be fair to Matt Fitton, the Valeyard is rather trying to get the Doctor's attention so perhaps that was the idea.

Standout Scene: The staging of the climax of The War Games by the Valeyard with Flip as Zoe. Impulsively fun.

Result: 'Our courtroom confrontations were pure ambrosia for me!' The sixth Doctor, Flip, Jago & Litefoot might not be your first choice of top trump team but the chemistry that exudes between them is ridiculously addictive. Sixie all piss and vinegar, Flip with boundless enthusiasm and wit, Jago dropping alliteration bombs and describing everything to the hilt and Litefoot keeping everyone in check and attempting to solve some grisly murders. I don't exaggerate when I say this is the best Flip has ever been and it makes me quite sad that we wont see her in the near future since Lisa Greenwood has really found her groove. Her earthiness fits in very well in the Victorian London setting. However Michael Jayston steals the show from under everybody's feet in Stage Fright, the Valeyard re-enacting the Doctor's deaths in his own, twisted, theatrical ways. Jayston is allowed to step out of the shadows and lock horns with the Doctor head on and it's a healthy reminder of the fantastic rivalry that was brewed between him and Colin Baker in Trial of a Time Lord (say what you will about it, the acting was frequently astonishing) before their real tussle in the sixth Doctor's curtain call. It seems very appropriate that in a box set that not only celebrates the sixth Doctor's life but also his entire life to that point, that certain pivotal moments of his life should be played out in his penultimate story. If you can call this a celebration, it is a dark one where the death of the Doctor is championed and his forthcoming regeneration is foreshadowed in a dramatic and creative way. I also really like how the one major criticism about the sixth Doctor - his emotional attitude - is worked into the plot with such class. It could be his downfall. We've had an unnerving horror cum high concept jigsaw, an outer space morality tale and a theatrical delight so far in the Last Adventure box set...what on Earth are they saving for the climax? Without featuring the pivotal companions of the sixth Doctor (Peri & Evelyn without a doubt) we have been treated to a fine celebration of his audio era; complex storylines (the Charley arc), wonderful friends (Flip, Jago & Litefoot) and a fascinating future (Constance) with all shades of the sixth Doctor on display. Add in the Valeyard and it feels remarkably comprehensive. We've had some it's time to die. Stage Fright skipped by in a heartbeat and provided some magical entertainment. I was pretty much hooked throughout: 9/10

The Last Adventure: The Red House written by Alan Barnes and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What's it about: The Doctor and Charlotte Pollard arrive on a world that is populated by werewolves...

Softer Six: Listen to how Colin Baker adjusts his performance in this story, despite the seriousness of the situation it is a more light-hearted adventure and he tip toes through the tale like a colourful pixie who is enjoying every second of it. The Doctor mentioned Beau Brumell in The Twin Dilemma but he confirms their friendship in this story. The Doctor hanging out with the King of the Dandy's - sounds about right! He's a wily old devil, staging his reveal of the watch to make it appear as if he is trying to hypnotise the werewolves when in fact he's after a shaft daylight to reflect back at them. You've got to keep your eye on this one. He flatters himself that he is a little more quick witted than the average policeman. Charley declares him a blithering blundering meddling idiot. Yeah, sometimes. Just saving two lives is never going to be enough for the Doctor, even if it is the only option.

Edwardian Adventuress: Will wonders never cease? I genuinely thought we had seen the end of Charley Pollard after her brief flirtation with her own series. I most certainly never expected to enjoy another adventure with her and Sixie. It was an engaging partnership during a time when the main range was being re-invigorated by the team of Briggs and Barnes and the trilogy format was about to slot into place. Charley had skipped from the eighth Doctor adventures with all that knowledge of his future and she could not share any of her wisdom with the sixth Doctor. Her mystery had to remain an identity to him. Not since Turlough climbed aboard the TARDIS and tried to kill him has there been a companion as sneaky and elusive as this and it made for a really interesting dynamic. What made matters worse was that we always knew this was going to be a short term arrangement. There was never going to be a long string of stories for this pair because there was only so many ways that the mystery that lingers between them could be maintained. Which was a crying shame because the chemistry between Colin Baker and India Fisher was sublime. I never thought any other companion would capture the same magic with Sixie that Maggie Stables' Evelyn did but this was just as strong but in a hugely different way. They sparked off each other beautifully. And should this be the last time that Charley ever appears in a Big Finish adventure (and let's be honest she has had an incredible number of tales) then I'm pleased it is Alan Barnes that is writing it. He charted her progress from her very first appearance in the main range to the last. I think he understands her character better than anyone. Charley trips up as soon as she leaves the TARDIS, mentioning Vortisaurs. When she describes the houses as 'hoverly' she is definitely showing her class. He states her occupation as 'Edwardian adventuress' but states it should be Georgian really (but it conjures up the wrong image that she is going for). Fiery and feisty as ever, Charley lets rip when it appears her humanity is going be extracted. Charley is an experienced enough time traveller to know when are offered a god deal to escape and if that means only two people can be saved then so be it. I like this practical, slightly cold side to her that emerge in the tail end of her time in the main range.

Standout Performance: A story where most of the characters are lupine requires an awful lot of salt gargling to keep the throat fresh after all that growling. Jayston's reaction to Fisher's melodrama made me laugh out loud. Jayston is relishing his role in this story and the Valeyard develops a great rapport with Charley. Both hiding themselves from the Doctor. But he's given plenty of things to say and do here and he plays the silky menace to the hilt.

Great Ideas: A curfew bell at dawn? What happens in the day to ensure that the people only come out at night? A planet of werewolves of course. This is precisely the sort of fairytale adventure I would expect Charlotte Pollard to wind up in (she is very much Alice through the looking glass) - a place where fairytales tip on their axis and the 'monsters' in the storybooks become the people. It's a precarious situation where the Doctor and Charley are in danger of being gnawed on by friend or foe alike. On this planet wolves become like people in the daylight, a trippy subversion of the usual werewolf myth and a nicely played moment. The Red House is a police station manned by werewolves. It's so often the norm in these stories for the humans to be attempting to suppress their wolf-like nature but Barnes continues the subversion, on this world it is the wolf that is embraced and humanity that is outlawed. Except for a rebellious faction that want to choose for themselves to experience humanity. It was 200 years ago when the colony ship touched down on the mainland bringing the people of Earth to this world. The planet was ripe for colonisation, Earth-like and verdant but it wasn't uninhabited. Packs of predatory dog-like creatures roamed its plains. Savage, cannibalistic beasts that the colonist set about exterminating. The dogs bit back and passed on a virus catalysed by moonlight - lycanthrope. How would the colonist cope with their own kind infected with a virus that turns them into werewolves every eight days? They were dumped on an island far away from the mainland, something of a leper colony. With each successive generation the wolverine side took more of a hold. When the population realised what had happened on the island, extermination leapt back to the top of the agenda. Paignton was tasked with attempting to restore the population on the island, to try and isolate the wolf element and exterminate it. Hopefully that would leave them with a perfectly normal, human population. Oh how very naive. The Doctor is right, nuclear annihilation is a very human response.

Audio Landscape: Village bell ringing, screaming in the distance, ferocious branches snagging on the Doctor's coat, night sounds in the forest, a laboratory, screams of pain, crackling fire, a werewolf transformation, doors being bashed in.

Musical Cues: It's time for a Charlotte Pollard hunt and the Carter unleashes the drums as the werewolves pursue her through the forest.

Isn't it Odd: Urgo's super hip 60s themed dialogue gets a little tiresome after a while. Although it is worth it to hear Colin Baker say 'Run like the wind, man!'

Standout Scene: It hadn't even occurred to be that Valeyard would know both the sixth and eighth Doctor's history and precisely where Charlotte Pollard fits into both of their lives. I got chills when he spelt out precisely who she was and the secret she was keeping from her current travelling companion. Oh my, this was such a fantastic run of stories for Sixie and Charley laced with a really exciting arc. I miss those days of the main range so much and this just reminds me why.

Result: I seem to spend so much time lamenting Barnes' contributions lately and forget that he has delivered sterling work time and again across various ranges. There is no finer writer of Charley Pollard, for example, and for her to return his presence in this set is a must. The Red House is a much lighter affair than The End of the Line but if I'm honest things could hardly have gotten darker without losing the spirit of Doctor Who. Gothic horror might be a default setting for the series but it is constantly evoked because it works so well and here we have a sinister fairytale unfolding complete with slavering werewolves, mad scientists and a brutal regime to bring down. It's another excellently devised and memorable setting that Barnes gives a robust backstory for (even if that is delivered in a massive gulp of exposition). Beyond the sixth Doctor/Charley combination which always works a treat, what really impressed was the subversions made to the usual werewolf tales. They are the victims in this piece and in every way humanity is treated as the enemy, whether that is the colonists on the mainland or the beating heart inside the lupine population. The presence of the Valeyard is very welcome and he is given material that is far more suited to Jayston's icy cold delivery than either He Jests at Scars (just writing that brings me out in hives) and The Trial of the Valeyard. He was often the moustache twirling villain in Trial of a Time Lord but he works so much better as a sinister background presence, slowly pulling together the threads of his Masterplan (as yet unknown). The story races towards an exciting climax and the plot (unlike the first story in the set) remain pleasantly self contained. Barnes has written a pacy, enjoyable tale and I expect it is the most standalone of the set. I really wish the sixth Doctor was still travelling with Charley: 7/10

The Last Adventure: The End of the Line by Simon Barnard & Paul Morris and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What's it about: The Doctor and his latest companion Constance investigate a commuter train that has lost its way...

Softer Six: This is it then, the beginning of the end for Sixie. Colin Baker has made some waves in the world of Doctor Who recently with his controversial interview in Doctor Who magazine and inflammatory tweets about a Radio Times article. It is true that his Doctor is not always held in high regard by the majority of fandom and that his era is often pointed at as a low point for the show. It's not a view that I share, I was a huge fan of Sixie even before he enjoyed his phenomenal renaissance with Big Finish but the way his character flourished on audio on reinforced what I already though about the character. Strong, determined, ruthlessly intelligent, emotional and a little bit crazy. The Doctor. And Colin has been a firm supporter of the show ever since his sacking and never given less than 100% of what has been asked of him. Regardless of recent events, I'm one of the biggest supporters of Sixie and Colin and this box set gets me very excited indeed. After Sixie's ignominious exit on the show it is time for one of the most colourful and exciting Doctor's to have his final story revealed. Just how will Big Finish bring his story to a close? He's taking charge in his immutable way, stepping into the aftermath of a crisis and investigating the circumstances. Being lost is just a state of mind, the Doctor finds that whichever direction he follows something always turns up. His sense of direction might be eccentric but it's never concentric. Even if Jack is lying and he is a danger to them, the Doctor cannot take the chance that somebody might be harmed either way. He can't stand bureaucratic bafflegab and takes every opportunity to mock it. All this talk of alternative universes leads the Doctor to discuss darker versions of yourself and his own unique take on that idea in the Valeyard. We're taking steps towards that finale. He diagnoses the Master as utterly mad for wanting to control all realities but then we all knew he was nutty as squirrel shit, right?. Despite everything, despite their rivalry and hatred for one another...the Master needs the Doctor's help. 'Forget you, Mrs Clarke? Never!' he laments as he agrees to help his foe in order for his friend to survive. There are some planets where the Doctor's coat is considered the epitome of understatement.

Constant Companion: Leave it to Big Finish to bring the release of this box set forwards and shoehorn an adventure with Constance in before her introductory story is even upon us. It's a bizarre marketing strategy because it effectively renders her opening story moot and she could just be slipped into his adventures like Mel was, unceremoniously. Despite this little piece of timey wimey (sigh) magic, I have to say I am mightily excited about the introduction of this character. Miranda Raison is a very accomplished actress and looks like she belongs with Colin Baker on the covers and the character spec for Constance just screams of potential - a member of the Women's Royal Navy Service, icy cold and intelligent, brave and uncompromising. Somebody that comes with all the skills to cope with the Doctor's adventures but hasn't experienced the horrors of the universe yet. How does she fare in her 'first' adventure? Rather well as it goes. Constance is not afraid to make a dig or two at the sixth Doctor or to stand up to him, which is an entry requirement if you are going to be one of his companions. Her clipped, plummy tones and go to attitude are very appealing, similar to but very different from Charley Pollard because Constance is an adult (and a professional). She prefers to be called Mrs Clarke. The Doctor isn't afraid to let her go off into a dangerous situation and to leave her in charge of peoples lives. He clearly has a great deal of faith in her. Constance is smart enough to get her head around the idea of alternative universes and the implications for their situation here but is also willing to admit that there is more to the idea than she is able to comprehend. I'm looking forward to hearing more from her and that is all I can ask.

Standout Performance: This is an ensemble piece and they all acquit themselves beautifully. There wasn't one performance out of place. Especially the two grandiose villains sparring at the climax.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'To lose one Dave might be considered a misfortune but to lose three...'
'Let the other yous pay the price...'
'That's enough to rewrite the textbook on megalomania!'

Great Ideas: A train that gets lost in the fog and is discovered by the Doctor and Constance, with blood slick on the door. You wouldn't catch me going inside. The sun has failed to show up and time has stopped. A train station with platforms that keep multiplying at random. The ingredients for this story are very Sapphire and Steel and it conjures up a similar feeling of disquiet and claustrophobia that the best of their adventures did. A feeling of danger, of wrongness. How can there be multiple versions of the same person being killed over and over? Kettering Junction is not just a railway interchange, it is a dimensional interchange and it's breaking down. Parallel universes are not supposed to meet but here they are bleeding into one another. A multifarious multiverse of possibilities, as the Doctor puts it. If the Doctor doesn't put a stop to it soon there will be an infinite number of trains arriving with an infinite number of passengers to be killed. They will have run out of space before the convergence reaches infinity. Some of the alternative realities will be very nice places, others will be darker, rotten. Alice's realisation that she has always played the good girl when there have been alternative versions of her out there her were enjoying their lives and letting themselves go is a very dark moment. It's a dangerous path for your thoughts to go down. Why can't I be more like them? If they got away with it then why can't I? I can do what I of consequences. What a terrifying notion it is to consider the idea of multiple versions of the same person and a primary timeline where only one should exist. Where all the others are expendable. Fodder. Ripe for murder because they are alternatives. Is there something in the fog that is driving everybody mad? The Parallel Sect are a mythical race of dimensional pioneers that traversed reality the way mere mortals cross the streets. The created a Reality Web, threading through the whole of infinity of parallel universes. An awe-inspiring notion. Imagine being able to negotiate such a web, to hop from one reality to another, from one universe to another. New management has moved in to take of the Parallel Sect, a figurehead who haunts the Doctor from his past. Can you guess who it is? Nope, it isn't the Valeyard. Very cleverly the writers have managed to slip in another returning villain right under the noses of the audience. Imagine the Master being handed the Reality Web, being able to stride dimensions and nip and tuck to his will. Spreading misery and despair in a billion realities. Platforms leading off in all directions, impossible to look at, let alone navigate. Passengers killing one another as they go mad with the absurdity and clarity of what has befallen them.

Audio Landscape: Footsteps on gravel, a train racing along the track, the sound of that weapon revealing the presence of you know who..., a knock on the door (amazing how scary that can be), a scream in the distance.

Musical Cues: Sinister and brooding for the most part, Howard Carter has been at this game too long now to deliver anything but excellence. He knows precisely the point where to stop too and let the silence do its work.

Isn't it Odd: Striding from the intimate to the epic might seem a little

Standout Scene: I haven't been chilled to the bone quite so much by an audio than when Hilary revealed that she killed Dave and why. It's remarkably creepy because the speech she is given to say attempts to justify her actions before the payoff of revealing what she has done. It's grounded in character and it's convincing and that is why it's so terrifying. 'I enjoyed killing who wants to be next?'

Result: Creepy, thick with atmosphere and bolstered by fine performances, The End of the Line kicks off the Last Adventure set in real style.  At points this reminded me of Midnight; frightened, irrational characters trapped in a terrifying situation and it enjoys a similar feeling of fraughtness and claustrophobia. It has the added element of weirdness that I would usually associate with Sapphire and Steel; an unknowable menace hiding in the shadows, a dark and dank setting that isn't playing by the rules and some quirky twists that take you by surprise. It's populated with some vivid characters too who are superlatively brought to life by the cast. Doctor Who has explored the alternative universe concept in novels (oh boy did it overplay it in novels), in comic strip form and on the TV. Big Finish has even had a stab at it too in it's Unbound series. But I have never seen it handled quite like this before in such a disquieting, psychologically probing manner. It's a unique approach and I love that. I'm often surprised that when a series scales back the storytelling to just a few characters in a confined setting that you often get the most extraordinary results. The End of the Line confirms that assertion for its first two thirds before exploding into high concept heaven for the finale, opening out on a scale grander than perhaps any other Doctor Who story. The groundwork has been set for this epic. If you were hoping that Big Finish were going to pull out all the stops for Colin Baker's swansong then by the standards of this first story it looks like you might be very happy indeed: 9/10

Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Warehouse written by Mike Tucker and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What's it about: The Doctor and Mel land in what appears to be an orbiting warehouse, a delivery facility with a dangerously erratic computer. Whilst Mel is helping with repairs, the Doctor begins to realise that not everything in the warehouse is as it seems. Why do no goods ever seem to leave the shelves? Why are the staff so obsessed with the stocktake? And who is the mysterious Supervisor? On the planet below, the Doctor discovers that the computer might be the least of their problems – and that they should be more concerned with the spacestation's mould and vermin...

The Real McCoy: Having unlimited space in the TARDIS can be a burden at times because it means there are an unlimited number of things you can keep and an unlimited number of places you can put them. He probably has one of everything but doesn't have a single clue where he put it. Tucker has managed to capture that untroubled seventh Doctor from season 24, the one who is flitting around the universe like a raving lunatic, hair, hat and attitude carefree. The seventh Doctor seems to be exactly the sort of character who would have a ton of shortbread bulging out of his pockets. I never realised how amusing the seventh Doctor could be when he is sarcastic. His 'hello, we're the Gods you've been worshipping' was very funny. When the Doctor bares his teeth at the horror of the sacrifices, you really pay attention. McCoy has rolled this many rrrrrrs in years and each one sounds like a death threat. If he had Godlike powers then he wouldn't keep landing himself in situations like this.

Computer Programmer: Again, it isn't hard to accurately capture Mel in season 24. Just imagine somebody who has taken half a dozen Pro Plus, spent four hours in the gym and is setting off to support every cause known to mankind. She's bubbly, enthusiastic and almost unbearably twee. Fortunately we have Bonnie Langford to bring her to life with the benefit of hindsight being a wonderful thing and she tempers some of the worst excesses of Tucker's writing. Mel is given plenty to do and her skills her vital to the plot (if she can find the on switch then the planet is doomed) but I wouldn't necessarily say she is written for intelligently. Giving a character a substantial role and giving them knowledgeable and perceptive things to say are two very different things.

Standout Performance: McCoy! McCoy! McCoy! I'm so excited to say it that I had write it three times. Let joy be uncontained.

Dreadful Dialogue: 'Oh rats! Sorry, not the best choice of curse in the circumstances...'
'You shall not find me wanting in points!'
'It's time to rid this warehouse of its mould!'
'A mould that can think!'

Great Ideas: 'What about the shops on the high street?' 'They'll become something of a novelty, I'm afraid.' The Doctor, unfortunately, hits the nail on the button. How long will it take before the process is finished and they are completely defunct? The warehouse is operated automatically but there are clones on hand to complete the stock take. I guess there are some things that a machine simply cannot do. There was a viral outbreak and the warehouse was sent into orbit to stockpile supplies away from the contamination. Unless the rats were incredibly smart to cause damage to non-essential systems and thus not put their lives in jeopardy (when Mel suggested it I thought this was going to turn out to be a sequel to Rat Trap) then the damage has been caused by an extraneous force. Shopping lists of orders placed with the Gods for a warehouse hanging in the sky with unimaginable bounty. A fungus practically wiped out an entire world but by the time the survivors emerged they had been cut off from the supplies set up into orbit. The rats are built up to be the monsters of the piece and turn out to be nothing of the sort. And the supervisor turns out to be a big lump of mould. Which is quite novel.

Audio Landscape: Crickets in grass, conveyor belt system, screeching rats.

Musical Cues: Since episode seems to consist of revealing physical detail about the warehouse and little else ('ooh those shelves are dusty!' and 'we're on a conveyor belt, Mel!') it comes down to the unconquerable team of Fox and Yason to make all this travelogue much more mysterious and exciting that it might otherwise be. To their credit they succeed. The Warehouse becomes a secretive, enigmatic location in their hands. Come the final episode, the pair have ramped up the excitement levels to factor ten with a score that suggests something terribly exciting is going on (when in reality a few million parcels are going to be delivered). They are a real asset to this story.

Isn't it Odd: Much like Paradise Towers, much like Spaceport Fear (more to the point), this is a concept based location. This time round it is the idea of a warehouse that has spun out of control and created its own society with customs and rules and it's own unique get my drift. However with Tucker this is all surface detail, there is no real sense that this is a society that has genuinely evolved and people have grown up within it. Instead it feels like a location that has been specifically set up to tell a Doctor Who story within it. 'Should that be such a bad thing?' I hear you ask. Well yes, I think we should be aiming higher. And if messrs Platt, Morris, Dorney, Guerrier can create fully functioning, detailed worlds that exist well before and long after the adventure is over then I don't see why Tucker can't too. It won't take anybody five minutes to realise that the inspiration for this happens to be an Amazon style operation and the imagination doesn't seem to stretch much further than that. When you break the ingenious code (the catalogue = the bible) you'll see the sort of sophistication we are dealing with. Unpretentious it might be, but the first episode is almost entirely textbook Doctor Who staging with a cliffhanger that failed to make me clench my buttocks. Was it my imagination or did the clone names (so and so F, so and so A) recall The Happiness Patrol? Which in itself is another artificial world based around a bizarre premise. A primitive culture being influenced and worshipping a piece of technology apes The Face of Evil too. A wonder-drug that wiped out a civilisation...add Gridlock to the shopping list. Sentient rats...wasn't the same script editor responsible for Rat Trap? The villain of the piece exclaims: 'At last, after 350 years!' He even sounds like Kane at the end of Dragonfire. My biggest problem with this story is that as influenced by immense warehouse distributors such as Amazon is ripe for some commerce themed lampooning and a commentary on mass consumerism. I can only imagine the substance, humour and observations Jonny Morris would have sifted from this setting. Tucker instead writes this with absolute seriousness and the setting, beyond a little graceless dialogue, is exact what it says on the tin. If you spent the last however many years worshipping a church in the sky that housed your Gods would you really find yourself throwing all those ideals away in half an hour and choosing to sacrifice yourself to destroy it? Jean alters her life choices on a sixpence and it isn't remotely believable. To kill your God is a massive choice but it feels like a quirk of plot.

Standout Scene: The stock take has been going on for 350 years (that juicy bit of knowledge would have been a better cliffhanger than any of the examples chosen for this story). The clones on board the warehouse are being revered as religious figures (another intriguing reveal that would have been a good point to pause the action...oh you get the idea).

Result: A 350 year wait for your order? That's about average for Amazon, isn't it? The Warehouse is written by Mike Tucker (author of The Genocide Machine, Dust Breeding and The Bellotron Incident) and without pushing his face into the mud too deeply it was never going to sparkle like the best of Big Finish. He's a meat and potatoes writer, understanding the basics of a Doctor Who story without ever trying to push the boundaries or dig too deep. I knew from experience this was never going to rock my world. However he has the backup of some of the most reliable hands at Big Finish's disposal; Barnaby Edwards directing, Fox and Yason handling the score and the irresistible team of McCoy and Langford helming the story. It's not quite polishing a turd (because the script is actually quite lively in parts) but it is like a wobbly singer being supported by a stunning back up troupe, keeping the audience transfixed and distracted from the deficiencies (in this case it is the stilted dialogue and clich├ęd storyline). McCoy, in particular, is like an excitable puppy desperate to be petted and recalling the addictive enthusiasm that he brought to the role in his first season. It's rare for me to say that McCoy is the best about a production so mark this day in your diary. Barnaby Edwards too deserves huge kudos, he's such a magician he might just convince you that the last episode is the most exciting thing you've ever heard. My big question about The Warehouse is that since we have Paradise Towers telling essentially the same story in 1987 (Tucker reveals his inspiration was this story in the extras) and in recent years Spaceport Fear doing an excellent job of picking up it's ideas and doing something fun with we really need a third roll of the dice that isn't quite as strong as the previous two? What you get here is a beautifully produced Doctor Who run-around. We're 202 releases into the main range and we've ditched the obscene amount of continuity that was weighing down the seventh Doctor adventures. Shouldn't we be setting our sights a little higher? I think the big question I have to ask about a story like The Warehouse is have we run out of fresh Doctor Who stories to tell? Has every plot twist been revealed, every character been written, every setting been created? Has the huge engine of storytelling known as Doctor Who played out every scenario so that all forthcoming stories are just an element of that story plus a pinch of that story with a healthy twist of that story? Or is it just the nostalgia driven Big Finish adventures that succumb to this curse? I don't think so. I think it depends on the imagination of the writer. Recently we have enjoyed The Entropy Plague and We Are the Daleks, both of which took an individual approach. In that case I have to blame the writer rather than the formula of the series on the lack of originality on display here. If you have a few hours to kill and need something to help pass the time whilst you browse Amazon and place a few orders (see what I did there?) then this is serviceable but it is in no way an essential purchase. For an audio drama it doesn't help that not one line of this script rises above the everyday. The antithesis of season 24 which was imaginative and original but often executed appallingly, The Warehouse is handsomely produced but a more nuts and bolts collection of old Who stories I have yet to experience. And I've not long heard Last of the Cybermen: 5/10