Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Ranking the Williams era in order

1) City of Death - Simply one of the most sublime pieces of television ever

To be reviewed...

2) The Ribos Operation - Completely charming, characterful and exploding with great lines

3) Image of the Fendhal - Perhaps the ultimate expression of horror in Doctor Who

4) The Pirate Planet - Too many tasty ideas for one story, it's drowning in creativity

5) Horror of Fang Rock - Atmospheric, brooding and terrifying

To be reviewed...

6) The Stones of Blood - Few stories give me quite this much pleasure

7) The Sun Makers - Witty as hell, sadistic as torture and with an acidic message

8) The Androids of Tara - Summery in every sense of the term, a delight

To be reviewed...

9) The Nightmare of Eden - Sod the production, this is brimming with creativity

10) The Horns of Nimon - It might be a pantomime but it's a bloody good one

11) Shada - Incomplete but still full of riches

12) The Armageddon Factor - I'm terribly fond of this, it's overlong but packed with solid concepts

13) The Invasion of Time - More production problems but a very brave script

14) Creature from the Pit - Each time I watch this I enjoy it more

15) Destiny of the Daleks - Stylish but occasionally flat and silly

16) The Power of Kroll - The final episode is quite gripping but its a long slog to get there

17) The Invisible Enemy - Some embarrassments but like so much of this era it is so imaginative

18) Underworld - The only real dud of the era, this dreadfully boring

Ranking season 18 in order...

1) Warriors' Gate - Visually and conceptually stunning with great characters too

2) Full Circle - A truly intelligent script, bolstered even more by stylish direction

3) State of Decay - A fusion of Hinchcliffe, Williams ad JNT

4) The Keeper of Traken - Beautiful design, nice ideas, insanely theatrical

Not reviewed yet...

5) The Leisure Hive - A bold new era of style, if not fun...

6) Logopolis - A bizarre mish mash of the very good and the very poor

7) Meglos - Bidmead stops all this bringing forth a really silly story

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Ranking the Davison era in order...

1) The Caves of Androzani - Predictable but so stunningly good in every way

2) Enlightenment - Practically perfect Who, atmospheric and fascinating

3) Frontios - One of the strongest conceptual stories, packed with strong moments

4) Snakedance - A stunning culture conjured up and great characters too

5) Earthshock - Dramatic and action packed, terrific direction and moments

6) Castrovalva - Unlike anything else in Doctor Who, beautiful and lyrical

7) The Five Doctors - Hugely nostalgic, it's a miracle this is as good as it is

8) Resurrection of the Daleks - Meaty and stylish if utterly incoherent

9) Black Orchid - Understated and quaint, gorgeous location work and characters

10) Mawdryn  Undead - Time travel, moral dilemmas, top notch concepts

11) Terminus - Far higher on the list than it would have been five years ago

12) Planet of Fire - A stylish affair, packed full of embarrassing moments

13) The Visitation - Bog standard history, occasionally exciting

14) The Awakening - Needs an extra episode and far more explanation

15) Warriors of the Deep - The trashy Davison stories start here...

16) Four to Doomsday - A tragic first step into the Davison era

17) Time-Flight - An manifold of embarrassments

18) The Kings Demons - Just the pits, I can't imagine Who sinking much lower

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Ranking the Colin Baker era in order...

1) Revelation of the Daleks - Still a truly unique experience, sick and insanely stylish

2) The Two Doctors - One of the most entertaining Doctor Who's ever for me

3) Vengeance on Varos - More important to watch than ever given entertainment is heading in this direction

4) The Mysterious Planet - Colin Baker on razor sharp form and fantastic dialogue

5) The Mark of the Rani - A marvellous Time Lord bitch fight

6) Terror of the Vervoids - A deliriously enjoyable Agatha Christie tale in space

7) Mindwarp - For that shockingly good final episode

8) Attack of the Cybermen - Noisy and crass but packed with great moments

9) The Ultimate Foe - Atmospheric, dramatic but a little anti-climatic

10) The Twin Dilemma - Four great performances, one leaden plot

11) Timelash - Hideously enjoyable to watch for all the wrong reasons

The Forsaken written by Justin Richards and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What's it about: The TARDIS lands on an island off Singapore during the Japanese invasion of 1942. The travellers are found by some British soldiers - among them a certain Private James Jackson, who just happens to be Ben’s father. But they're not the only visitors to the island...

Giddy Aunt: I've heard complaints about Frazer Hines' interpretation of the Doctor during the second season of Early Adventures, comments that he doesn't sound bona fide enough. Get a grip guys, Frazer Hines is not trying to portray Patrick Troughton as the Doctor, he is offering his own take on the character. An interpretation that springs from real affection for their time together. If there are bumpy moments when Hines doesn't quite get the inflection right I can easily forgive that because I know he is acting his heart off out of a place of pure love for both the character and the actor who played him. If it's enough to take you out of the story, I feel for you. But for me Hines' efforts are greatly appreciated.  The Doctor doesn't mind what he gets to eat during wartime...but states specifically what he desires. I love how the Doctor can suddenly turn on a sixpence from a bumbling buffoon who gets entangled in a trap of pots and pans to a quietly menacing figure facing down an alien interloper. It's those shades of grey that make him such a fascinating incarnation. Richards has always had a good grasp on the most indefinable of Doctors, as far back as his novel Dreams of Empire. The Doctor manages to prove he is who he says he is because he bamboozles everybody in trying to prove it. His playfulness in the face of a creature that feeds on fear is his greatest strength. He has no fear of dying, which is a bit of a problem for a foe that uses that thought as a method of dispatch.

Able Seaman: I truly appreciate the chance to explore Ben more as a character because we have already enjoyed a wealth of adventures that have fleshed out Jamie and Polly. Ben is more of an enigma and with a strong actor in the role it is a great chance to puzzle him out. Having him feature in a grim historical featuring a family member brings this a little close in style to Resistance (which had the same modus operandi but for Polly) but since that was such a success I can completely understand why they have repeated the formula. Ben knew there was a possibly of touching upon aspects of his life when travelling in time but he never expected it to become so personal.

Dolly Bird: Polly enjoys a huge imagination which can run away with itself. She informs Ben in a very curt way that he cannot coddle her all the time, no matter how much he might want to. Her ability to talk to people, to comfort them, is a real art. Amongst two testosterone fuelled young men and an awkward Time Lord, she is the personable link to the real world. A feisty lady who isn't going to be frightened to death by their foe, Polly gets seriously angry when the alien tries it's party trick on her. She's smart too, managing to escape its clutches and survive against the odds.

Yahoos: Whilst there might have been some underlying tension between Michael Craze and Frazer Hines that manifested itself on screen at times during the early Troughton era (the scene where they brawl in The Moonbase feels bourne of real feelings to me), I always had the sense that a bromance could emerge between these two characters if the writers had wanted to explore that. Or maybe that is just wishful thinking on my part. There were moments during The Forsaken where I felt a brotherly association between the two, a laddish connection. I would love to see that explored some more because it would be a really fresh approach to both characters. He's not a tactical genius but he knows how to set up an early warning system with pots and least in order to ensnare the Doctor!

Standout Performance: I'm truly on the fence when it comes to recasting but not because I object to the idea, more because Big Finish already have an ideal way to cover for the missing actors (the companion chronicles) in a format that I really miss. But even I have to admit they have gotten it spot on with Elliot Chapman as Ben. Chapman sounds really authentic; chrirpy, charming, cocky and moody. All the things that Ben brought to the series. And adding a real cockney accent to this foursome makes the stories themselves sound more genuine.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'If you're fighting for a better world then you need people to live in it.'

Great Ideas: When a character states that there are worse places to be stuck waiting for evacuation than Singapore during this period, he clearly isn't too aware of the tidal wave approaching the country. Jimmy Jackson is Ben's father. He's come face to face with his father nine months before he was born. If he isn't careful, he could change things for himself in a pretty permanent way. Richards manages to brew up a familiar base under siege environment thanks to the appearance of a roomful of bodies. Who is responsible and are they still among us? An alien creature that feeds on fear, that can generate it and use it to its advantage. That's simultaneously a terrifying prospect and an awesome natural protection.  Killing some of them makes the survivors even more afraid. It drains its victims of terror, devours it, killing them outright. Another survival technique, a shape shifting ability. Not just the killer among us but the killer is one of us. The Doctor thought the Forsaken were a legend. They land somewhere off the beaten track where they don't attract attention to themselves. The Doctor realises that whilst the Forsaken are relishing in the death of others, they are terrified of their own end.

Audio Landscape: Birdsong, seagulls which feel so evocative to me living on the South Coast and being woken up by the buggers every morning, planes roaring overhead, rasping breathing, creatures whistling and screaming in the jungle, heavy breathing, a squeaking door, gunshots.

Musical Cues: The music was instantly memorable; instrumental, chilling and exotic. After a time it becomes a little familiar but that doesn't take away from the fact that it is beautifully composed.

Isn't it Odd: How very bizarre to flaunt the concept of Ben having to protect the life of his father in order to preserve his life and then do so little with it. It's not an original idea but I was at least expecting some touching moments between Ben and his father and some kind of complications to the story that might suggest that Ben might pop out of existence. Otherwise why bring the idea up in the first place?

Result: 'It's only a matter of time...' I have been doing volunteer work with various organisation for the past five years. One of those was Age Concern Eastbourne and in their befriending programme I found myself in the company of a fascinating man called Jack who was a Japanese prisoner of war in Singapore in the Second World War. If I had a strong reaction to this tale it is because Jack recounted in some detail the horrors that he suffered during that period, even giving me his autobiography to read. It is a rich and emotional historical furrow for Doctor Who to mine. It was a genuinely horrific time and to set a Troughton adventure during that period is quite a brave affair - his era was far more interested in entertaining than educating and this is the kind of raw reminder of human history that was contained to the Hartnell era. Whilst this story doesn't go into graphic detail about the atrocities that occurred (it is still Doctor Who after all), I listened on edge in a way that somebody who hasn't experienced the torture of the experience through another might not. Richards does something surprising with the regulars, he keeps them together for a great deal of the story. That impressed me because it must be much more tempting to split them up and handle their own thread in the story. It reminds me of just how engaging this foursome are. Lisa Bowerman is such a strong director with acres of experience at bringing historical adventures to life (Jago & Litefoot) and this had a touch of one of my favourite audios stories about it, A Thousand Tiny Wings (also directed by Bowerman). There is an air of disquiet to the story, a feeling that the enemy could set upon the characters at any minute. That enemy turned out to be a science fiction concept rather than an historical one but it was a creepy, if derivative, threat all the same. I enjoyed the shorter episodes too, very in keeping with the Troughton era. The atmospherics and character compensate for the fact that the story is actually rather thin and barely justifies half the length. But this is hardly the only story from 60s and 70s Who that commits this crime and the realisation and strong cast truly pick up the slack. The whole dilemma of Ben's father being present is bafflingly ignored...I'm not entirely sure why it was included given it's irrelevance to the story. A shame as whilst this is a strong story for Ben anyway (Elliot Chapman is superb), it could have been a lot more personal. But I wont quibble because if you compare this to Richards other recent contribution (The Wave of Destruction) The Forsaken is loaded with riches. I listened to this story on a Sunday afternoon and it feels like the perfect time to enjoy an atmospheric and enjoyable slice of Who: 7/10

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Ranking the McCoy era in order...

1) Ghost Light - The classic eras last gasp is one of its best

2) The Greatest Show in the Galaxy - Fantastic production value, gloriously entertaining

3) Remembrance of the Daleks - Proof that late 80s Who could still surprise

4) Delta and the Bannermen - No I'm not insane

5) Time and the Rani - It's atrocious but I can't help but LOVE it because of it

6) The Curse of Fenric - Very good, but the plotting is horrendous

7) Survival - Sensual and attention grabbing characterisation

8) Paradise Towers - An innovative script realised as a pantomime

9) The Happiness Patrol - Excellent moments rubbing shoulders with humiliating ones

10) Dragonfire - More dreadful panto with some fine performances

11) Battlefield - Exactly what the show needed to be doing, realised in just about the worst possible way

12) Silver Nemesis - Practically the nadir of classic Who, it's just the pits

The Waters of Amsterdam written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Jamie Anderson

What's it about: Reunited with the Doctor and Nyssa, Tegan joins them on a trip to Amsterdam's Rijkmuseum to see a new exhibition of the work of Rembrandt van Rijn, featuring his drawings of “Vessels of the Stars”. The Doctor is astonished to discover that they are designs for spaceships that would actually work, and decides to pop back to the Dutch Golden Age for a quiet word with Rembrandt – but the world-weary artist is no mood to help. Meanwhile, strange forces are swirling in the canals, creatures from ancient myth, the watery, goblin-like Nix. What is their connection to the mysterious Countess Mach-Teldak – and to the events of Tegan’s life during her year away from the Doctor?

An English Gentleman: Peter Davison sounds massively energised by this script, giving the sort of performance he used to in the first 100 releases of the main range. He's quite the art critic, understanding the work of the Masters and bestowing his knowledge on Nyssa and Tegan. The Doctor knows the feeling of finding it hard to please Tegan. He thinks some people are only happy when they have something to complain about. He's not above helping out aliens on a mission on Earth as long as it doesn't harm the indigenous populace.
Alien Orphan: I really enjoy the close relationship between Tegan and Nyssa, it is a sisterly bond that wasn't explored nearly as much as it could have been on TV. Nyssa is written superbly throughout, Morris has a way of keeping her entirely in character and roughing out her four squares edges a bit. She feels much more real, less of an automaton. The scene she shares with Rembrandt in the third episode is beautifully written to capture both characters at their height, it's not a moment that adds much to the plot but it adds some real texture to the story. That's what Nyssa brings here. She isn't essential but she adds texture.

Mouth on Legs: Tegan meets her ex boyfriend in Amsterdam. Doesn't that sound like a ghastly premise for a story? Remember when Turlough caught up with his ex squeeze in Kiss of Death and it turned into some ghastly Mills and Boon adventure with added clones. For some people being on the other side of the planet isn't enough, Tegan says very pointedly to Kyle. Tegan wasn't ready for a proposal or that kind of commitment. She doesn't love him, se was never that invested in the relationship and certainly not in the same way he was. The Arc of Infinity was a tough story on Tegan when you look at it objectively; her cousin brainwashed, trapped in the Matrix, taken over and tortured. Following that up with a reunion with somebody she would rather forget adds up to a fairly turbulent time emotionally. If there was ever a time she would be a little sensitive and groggy justifiably, this is it. It's fantastic to get some information about Tegan's time between being left by the Doctor at the end of season 19 and being picked up by him again in season 20. Such an obvious idea I'm surprised nobody had thought to do it before. She took up her job for Air Australia and met Kyle on one of her inaugural flights and lost her job because of a particularly obstructive passenger with no patience and a lot of influence. All of this material continues to humanise Tegan in a way unique to audio, fleshing out her character in a fashion that would have been extremely useful on television. Only Tegan could possibly split up with somebody because they are too nice, too perfect. It seems perfectly in character for her to desire a few rough edges because it compliments her. Tegan takes exception to being called English. Kyle modelled himself into the perfect man for Tegan...just to get a ride in the TARDIS. The whole of their relationship was based on a lie, on both of their parts. Tegan is genuinely bereft at the death of Nyssa, suggesting a very deep connection between the to of them. She calls her her best friend.

Standout Performance: Richard James' grumpy, I just got out of the wrong side of the bed turn as Rembrandt. I love how, despite his best efforts to charm the man, he isn't seduced by the Doctor's love of his work and he maintains and air of 'can't be arsed with this nonsense' throughout that really charmed me. This is generally an ensemble effort though and there are no weak links. Even the water creatures are played with absolute relish. Top marks to Tim Delap for taking hold of Kyle with both hands and playing him for real.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'I doubt Tegan would be pleased to find out that her former boyfriend was an alien...' - yes the story actually went there. Although her reaction to such a shock would be worth the admission price alone. The truth about what Kyle really is works even better and Janet Fielding's reaction is a scream.
'Love has an inconvenient habit of overcoming hate.'

Great Ideas: Sometimes you get the feeling of desperation when Big Finish try and squeeze a multitude of stories in a gap between televised stories that probably shouldn't exist. Whilst I found the run of stories for Erimem justified their existence by being (generally speaking) very good, there really wasn't the space between Planet of Fire and The Caves of Androzani to tell them and for what we saw on TV to make sense. In this case however, telling a story after the events of Arc of Infinity where the story left the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa in Amsterdam makes perfect sense. It doesn't contradict a thing and actually adds a pleasing coda to what is a humdrum televised story. The thought of Nyssa and Tegan escaping from water creatures on bikes, trying to avoid riding into the canal, is hilarious. Tegan even gives her a quick lesson before they get on board. Why is Rembrandt drawing spaceships? Luckily the Doctor can pop back and find out why. The Countess Mcteldack, first born of the Imperial Dynasty and rightful heir to the Voraxi throne. Driven from her home by the Nix, her ship damaged and crash landing on the Earth. When their planet was besieged by the Nix the android Kyle XXII helped the countess to escape and when her ship was damaged he helped her to beam to Earth. He hired Rembrandt to design a spaceship whilst the Countess convinced the Mayor to construct it. The Countess instructed Kyle to search the globe for other extraterrestrial visitors (you've seen the show, there are always a couple knocking about in every period of Earth's history) and he walked the planet for three centuries...where he eventually found Tegan. The Countess left instructions in order to accelerate the human races technological development. In the future, Rembrandt's drawings are brought to life, the whole course of history perverted. An entire fleet in orbit ready to colonise other worlds, ready to voyage to the Nix homeworld and take their revenge on them. Kyle has the option of being reprogrammed and having his love for Tegan removed but chooses not to. Fool.

Audio Landscape: A wonderful Earthbound atmosphere in Amsterdam, the tram system, coffee machines burbling, people milling about on the streets, the water creatures rushing towards you, the TARDIS responding to the Doctor's touch, tavern atmosphere, crackling flames, rain pattering on wood, the technological vision of a future Amsterdam.

Isn't it Odd: I don't think it came to any great surprise to anybody when the domestic and narrative elements of this story were tied together. Otherwise you would have two disparate threads - Tegan's ex and the water creatures - vying for attention but failing to compliment one another. So when Kyle turned out to have an involvement in the science fiction elements it felt like a natural tying of knots. It's plausible enough that Tegan would be the one time traveller that Kyle would hook up with...but it is a little contrived as presented. Are you saying there was no other time travellers present in the intervening years, I think we know that isn't true. It's hilarious that the two times a man has fallen for Tegan in the series that one of them was a empty ethereal being in love with his grouchiness and the other is an emotionless android. She sure knows how to attract them. You how when you are watching an Agatha Christie story that you want to take a guess at who the killer is before it is revealed but you don't want everybody to think that you lied after the reveal so you write down the name on a piece of paper? Well I'm approaching the end of episode three and I haven't been spoilt at all about this story but I am telling you right here and now that the Countess isn't all that she seems to be and that the Doctor taking her away from the Earth is going to have dramatic consequences. Everything feels a little too...easy. Oh, I was right. To stage a cliffhanger around Nyssa's death which would undo so many adventures given we have experienced a whole wave of older Nyssa stories was perhaps a little pointless. In the ranks of water based monsters, the Nix are seriously well realised but not very substantial. The Flood from Waters of Mars were similarly ambiguous but had more of an impact for me (simply because the story was more intense).

Standout Scene: Episode One. cast your eyes downwards.

Result: Episode one of The Waters of Amsterdam is deliriously entertaining...and I had trouble pinpointing why. Not because its strengths weren't apparent but because it didn't feel that different from the norm. It mostly dealt with the romantic entanglements of one Tegan Jovanka which if you told me that that was what this story was about I probably would have held off from listening, despite the author. But the dialogue was so bouncy it shot off into the stratosphere, the performances were lively and the direction from newcomer Jamie Anderson had a really fresh sheen. I've been saying for years that Big Finish need to increase their director pool and this seems like the perfect demonstration as to why that is the case. The main range feels like it has had a spring clean for 2016. Morris once again manages to out timey-wimey Moffat by setting the story in three times zones; Amsterdam of the present, past and future and thus manages to paint a detailed picture of the city across many centuries. He sprinkles the story with a wealth of enjoyable dialogue scenes, always remembering to keep the characters at the heart of the story rather than the story at the heart of the characters (Moffat's recurring mistake). Tegan gets to be centre of attention, a position that both the character and the actress who plays her love and as a result they both shine in a way that they haven't on audio in some time. I never thought I would be elevating Tegan as the highlight of a story packed full of fun ingredients but here we are. Miracles happen when Jonny Morris is holding the pen. Kyle is what elevates this above a standard Doctor Who playaround with time (yes something this complex has become the norm for Doctor Who in the last five years), the touching story of the mechanical man with feelings. If it sounds twee then I'm describing it wrong because Morris takes a potentially ropey character and imbues him with real feeling. And given he isn't entirely human that is quite an achievement. Amsterdam wont top any polls for innovation but it is extremely well crafted and the direction by newcomer Jamie Anderson is standout. I reviewed this story in chunks over two very turbulent days of travelling and jet lag and it was the highlight of both days: 8/10