Thursday, 30 September 2010

Title Censored

They sit in silence. Doc Oho (the real name of the reviewer has been hidden behind this pseudonym to protect his identity now he has been mind wiped and integrated back into society) twitches nervously.
‘I have read your comments’ says the creator.
‘It’s just an opinion!’
‘A what?’
‘I-I’m sorry.’
‘Opinions are forbidden. They are deleted from the public forum to ensure happiness.’
‘I know! I just – what’s wrong with having your say? We are the consumers. We are entitled to judge.’
‘You have no rights, no freedom, no reason to question our broadcasts. You are nobody. Happiness through acceptance.’
‘Acceptance through productivity, I know the creed!’
‘And yet you deliberately flout it! Your anti Divergent Universe dogma has been followed for some time, your voice has been heard, spreading like an infection throughout the electronic world.’
‘It was supposed to be for fun!’
‘Well then, lets have some fun…’

(Please they’re coming for me! They’re coming for you next! Make sure this review gets out there – let people read it and form their own opinions. Don’t let them prevent your opinion from spreading!)

‘You state that [LEAD ACTORS NAME CENSORED TO PROTECT HIS INTEGRITY] and [SUPPORTING ACTOR AND ACTRESS’ NAMES PROTECTED] have been giving poor performances –‘
‘Don’t put words into my mouth. I think they gave their best performances for ages in this story. What I said was they seemed to relish playing new characters because the characters they usually play have evolved into unlikable ciphers that even they don’t seem to enjoy.’
‘In your opinion.’
‘A spineless murdering priest? A lovesick baby? A Lord of Time castrated, weak willed and selfish! What would you call it?’
‘Innovative. Button pushing. Groundbreaking.’
‘Patience straining! Borderm inducing! But this is all besides the point, the regular performers are all stunning here, dramatic, powerful, unforgettable. This is the best they would be for a long time!’
‘Enough!! So you found [ANNIVERSARY STORY TITLE EXCISED] took the characters and the series in a direction you didn’t enjoy –‘
‘We’ve already covered that story, I thought we were here to talk about [AUTHORS NAME CENSORED] latest output.’
‘I see here you say that the author has created, and I quote, ‘One of the most vivid and terrifying alien worlds the series has presented.’ Explain.’
‘Its all in the details and that is this particular authors greatest strength. He manages to build worlds with ideas, shape cities with concepts, bring alive people with their beliefs. It’s a particularly good example in this story but you see it a lot in his [NONIDENTICAL MEDIA REFERENCE REMOVED TO PRVENT ADVERTISING OF OTHER SOURCES] too. Look at Light City. The Conscience. The Editor. Infotainment. Breakfast cubes. Mind wipes. The Restoration Group. He constructs images effortlessly through the mantras spoken by the people of this Interzone ‘Happiness through acceptance, productivity through happiness. Questions lead to answers lead to knowledge lead to freedom lead to dissatisfaction lead to unhappiness. Words equals thought equals understanding equals empathy. Patterns forming habits, habits predicting behaviour. Its a devilishly clever of bringing the nature of this world into the open.’
‘And this is all down to the [TITLE CHARACTER’S NAME CENSORED] infection of questions?’
‘Yes, as the story unfolds we can see dramatically what effect his visit has had on this newborn society.’
‘I see you questioned why the regulars were seen to behave so out of character when they were already undergoing something of an identity crisis in the more, shall we say, traditional stories.’
‘It’s a good point.’
‘What gives you the right to question that? A hack scribbler deconstructing other peoples work because you don’t have the imagination or the talent to create anything yourself! Reviewing other peoples work because you cannot bear the rejection of producing something that would come under the same scrutiny.’
‘Ironic that you should question reviewing data when we are talking about a story that deals with edited content, the overlapping of truths, the mask of one character slipping to reveal someone else underneath.’
‘Don’t avoid the question.’
‘I’m not. This story presents a Russian Doll civilisation built on controlled ideas, restrained imagination and lies layered with verisimilitude. It presents a planet constructed of fiction. A fiction that is reviewed and criticised for its limited scope and imagination. Don’t criticise me for doing the same thing, asking questions, probing ideas, looking for the truth under layers of deception.’

(Let the dialogue of this story be known for its subversive strength!
‘I do this in the name of love!’
‘There are lost episodes of course. Stories that were commissioned but never made. Or made but misfiled, post broadcast. Sheer incompetence, of course.’
‘Someone, somewhere has had an idea…’
‘You can no long be…’
‘Maybe the writers are getting lazy. Re-using the same ideas. Lazy workers make poor product!’
‘And so the revolution begins…’
‘I will stop the Doctor! And I will kill anyone who tries to stop me!’)


‘So you think it is acceptable to praise the writing of this story and yet doctor the rest of the year with disapproval?’
‘Look at the ideas involved: New programming, specially commissioned works to introduce major changes to the social and psychological structure of the general populace. Adhering to the law of compliance. Making changes, decisions described as giving birth to the future. Choices made from a list supplied. The broadcasts being real memories, stolen and edited and used to control. Thought crimes described as deviant, sick behaviour. A caged truth buried under the lies. A society of stupid people, recorded and analysed, asleep and unthinking. A fugue mind. A social experimentation, a plague of questions. Shaping the infant consciousness of an emergent species. The excellent twist that could only be achieved on audio of disguising how many [PLOT TWIST HIDDEN] the populace have! Can you see this level of invention anywhere else in this unintelligible arc?’
‘Stop there. You only compound your crimes by elaborating on them.’
‘Like the Editor, testing his people in various underhanded ways to get to truth. His willingness to dupe the conscience into believing he is [PLOT TWIST HIDDEN] in order to discover the whereabouts of [NARRATIVE PROTECTED]. By pretending to be a criminal he becomes one.’
‘Your guilt has been established. What I want now are the names of your confederates.’
‘Fat chance.’

(As well as writing this story, Mijeromitmore (anagram – in case these thoughts are discovered – handles the design work as well. It’s exceptional. The creepy spinning top that recurs throughout. The crackling, fading, edited theme tune and the harsh, militaristic alternative on the broadcasts. The Voice of Light City is cheerful, instructive. There are hypnotic brainwashing sequences. The story is edited harshly to prove that our story, as the listening, is being controlled as well. There is a suicidal leap and a splat landing. Jack boots march on the streets. The echoey street ways suggest an Orwellian atmosphere. The creepy page flicking as the Editor erases her mind. The noise drilling in your ear as the Doctor’s arrival is recalled, getting slowly louder. Water flowing. A terrorist explosion. Killing and eating the rat. The surreal ending ‘whywhywhyWHYWHYWHY?’)

‘Can I ask a question?’
‘Of course since you will never remember asking it.’
‘Why are did you come after me for the one story I enjoyed?’
‘Its all or nothing. We know you will try and have your say regardless of the treatment. That you will find a way. We will hunt down every one of your cohorts until the public accepts, enjoys, does not criticise. We know you have been sending out fragments of a review during this interview and at the same time we have been reading your mind. We’ve found a list of names in your memory, hidden behind ridiculous pseudonyms. Styre, Jesse 77, Drew Vogel, Anubis, Dorney, Hare Krishna, and dozens more. Further recruits in your subversive moment. Once we’re finished with you we will be coming for them. Take him away to be processed. Bring the next one in.’

(Welcome to Big Finish Productions. My name is Joe. May I take your order please? What’s that? The Natural History of Fear? What an excellent choice sir, I give that story 10/10)

All events in this report are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

EDITED FOR PUBLIC CONSUMPTION

Buy it from Big Finish. Now. It'll show how things really are: http://www.bigfinish.com/54-Doctor-Who-The-Natural-History-of-Fear

  
Artwork by Simon Hodges @ http://hisi79.deviantart.com/

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The Creed of the Kromon written by Philip Martin and directed by Gary Russell


What’s it about: The Interzone is a fearsome nether-world protecting a zone ruled by the Kromon. Theirs is an arid land of dust and dying trees. Across the landscape are spheres that look like giant anthills. The Doctor believes that within one of these structures lie the clues that will lead him to his lost TARDIS. The spheres are ruled by the insect-like Kromon who covet the TARDIS. When Charley is captured she is forced to metamorphosise into a hybrid-insect Queen and so to save her, the Doctor must barter his knowledge of space-travel technology, all the while knowing that he risks opening up all the realms of space to a rapacious race whose creed is not to create, only to plunder.

Breathless Romantic: I don’t understand. Zagreus bred a new offensively self-pitying eighth Doctor and Scherzo nurtured the character to the point where he was practically enjoying frightening Charley and drowning in his own angst. Paul McGann played the character to the hilt, growling and spitting his dialogue with rare fire. So colour me confused when we walk into the Interzone with the Doctor and Charley and suddenly he’s amiable, bouncy, excited to explore a new universe. Did I miss a story in between where he got his sense of adventure back? This beats the previous record for the Doctor unbelievably changing his entire personality between stories (Dragonfire-Remembrance but at least there was a season break) and it strikes me as symptomatic of the ill thought out Divergent universe arc in general. Besides this eye opening change the characterisation of the Doctor is pretty beige with the usual observations made, he’s loyal to his friends, discussing the TARDIS, etc. You would think in a story with as little incident as this one there would be some room for decent characterisation.

Edwardian Adventuress: I hate being so pessimistic about Charley because I think India Fisher is a good actress and plays her well (for the most part) but unfortunately she cannot control the material she is given and her shocking misuse and abuse in this story continues the character degeneration that started in Zagreus. What does she do of consequence that Peri didn’t do better in Vengeance on Varos in a tenth of the time and with far more drama? We learn that she is terrified of insects, she has rebellious tendencies and her potential death on R101 scares her. Blinding revelations there. The Doctor says the odd bit of intellect must have rubbed off on her. She is the first prisoner to have ever asked for an execution on Utermesis.

Chameleonic Rogue: I’ll let you read about C’rizz below. Needless to say the only thing I want to say here is that he joins.

Great Ideas (hmm lets not go that far): The planet the Doctor and Charley are on is made up of Interzones and they are protected by the Interzone Guardians, the Kro’ka. They use mind games in order to turn people away. When the Doctor and Charley head into Utermesis he comments that the experiment is underway. The Kromon are giant isoptra, termites! They overcame their oppressors and adopted their strategies, domineering over Utermesis and dividing them into castes, management, food production and research workshops. You are either put to work or turned into fertiliser. Workers half digest the Kromon food before it is delivered to the officers. They are attempting to create a sub species of Kromon. C’rizz is tied to a water wheel and forced to submerge and re-emerge over and over, that’s about as exciting as it gets.

Standout Performance: The regulars are shocking but the supporting artists were pretty good. Stephen Perring clearly relishes playing the Kro’ka and he verges between sinister and playful and the actors playing the Kromon inject some nice humour into their bland, lifeless characters.

Audio Landscape: David Darlington does his usual sterling job with the sound design providing a plethora of realistic sound effects. Insects attack the Doctor and Charley and threaten to eat them alive. The Kro’ka voice is silky and creepy. We once again get to experience the R-101 crashing into flames (I’m starting to wonder if I was actually there in the 1930’s!). The planet is a windswept plain, dusty and pebble strewn. The Doctor and Charley splash about in a stream helping C’rizz to drink. The Oroog sounds like dribbling fat talking! We get to hear C’rizz being sick! The Kromon sucks water from their aqueducts noisily and eat hungrily and belch heartily! Lyda’s dying scream woke me up for a second. Goo bubbles excitedly. The chittering larvae controlled by Charley are quite creepy.

Isn’t it Odd: Phew! Here goes…
· ‘I dun ‘ave no education me guv!’ – is there a script editor…or a director more to the point? This should have been cut.
· The pace is so languid and slothful you may very well slip into a coma before the end of the story. Nothing happens! Literally two and a half episodes past with nothing but dialogue scenes, there is not one iota of action at all. If the dialogue was worth listening to that might not be so bad…
· The oddest thing about this story is how it is presented more as a documentary than a drama. We walk into Utermesis and meet the Kromon and explore their science, politics, food production, religion an economy which is just as dreary as it sounds. Martin tries to make this culture as alien as possible but all of the characters sound like humourless politicians so what little imagination there is is undone.
· All the worst parts of Varos and Mindwarp pop up as though there is no other way Martin can tell a story. So we have dull discussion about how the TARDIS works, pointless chatter between the alien characters (Sil and Kiv) and the companion turned into something grotesque. Varos worked for its biting satire and Mindwarp worked because it was deliciously dark and twisted – Cromon surgically stitches together their weakest elements and adds nothing new to the mix.
· There is more technobabble in this story than a conference attended by Geordie La Forge, Miles O’Brien and B’lanna Torres.
· C’rizz joins. By all accounts Conrad Westmaas is a lovely bloke and a decent actor so why Big Finish should punish him by saddling him with such a dreadful character leaves me in a quandary as to what he could have done to upset them. C’rizz is a charmless, whining, murdering sulker; I cannot imagine anybody wanting to spend time with this guy. Firstly he kills his missus to stop her from becoming the incubator for a new species of Kromon (a dramatic decision to be followed up later, d’you see?) but then he endlessly rants on about having to murder Charley until you would actually turn round and murder him just to shut up. He is so obviously unbalanced and homicidal Charley must be an extremely bad judge of character to get so close to him! Even worse than C’rizz’s murder attempts is how little I cared if he actually did kill Charley. What purpose does her character serve now? She wouldn’t find a reason to be in the series again until she jumps ship and shacks up with Sixie and that’s a long way away.

Result: Possibly the dullest Doctor Who story ever produced with very little in the way of drama, spectacle, imagination or even a narrative. The best scene by a million miles is the first one, which just shows you how exciting this story gets. The Kromon failed to grab me in any way, squeaky voiced politicians giving us no reason to care what happens to them, least of all have to study their tedious culture. The Doctor and Charley are one-dimensional non-entities and McGann and Fisher seem to have given up even trying to care and new boy C’rizz has perhaps the worst companion introduction, failing to be either interesting or sympathetic. A dreary, talky, benumbing experience, The Creed of the Kromon grinds the Divergent Universe arc to a halt and exposes just how moribund this period of the eighth Doctor’s life is: 2/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/53-Doctor-Who-The-Creed-of-the-Kromon

Monday, 27 September 2010

Scherzo written by Rob Shearman and directed by Gary Russell


What’s it about: There were two friends, and together they travelled the cosmos. They thwarted tyrants and defeated monsters, they righted wrongs wherever they went. They explored the distant future and the distant past, new worlds and galaxies, places beyond imagining. But every good story has to come to an end... With no times or places left to explore, all the two friends have now are each other. But maybe that's one voyage too many. Maybe they'll discover things they'd rather have left undisturbed... hidden away in the suffocating, unfeeling, deafening brightness. Once upon a time. Far, far away.

Breathless Romantic: Big Finish has been responsible for some of the best character innovations Doctor Who has seen, giving the fifth Doctor a pair of daughters (Peri and Erimem), the sixth Doctor an older best friend (Evelyn) and the 7th Doctor a family (Ace and Hex) but who on Earth thought it was a good idea to take the eighth Doctor down this route? Zagreus jettisoned his adventurous spirit, his ties with the universe, his enthusiasm and joi de vivre and rather than rectifying the damage Scherzo accelerates this spiky, spineless, spiteful Doctor. He walked out of the our universe with a black cloud over his head, cursing and spitting the Time Lords and the decisions that he has had to make and we open this story with him cowering under the console hiding away pain, fear and death. In a way you have to admire the creators for sticking to their guns and pursuing this funereal suicidal angle to the character but when it makes him this unlikable you have to wonder about the wisdom of doing so. They tried something similar with the eighth Doctor in the novels when they snipped away his memory and trapped him on Earth for a century from the life he knew. The difference was that whilst that version of the Doctor could be bitter, angry and violent it was tempered with a burning intelligence, a craving for the supernatural and a genuine sense of wonder at the planet evolving around him. This Doctor is hurtful, self pitying and miserable and I can’t imagine anybody wanting to spend time with him, least of all Charley.

He doesn’t believe that Charley is Charley because she wouldn’t betray him by stepping into the Divergent Universe. His senses are being burnt, he is blinded by the lack of Time because he can’t taste or feel it. He is living his life as a human now with memories fading and with no connection to Time. Whose to say they wont have a better life in this universe? He willingly frightens Charley by suggesting that what she is breathing in is not oxygen but something poisonous. He tells her they are going to die in the universe and if that’s true he wants to do it alone because that’s the last decision he is going to make. I’d tell him to fuck off then. He’s frightened, more so than he has ever been in all of his lives. He doesn’t have anything to say to her. He is embarrassed by Charley’s admission of love for him and wants to get the conversation about their feelings over with as soon as possible. He doesn’t love her any more because he doesn’t have anything he can do with those feelings. Whatever urged him to say it in Neverland is dead. He needs a mission, an enemy to fight. He thought his only options in life were to be able to explore the universe or be dead and this divergent option appals him. He blames Charley for their predicament. The Time Lords had a theory for why he always had travelling companions; Memento Mori, a reminder of death. He sacrificed his life to save hers but if she has followed him into this land of death then what was that sacrifice for? He cannot forgive her for coming with him; she has made the choice redundant. Seeing her again means he has failed. He’s not sure if he wishes that he had never met her at all. See what I mean, what a barrel of laughs he is to be around. I’d turn back and live my life in the corridor of eternity rather than follow him into the universe of the Divergents.

Edwardian Adventurer: Comparing ranges can be great fun, especially if you are a nerd like me. And comparing Charley Pollard and Evelyn Smythe is quite rewarding as they have enjoyed similar development and one has shown how to handle this development well and the other has fudged it completely. Can you guess which is which? Both Charley and Evelyn have been offered second chance at life, both have admitted that they love the Doctor, both have given meaning to his life and both have reflected on the perils of travelling with him. Evelyn’s storyline is heartbreaking, her slow realisation that the universe is an ugly place and that the Doctor can’t always save everyone. Charley’s story was heartbreaking; the spoilt little girl who’s spared life pursued her until she could run no further. And whereas Evelyn’s feelings were explored delicately and given some closure in Arrangements of War poor Charley is trapped in the moment where she told the Doctor that she loved him as though she should be punished for it. I’m sick of hearing her tell him that she loves him, they’ve focussed on her death and her love until I have loved it to death but now I am exhausted by all the selfish discussion of her feelings and just want her to start having adventures again. Neverland, Zagreus and Scherzo take Charley down a route of unsympathetic self-examination and she bores me with her bitching and whining that he doesn’t feel the same way. It’s dull.

Charley and the Doctor give each other meaning. She doesn’t feel tired, hungry or thirsty, her senses are assaulted and blinded. She feels she owes him everything. It’s hard for her to say I love you (you wouldn’t think so the amount she lets it trip of her tongue). The Doctor makes her realise that she has lost her family and friends and she will never see any of them again. She will never fall in love, get married or have children. She asks why he saved her if she has made things so very bad for him. The Doctor describes her as the companion that was already dead, the ultimate Time Lord accessory. Charley admits she never would have gone on without him. Their love has killed each other. She has to give up who she is for the Doctor and become him. They are again willing to sacrifice themselves for each other – the true expression of love? Charley accepts that her old life is over and steps out onto an alien planet, lost in a new universe.

Great Ideas: Nothing exists outside the TARDIS door. There is no Time to be Lord of in the Divergent Universe and the TARDIS is redundant here. Blackness breaks through (this is reminiscent of the Doctor’s terrifying dreams in City of the Dead). The console room is all that is left of the TARDIS and even that is being eaten away. They step outside and are assaulted by a sudden brightness that leaves them blind, their eyes not equipped to see this universe. Charley swears she can smell pudding but there are no smells, their senses are filling in the gaps where there is nothing. Time has no meaning, they haven’t spoken in 32 hours and Charley perceives it as half an hour! Something is keeping them alive. The sound creature doesn’t respond to words but the meaning behind them. The only thing they have left is sound and it is being used against them. As the Doctor and Charley keep discovering the corpse it keeps evolving and hunger taking over they begin feeding on its flesh. Each time it evolves it becomes it becomes a little more palatable until they realise it is evolving into a copy of Charley. She’s been eating herself. They created the sound creature and they, and it, are evolving together. When the Doctor and Charley start melting until each other, sharing their senses, they can see properly. They have been slowly breast feeding the creature sound and the Doctor wants to glut it so he has Charley slash his throat and expose his vocal chords. The deeply surreal dreamscapes at least make sense this time – Charley as a mother and the Doctor as a father and their child, the sound creature, attempting to kill them. Evolution or extinction.

Audio Landscape: Very impressive. The sound effects in this story are deeply disturbing; the engineers succeed in creating a genuinely frightening alien environment. The sizzling blackness consumes the TARDIS. There is a whirring hum as they step out into a new universe. The TARDIS fades away. The Doctor and Charley’s dialogue is distorted and echoed back at them, subtly. There is an assault on the aural senses when the creature screams helphelphelphelp pleeeeeaaasssssseeee. The creatures their own words against them in a surreal attack, constructing a sentence out of their inflections rather than their dialogue. The TARDIS engines singing Friar O Jacques is delightfully barmy. Breathing and heartbeats, the Doctor and Charley make noises even when they try not to. The assault of music at the end of episode three is shocking because of the absence of music throughout. Experience the most disgusting kiss sound effect ever. Charley screams into the darkness. Birdsong greets Charley in her dreamscape and it is jarring to hear such a normal sound. The dying screams of the sound creature and its pleading for its life. Together the Doctor and Charley step into the windswept surface of a new planet.

Musical Cues: The lack of music in the main story is compensated by a great storytelling score during the Musical King segments. I especially liked the music during the scene where the music tore through the kingdom and killed everybody once released. If there is anything that the story teaches it is that there is music in all sounds and the sounds of Scherzo create an innovative, discordant score.


Isn’t it Odd: That both the Doctor and Charley are so irritating these days. I want the cute do gooders from Storm Warning back, not this pair of impostors.

Result: How can you sum up Scherzo with any degree of eloquence? It defies all the standard rules of examination. A two hander between the Doctor and Charley set entirely in a corridor at the edge of a new universe. Even as I write that sentence I wonder how the creators thought even Rob Shearman could make something of that pitch. That the story of Scherzo is so fascinating and unsettling rockets the talents Shearman and the guys at ERS who assembled this piece. The sound creature is a thrilling new life form and its slow evolution and dependence on inflection and meaning provides some wonderful moments. As an audio experience this as experimental and art house as they come, defying all the rules of storytelling and atmospherics. What a shame then that our only two visitors to this strange and disquieting universe are the eighth Doctor and Charley, decadently self-piteous and unsympathetic. Adding C’rizz to this mix chills me to the bone. This story deserves more points for its willingness to take astonishing risks and win but the range is being poisoned by its regulars. I would very much like to have experienced the story of the King who banishe dmusic as well, its really rather good: 7/10



Artwork by Simon Hodges @ http://hisi79.deviantart.com/
 

Sunday, 26 September 2010

The Wormery written by Paul Magrs and Stephen Cole and directed by Gary Russell


What’s it about: There's one place in creation where the truth really can be found in the bottom of a glass: Bianca's, a very special and very exclusive little club. The Doctor, careworn and seeking quiet distraction, gains admission. But his rest and relaxation is soon shattered by the wobbly arrival of louche trans-temporal adventuress Iris Wildthyme. She claims she's on a secret mission of vital importance, the success of which hinges on her getting paralytic. When she's drunk, she can hear the whispering voices in her head! The Doctor soon learns that Bianca's airs and graces cover not just one malevolent power lurking in the shadows, but several. And a wriggling, writhing presence has designs on the clientele ­ just as Bianca herself has designs on the Doctor. At last, after so many centuries, the weary Time Lord is dragged by the heels into that darkest of undiscovered countries - love.

Softer Six: Definitely in this one. Why is it that the sixth Doctor gets all the best characterisation in these audios? When you go back and look at Jubilee, Pirates, Twilight and the like there has been some serious development of his character not afforded to the others? Perhaps it is because the sixth Doctor never had a chance to develop properly on the telly, there was the blink and you’ll miss it leap from the psychotic I’m-going-to-murder-Peri Doctor from Mindwarp and then the cuddly I’m-everybody’s-favourite-Uncle from Vervoids but with only six episodes to test out his new persona it was hardly an unqualified success. Compared to Davison’s wet vet who went from bland adventurer in season 20 to moral crusader in season 21 and was afforded the luxury of a years worth of stories that pushed his morality to the limit and McCoy who (almost as suddenly and jarringly as Baker) hopped from goofy clown ball to master manipulator in the gaps between seasons 24 and 25. Both Davison and McCoy had the time to nurture their new personas. This is our chance to see how the sixth Doctor developed.

The Wormery features my favourite development and characterisation of the sixth Doctor yet because it reveals how the events of the Trial would have hit home and caused the Doctor to lose some of that adventurous spirit. This is the ideal bridging point between the Trial season and the introduction of Evelyn in The Marian Conspiracy where the Doctor rediscovers his zest for life through the eyes of his new best friend. This interim stage, where the sixth Doctor gets to be moody and placid and gentle, is a very revealing new side to his character and a very welcome one. Throughout you are tempted to jump in and give him a big cuddle, Iris style and I can’t say I have ever felt that way about Sixie before – its been more get out of the way before you get slaughtered accidentally by his homicidal schemes! What’s more his chemistry with Iris is superb in this story, so much so I was half hoping she would continue to travel with him (or he would continue to travel with her!) and they could hit the space ways, the ultimate married couple! Lets have a trio of adventures starring these two!

He is introduced to the story using his sonic screwdriver as a cigarette lighter! He’s a deep man, a thinker. When he feels despondent he tosses himself into a really good brand new adventure (with lots of shouting and fighting of course!). He is secretly appalled that Iris doesn’t fancy him in this incarnation, however much he objects to the contrary. He calls his Trial a fix; a swizz and the Time Lords are still after him. The Doctor came to Bianca’s seeking a diversion and hoping not to make a dramatic entrance (he really has changed in that case). Apparently he wears his ‘costume’ to irritate close-minded men like Henry. There is a fabulous strop in the second episode where he rants like never before: ‘I most ignorant and unhelpful fellow!’ Iris has turned up all though his lives and in all the wrong places. He hasn’t quite lost his bad puns ability (which of course would be picked up with gusto in the seventh Doctor’s first year on the job), he’s not the police but he is arresting (groan). He goes racing from one thing to another to distract himself. He’s externalised all his demons in the form of militaristic Cyborgs, hell-bent dictators, lunatic computers, lizard men and Yeti! He’s still bitter about his Trial and wonders why nobody seems to be grateful for his help anymore. He’s very tired. Once he suggested that he and Iris team up in Venice after Jo had left him but she took it as a marriage proposal! He’s a loner and can’t ever see himself settling down. Things take a turn for the unexpected when he starts being bewitched by Bianca and falling under her thrall. He is described as a domineering buffoon! He’s been looking in the wrong places since he could crawl. He refutes Bianca’s slur on his character, he doesn’t judge people he judges their pain, their oppression and he tries to help. It takes a lot for him to trust. He hasn’t felt the familiarity Bianca impresses on him since the end of his Trial with the Valeyard. I adored his appalled, plagiarising reaction to Iris’ dark side coming back to haunt her (‘At least my dark side had a sense of style!’). He has found himself looking back, wondering if he has change so much over the centuries and when the turning point will be where his fate is sealed and he is destined to become the Valeyard. Iris takes back her earlier statements and says he’s dead cuddly! A girl after his own hearts is one that doesn’t ask questions and lets him get on with it! Evelyn’s coming Doc – fat chance!

Transtemporial Adventuress: Absolutely Iris’ best audio adventure and the one that exposes her true potential. Anybody who thinks Iris is just a one-dimensional continuity shattering hysterical old drunk could be in for a few surprises. I have always loved Iris for her carefree, disarming, hilarious style of adventuring and how she attacks everything with such glorious gusto. She has a lust for life that is infectious. Like her companion the Doctor (and she would not think it any other way) the Wormery affords her the chance to blossom out of that screaming harridan and display some real emotion. Scatterbrained, inebriated, madly psychotically in love, yes but she’s also sensitive, thoughtful and desperately lonely. I wanted to give her a big cuddle too.

‘A bad name! Oo ‘ow dare you!’ Described as carebourne, bedraggled, a wee patter of glamour in her complexion and bursting into the story drunk and held up by a lot of soldiers. She describes herself as trans temporial adventuress extraordinaire and a traveller from beyond all known time and space! 1930’s Berlin happens to be her one of her favourite spots. She’s always drunk. She doesn’t fancy the sixth Doctor all that mush, all the others she’d be off in a shot with them and she offers him condolences (‘Better luck next time’). Iris has erased herself from Time Lord history. As ever she is in no state to discuss epistemological quandaries! Las Vegas was the home over her cabaret act (Mad Dogs and Englishmen?). Iris has a fierce love for the Doctor and he has rebuffed her again and again. Bianca’s nightclub feels homely and familiar to her. In trying to figure out what the alcohol worms are up to Iris has had some great nights out on the town and she declares proudly there’s nothing wrong in getting drunk! Goes striding in out of her depth just about sums her up perfectly. She is furious when she discovers Bianca has gone after her Doctor and her breakdown upon discovering he has fallen for her really pulls at the heartstrings. Katy Manning aces these scenes of pathos, tripping on her sentences, losing her voice, sounding lost and alone… One day she hopes he would stop running away from her (awww). She’s as serious as the Doctor about what she does just not necessarily the way she does it. Bianca scathingly calls her a chicken, scratching around in times farmyard, clucking about after the Doctor and indulging in aimless adventuring and half cut philanthropy. I revelation that Bianca is Iris, her darker side, her very own Valeyard, is so delicious I can die happy! Iris in an ugly pupa, a chrysalis caging the beautiful butterfly Bianca could be. The nightclub is what becomes of her shiny red bus. When they finally get rid of her Iris says good riddance to the anomalous old fuddy duddy.

Great Ideas: Bianca’s nightclub is an enchanting location to tell this story; it’s a little bit exclusive. Mickey narrates the story to a Mr Ashcroft with the aid of some audio recordings (but as she points out ‘The audio medium is so deceptive’). Mickey dips in and out of the story, interacting with the characters. Bianca herself is described as ‘a single pale lily, decadent and funereal.’ Mickey points out that when we die all that is left is the recorded evidence we leave behind us. Bianca’s is in actuality in deep space, a jaw-dropping cliffhanger and taxi’s in space would make for a terrific visual. Wormholes connect to embarkation points throughout all time and space. One of Alice and Ballis’ multidimensional collaborations ended collapsed an entire star system. Bianca’s is a TARDIS and the ignorant Doctor could have caused a time ram by landing inside her. Wherever you find calamity that’s where you’ll find the cabaret! An evil intelligence hijacks the harmonic structure of Iris’ song to bend people to its will. Iris’ bus landed on Sadius Minor where Bianca distils her booze and Iris accidentally half inched a crate. How’s this for a wonderful bit of technobabble: Bianca’s is powered by fused symbiosis with the Nexus point and feeds from the seething energies of the Nexus and leaks back out waste energy which is used to sustain the wormholes through the planets that subscribe! Phew! The Doctor sums it up as being constructed on a intergalactic precipice. The worms are split into two groups, the Pro and Anti factions. Bianca’s lot, the Pro faction stand for law and order and want life static and arrested, they chose never to evolve from the perfection they have achieved. They want to hold the universe in the thrall of Bianca’s voice, never to evolve under a benevolent dictatorship. The Anti faction want a single awful moment of violence and destruction, Iris’ demonstration was just a taster for their unreasoning violence. Bianca being Iris’ darker self naturally wants her former selves remaining regenerations (just like the Valeyard, the witless imitator!). The shadows are the disembodied souls of the creatures the worms had chosen to evolve into or to put it more succinctly the ghosts of what the worms would have become. They crave corporeal form, the bodies they were cheated. The Pro’s and the Anti’s join forces to ‘unite and survive’, they’ve kissed and made up and want Iris and Bianca to sing together to breach the multidimensional Nexus point and bring them all through. The shadows are going to hijack the worm’s power and take over the souls of everyone in the universe! Because of the events of this story the worms twist and change into the shadows, a lovely bit of symmetry. The Doctor is in the TARDIS riding out the before shocks, the after shocks and the never-were-shocks! I adore the explanation at the end that throws the whole story into doubt: a hypothetical explosion with the Nexus sealed the potential for any of it ever happening was thrown into much doubt! The final twist that Mr Ashcroft is the 7th Doctor is priceless.

Sparkling Dialogue: I could just quote all of Iris’ dialogue…
‘Got me on the couch have you, you mucky devil!’
‘Then you’ll see what’s what and what’s not and what not!’
‘Stop thinking and start drinking!’
‘I’d like to propose…’ ‘Ooooh!’ ‘…a plan of campaign.’
‘How tawdry! A pistol stuck in your garter!’
‘’Ere, you can rest your head on my bosom…’
‘Who ever heard of a diabolical denouement taking place in a patisserie!’
‘Give me your earring!’ ‘Dressing up?’

Standout Performance: Its one of those casts that Big Finish assembles every now and again that just gels. Colin Baker emotes beautifully; Katy Manning makes me scream with laughter, James Campbell camps it up wonderfully, Maria McErlane is the ultimate Diva and Paul Clayton menaces in the shadows. However they are all eclipsed by Jane McFarlane who narrates the story beautifully, I could sit and listen to her soft Scots purr all day. Hats off to Sylvester McCoy who gives one of his best ever performances with only one line! His silence speaks volumes and Mickey’s observations into his character feature some astonishing characterisation.

Audio Landscape: A gorgeous low-key location, a smoky and liquor-stained nightclub in 1930’s Berlin. Mickey pops open a bottle and a lazy bee flies by. The amiable chatter and drunken revelry of Bianca’s. I love how the tapes are burnt and spent and stretch to nothing. Iris falls of the bar taking bottles and chairs with her! The shadows voice is blood chilling (my Simon was trying to get to sleep whilst I was listening to this and he told me to turn it off because the ‘scary voice’ was ‘giving him the willies!’ Sturmer makes a gun shooting entrance. Iris’ scratchy alien sounding singing (sorry Katy!). The coughing engines of the taxi’s and how it speeds up to kill Iris. The Doctor saves the day in an appropriately loud, screaming, explosive way!

Musical Cues: The Wormery features my favourite musical score with only Russell Stone’s music for The Stones of Venice coming close. It really enhances the cabaret atmosphere of the piece but also provides some genuinely foot-tapping music as well. The opening music is soothing, nostalgic, lovely. There is some bubbly piano playing as we are introduced to Bianca’s. Iris’ introductory music is glorious; exciting piano bashing that had me waltzing round the room! There is a background tinkle of the ivory keys throughout which is very pleasing. The music that ramps up the tension when the taxi accelerates. And of course there’s song, which epitomises Iris: ‘You say you never wanted her in your hair, well as you know she’s famous for it! Her name induces sighs of despair, well as you know she’s famous for it! Aside from vats of liquor, your cupboard is bare! You damn her to the devil but she’s already there! No one else beside her you’re beside yourself with joy!’ Why can’t this soundtrack be available?

Standout Moment: Tough, very tough. The second cliffhanger is wonderful (‘Iris! Stop singing! Or you’ll destroy us all!’) but for making me fall about on the floor in hysterics the Iris/Bianca bitch fight over the Doctor tops everything else..

Result: A story of the future haunting the past (3 times over), the Wormery holds a mirror elegantly up to Trial of a Time Lord. With Paul Magrs’ gift for English and poetic language and Steve Cole’s command of plotting and dialogue this is a classy marriage of minds and a peerless script. There are more sparkling one-liners than you can shake a stick at, wonderfully fulsome and theatrical performances, a tone which walks a tightrope between hilariously funny and achingly poignant and it all ends on one great universe threatening song. Colin Baker and Katy Manning are perfect together and my campaign to get them their own series starts here. The story creates a fantastic atmosphere and is plotted with some real care and offers twists and turns that genuinely thrill and surprise. Oh and the last line is perfect. The Wormery is shamelessly camp, glorious, fabulous: 10/10


Artwork by Simon Hodges @ http://hisi79.deviantart.com/

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Gallifrey: A Blind Eye written by Alan Barnes and directed by Gary Russell


What’s it about: Earth, September 1939. With Europe sliding into war, a young Englishwoman, her loyalties torn, comes to a terrible decision. But what does the intergalactic secrets broker Mephistopheles Arkadian want with the fascist sympathiser Cecilia 'Sissy' Pollard on the last day of her life? Still searching for the facts about the Gryben debacle, President Romana makes a deal with the devil. So begins a chain of consequence that can only end in tragedy for the passengers aboard the Vienna to Calais Transcontinental Express, the woman called Leela included. By journey's end, the truth will out but at what cost to Romana and Leela? To Gallifrey's empire, even?

Presidential Babe: So this is where the shit really hits the fan and Romana really comes into her own, taking control of the situation in her fabulously haughty and terrifying fashion! I love her continuing relationship with Arcadian, a criminal that she wouldn’t usually bother with by full of useful information and contacts. He breezes through the story offering her scraps and at the end I was uncertain if he was ally or enemy. Travelling a million miles to meet him for lunch on a train hurtling through the French countryside is lovely and they way he leaves her to pay the bill is gorgeous. She has better things to do than deal with minor interventions and passes on the dull stuff to the CIA. She claims that she never lies and yet she denies the existence of the Anti Time creatures (Neverland). She has become more improvident with each passing story but this where she finally had enough of all the hints and threats and materialises her TARDIS on the train tracks before the speeding train and demands answers. If they impact everybody will die. Then she heads into her best ever admonishing tirade, one my favourite Romana moments ever when she declares her fellow politicians and backstabbers ‘Silly boys the lot of you!’ Love it! This is laying down the law, she is not having it anymore and Time will not be played about with like a toy. She is accused of turning a blind eye when the Doctor broke the laws of time to save Charley despite the consequences because he was her friend. She admits the Charlotte Pollard is important to her. Lalla Ward gives an astonishing performance in this story and woe betide anybody that gets on Romana’s bad side after this.

Noble Savage: I have been hugely impressed with how Leela has been handled in this first series of Gallifrey. Whilst the characters often patronise her, the writers never do and she has managed to shine by holding onto her integrity when surrounded by lies and deceit. Louise Jameson has rocked on in every chapter but again this is her zenith, dealing with the shock that Andred is not dead, that he has been lying to her for so long with painful pathos. When she walks away from him holding back the tears I had shivers, that’s how good Jameson is. Leela is described as a vagabond Queen of a gypsy horde. She does not think that Sissy carries the dignity of Charley. In the early stages of this story she behaves like Romana’s lapdog, obeying her instructions without question. I adored her way of avoiding the awkward situation of facing the ticket conductor without a ticket: tie him up and throw him off the train! Blood must have blood, it is the Sevateem way and Leela must avenge Andred’s death. You just know as the story progresses she is heading for a world of hurt. She realises now that the Sevateem and the Tesh were alike and it was only their blindness that stopped them from seeing it. Leftennant Loincloth? Andred’s creature? Nobody has a very high opinion of her! Brilliantly Leela figures that if she murders Torvald in the past he cannot kill her husband in the future. Equally brilliantly she puts a fire axe through Miss Joy’s skull. When faced with both Torvald’s she begins strangling the older of the two, wanting the former to see the moment of his death (gosh I love how this series can play about with crazy ideas like that). She is astonished to learn that Torvald, the man she loathes, is Andred in disguise. He watched her suffer and grieve. She declares her heart cold because her husband is dead. Andred begs her forgiveness. Woe betide anyone who stresses Leela out too.

Great Ideas: Alan Barnes is not afraid to wield some pretty hefty ideas about and with this story he manages to twist them into something emotional, shocking and satisfying – the antithesis of his earlier Zagreus. The fact that this story deals with another member of the illustrious Pollard clan is the icing on the cake. Sissy Pollard is abhorrent, a racist, classist Nazi sympathiser who chose the wrong side – her tirade about preserving beautiful things and keeping people apart was very delicately scripted to revolt. She shot herself in the head to convince England and Germany about the futility of the war, that’s what history says. However she is on the train and very much alive, Arcadian sent her a telegram in Charley’s hand years after her disappearance. The story casually throws out ideas like embargoed time zones, portable mind wipes and parallel timelines. This latter proves very important, a ghost of the train running alongside them on the same space-time co-ordinates. The two timelines refuse to disengage because Leela has moved to the dominant one. Erich is revealed as Arcadian’s ally gone rogue, conning the conman. In reality Erich is Torvald of the CIA who is yet to regenerate into our Torvald. In reality Arcadian approached Narvin to expose Torvald for the traitor that he is. Miss Joy is in reality a metamorph, Arcadian’s client, a trader in memorabilia of the great dictators. Sissy, Hitler’s English lapdog is worth planets to collectors. With a Type 70 TARDIS you can pause the materialisation. Now Charley’s paradox has been resolved, Torvald set up this elaborate scenario to ensure Sissy survived and brought with her the curse of Anti Time. He wants to expose Romana’s hand in the Neverland scenario, to airbrush her from Time and make her the President that never was. Andred learnt of this isolationist agenda and was involved in a shoot out with Torvald whilst trying to uncover facts. Torvald’s wounds were fatal and Andred, once regenerated, took his chance to take his place and infiltrate the CIA and discover more. The earlier Torvald, knowing that Andred would kill him, smugly informs Romana that she will have to keep him alive to preserve that timeline. Everything returns to normal and Sissy commits suicide writing a farewell letter to her sister.

Standout Performance: India Fisher. Sissy is just vile.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What a hideous mess this is all becoming!’ – oh Alan you must stop giving people ammunition!
‘You turned a blind eye. That’s why they called you a Nazi.’
‘She’s my wife!’ – I nearly spat out my coffee at that one!

Audio Landscape: I love the steam train location; the screaming whistle, the clackety-clack of the tracks, the roaring countryside and the hissing steam. The two trains collide very dramatically. The slavering metamorph came out of nowhere! We take a trip into the French landscape; birds call out to each other, storm clouds grumble and the rain breaks. The scribbling writing and gunshot of the last scene.

Standout Moment: The last scene is shocking and yet it feels right.

Result: How could Alan Barnes and Gary Russell be responsible for perhaps the greatest travesty in the Doctor Who canon (yeah you know I’m talking about) and then follow it up with something as intelligent, clever, twisted and heartbreakingly climatic as this? It beggars belief! A Blind Eye ends a nourishing first year of Gallifrey on a real high dishing out brilliant twists that prove how intricately this season has been plotted. What’s more it gives Lalla Ward, Louise Jameson and India Fisher the chance to really impress with some top dramatic material. I’ve always thought there was a great story waiting to be told in the Doctor Who universe set on a moving train and it proves to be as atmospheric as I imagined. I loved the spoilt bitch fascist Sissy Pollard. I loved the timey wimey madness with the two Torvald’s. I loved Romana’s bossy, angry tirade. And I really loved the truth about Andred. I was gripped from the first moment to the last: 10/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/14-Gallifrey-A-Blind-Eye

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The Inquiry written by Justin Richards and directed by Gary Russell


What’s it about: President Romana has been called to account for her actions. But the only evidence that she has responded to a real and present danger has disappeared. To clear her good name she is dependent on the testimony of the very people who want to see her publically humiliated and her power removed. While Leela tries to discover truths of her own, Romana is forced into an uneasy truce with her rivals at the CIA. But at least she can be sure the inquiry will be handled in a fair and proper manner. Or can she? When the investigation itself triggers danger and time is quite literally running out for all of Gallifrey's power and knowledge, just who can Romana trust?

Presidential Babe: As the Doctor says in The Ancestor Cell can you imagine trying to fit Romana’s full title on a name badge at a conference? Lady Romanadvoratrelundar (my spell checker had a tough time with that one!), President of the Supreme Council of Gallifrey and all her Dominions, holder of the wisdom of Rassilon, preserver of the Matrix and guardian of the legacy of Omega! What a mouthful but well done for Lalla Ward for making it seem effortless. The Inquiry has begun into her decisions during the Gryben crisis and because a Timon Fusion Device is impossible to create Romana is said to have…overreacted. Narvin lists her crimes with hilarious straightfacedness, Compassion, Intuition, Emotion, Honesty, Integrity, Pragmatism and Extreme Competence. I loved her little gesture for Leela, unable to sanction the access of his DE but quietly telling the technician turn his back and lose her whilst she gets the chance to study it. Romana is loyal to her friends and will not arrest Braxiatel until she has proof of his crimes. Once again she steps out of the story to investigate, I love that Romana is not content to just observe events but is willing to play an active hand in them. She is proven to be reckless with it, forcing the data bomb to explode to discover the truth. And three cheers as she gets fabulously bossy with Leela here (‘Don’t question it, just do it!’).

Noble Savage: Whilst this story offers revelations aplenty there is still time for Leela to impress once again with her sharp observational skills. She doesn’t understand why she has to state who she is to the court when they already know her name or why she has to answers questions about previous events when what’s done is done. She would make a good politician! She wonders if the Matrix can tell her what happened to Andred as she is starting to believe that he is dead. She wonders is K.9 is a pessimist or realist. Narvin tells her a painful story of Andred coming to him and declaring that Leela’s influence has made up his mind that Gallifrey should remain pure; she had convinced him that no other race could aspire to Gallifrey’s level of civilisation. The revelation that Torvald killed Andred leaves Leela knife raised ready to slaughter him. She knows more about the art of war than he does and she has unfinished business with him…

Great Ideas: Its another multi layered, twisting script bursting with revelations. The knowledge of the prototype TFD and its detonation exists within the Matrix, impossible since it never happened. Project Alpha, the birth of the TFD was supposed to herald a new era of temporal engineering. Whilst probing the Matrix for information about the TFD K.9 discovers and triggers a data bomb. It contains a virus and its virtual detonation will proliferate every system and poison the Matrix. The Matrix sees but doesn’t always remember, it makes decisions about the priority of what it predicts and sometimes chooses to ignore facts. Braxiatel is revealed to have made 4739 transactions of artwork, sculptures, buildings…the beginnings of the Braxiatel Collection. He has been acquiring pieces clandestinely, knowing he would be punished for saving priceless works from Time’s ravages. It transpires that the High Council failed to heed Braxiatel’s warnings and detonated the TFD with devastating consequences. The transduction barriers collapsed, the Timonic wave rippled outwards crashing on the planet Minyos (Underworld) and aged 100 million inhabitants to death in less time than it takes to swallow (wow). A civilisation Gallifrey had encourage and nurtured was decimated. In the timeline where the device was detonated servitors working for a mysterious power went back in time and stole it, rewriting history. Only the Matrix, a device outside of times events, remembered and Braxiatel planted the data bomb to proof that the detonation did happen, to encourage investigation. Romana decides to stop the device from being stolen thus negating the threat to Gallifrey (with the device detonated being the only one in existence the Free Time movement cannot hold them to ransom) and the threat to the Matrix (Braxiatel would not need to plant his data bomb if the device was detonated, Gallifrey would be aware of its own crimes). Never mind that 100 million people need to die. That done history has put her house into order, the device the Free Time movement have is only a fake. Braxiatel’s Collection will be the envy of the universe, a repository of knowledge second only to the Matrix.

Standout Performance: I’m such a shameless Lynda Bellingham fan (if there was ever a gay icon in Doctor Who The Inquisitor is up there!) so it is a genuine thrill to have her back. It’s another impressive piece of casting in an already powerful cast. She doesn’t have much of importance to do here but she will soon become one of the most deliciously loathsome politicians Gallifrey has ever seen. Hurrah!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Thank you Cardinal you have given us much to think about!’ ‘He has?’ ‘Clearly.’
‘Be quiet K.9, you’re not listening, remember?’
‘Our own weapon was stolen and used to threaten us.’
‘As history intended…’

Audio Landscape: The attack is appropriately loud and destructive with explosions and crackling flames. The matrix access voice is northern! I loved the creepy but cute art dealer’s voice! There are wind blasted ruins. The data bomb explodes with a horrific echo. Servitors and stasers make a fine action scene.

Standout Moment: I love how the script unravels so beautifully at the climax to reveal just how tautly plotted the story is. It’s a barrage of revelations.

Result: A superb script, extremely wordy and almost flat for its first half but coming to life with a vengeance in its conclusion. Justin Richards is the perfect writer for the Gallifrey series, like its inhabitants his prose is often cold and clinical, he wields high concepts like a weapon and his plotting is tighter than a gnat’s ass. Here he manages to run with the threads of the series (the TFD, Romana’s political nightmare, Leela’s search for Andred), bridge a gap in continuity for a much loved character he created (Brax’s Collection), add some weight and juicy disclosure on a much derided story (Underworld) and provide a classy analogy of Oppenheimer’s nuclear detonation. It’s a class act and the performances are superb, although there is little in the way of atmospherics. Very clever stuff. With Romana furious that someone attempted to hold the Time Lords to ransom and rewrite their history I am eager to see what happens next: 9/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/13-Gallifrey-The-Inquiry

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Square One written by Stephen Cole and directed by Gary Russell


What’s it about: In a climate of unease and mistrust, the great time-travelling powers of the universe are holding an historic temporal summit. The meeting will take place on a planetoid impervious to outside attack or internal subversion in any way. But while President Romana walks a knife-sharp political tightrope into dangerous territory, Leela and K9 find themselves attending the summit in unexpected roles. They are hunting for evidence of Free Time activity, but find instead terrors of a different kind time and time again. What impossibilty stalks the planetoid? Who is manipulating time? Can Leela and Romana discover the truth or will they find themselves sent back to square one for all eternity?

Presidential Babe: In the second half of this story it is great for Romana to finally step out of the shadows and take control of the situation. I was starting to wonder if each story would be sending Leela off world and Romana would stay at home and pontificate. Her reaction to the lack of a welcoming party is hilarious; she would have at least expected a few balloons! The fact the Romana did not strike Gryben in the first story even under provocation is taken by the Temporal Powers that Romana’s aims are peaceful. I love the idea that Romana has pre recorded six scathing monologues to be played to the delegates at the Temporal Summit if they begin to squabble! She hates Presidential TARDISes because they have no personality and are so buy-the-book. She expects civility when she is addressed. In the aftermath of this story she steps up to Narvin beautifully declaring in no uncertain terms that she will never sanction genocide. Their political relationship is razor sharp, he questions are impotence and she questions his morality. She’s not as a bad as Leela paints her, and she respects Leela a great deal.

Noble Savage: Again Leela steals the show with some exceptional characterisation. She finds the words of lawmakers exhausting and is only allowed to be a warrior when it suits Romana. She is blissfully unaware that as an exotic dancer she is going to have parade her naked body to lecherous men but K.9 rather wonderfully sums her up as strikingly unusual, colourful, exciting and unfamiliar. Baano questions her innocence wondering if it is part of her act when in reality it is all part of her charm. Leela doesn’t like being trapped inside and objects to being called stupid. Her presence and lifestyle on Gallifrey suggests there might be more to the planet than its xenophobic face. I loved how Leela was the only character (aside from those orchestrating events) to have the instincts to tell that time is being replayed. The Fire Dance of the Sevateem is an exotic delight that I only wish we could have seen! She describes diplomacy as sweeping things under the matting and talking about things until they go away! Leela wonders about how time was so casually wiped over several times, when words and actions are wiped away like footprints in sand surely they mean nothing. Romana sensitively says they mean something to her, and that is what is important. Only Leela cares about what never happened and see meaning in it.

Great Ideas: Even more fascinating and ingenious ideas are summoned into existence and with time being manipulated they have a pleasing air of ambiguous verisimilitude about them (something about the language of this show brings out the lexicographer in me!). Since the catastrophic events that disrupted the Temporal Peace Conference on Archetryx (The Apocalypse Element) the potential Axis powers have been wary of attending a further Summit. Heads of State will only be present as holograms and the official statements will be broadcast. The Temporal Summit is a juicy prospect for any terrorist organisation. I loved the quick mention of the sterile nature of the Time Lords, they don’t like getting their hands dirty in the sexual sense and only watch the exotic dancers. The story of the Monan Host world is a mind-bending concept, created, as it was through a temporal disaster in the distant past. A hyperspatial agglomeration of planet mass was created, the same world caught in multiple stages of its own evolution, all occupying the same co-ordinates. Just think about that for a second, imagine the surface of the Earth broken up into different segments of its own evolution? The most advanced Monan’s on the planet stabilised the world and conquered and rehabilitated their ancestors, repatriating them as one single Monan Host. The random time distortion that ravages their system is the source of their power. Time runs backwards and Leela finds herself arriving on the planet all over again. In the new timeline events have changed and only she can sense it. I loved the idea of the anomalous photograph, its physical evidence of a timeline that survived chronic reversal. There is a small mention of a Beryllium chip (The TV Movie) which I thought was a nice touch. Baano is exposed as the terrorist, a member of Free Time working with an offshoot of the Monan Host and dressed as a servitor to kill Unvoss and drive a wedge between Gallifrey and the other Temporal Powers. V’rell planned to sabotage the Summit for the Monan because when Gallifrey helped them to recover from the ordeal on Archetryx they inserted destructive equations into the foundations of the Host World. They could be activated, unravel and cause entropy, the entire race held to ransom by the Time Lords. However compounding this deceit it is revealed that Hossak was responsible for rewinding time, every time one of the delegates cheated she replayed the record to ensure peace. Romana trumps them all by revealing that the Summit they have been attending has been a fake, one to draw out the enemies of the Temporal Powers and very successful at doing that. That is the reason the Heads of State aren’t attending in person, they are in reality at the real Summit. The planetoid is frozen in time and the time field grips the planet. Norvin is appalled that he has been treated as a puppet (haha) but with Gallifrey’s spin Doctors adjusting the truth the facts are twisted to turn him into a hero, sent to the baloney Summit to flush out reactionaries. Turns out Gallifrey didn’t seed the Monan Host World with extinction equations, they merely had them believe so and the threat of it might have been all that was stopping them attacking the time faring worlds.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We may have mastery over Time but Time will ever judge us.’
‘Gallifrey will fall, it is inevitable now.’
‘It is too late! Time is coming for us!’
‘I will have peace in the universe!’ – Hossack, the ultimate diplomat, rewriting peoples decisions to ensure peace. The only dictator in the universe to destroy free will for benevolent reasons! Love it!

Audio Landscape: The TARDIS cradle hum from The War Games is apparent in the early scenes – I love that sort of attention to detail. The servitors have groaning mechanical limbs and gorgeous voices. Bells ring to signal the start of the Summit. Showers trickle as Leela discovers Baano’s body. Leela’s exotic dance gets quite a rapturous audience! I really liked how Leela’s voice was stretched beyond reason as Time threw her back into the past.

Musical Cues: David Darlington continues to impress, turning off the music when the dialogue is important and grinding away with fantastic organ music as things spiral out of control. There’s a real techno feel to some of the incidental music, the sort of think Keff McCulloch assaulted our ears with but done well!

Standout Moment: I loved the gripping race against time climax that saw Romana and Leela trying to stop time rewinding and all the revelations they have exposed buried.

Result: A thoroughly enjoyable second instalment, one which establishes time as a dangerous and malleable force. Steve Cole is an extremely undervalued author and his best work (Ten Little Aliens, Plague Herds of Excelis, Timeless) has proven to be thoroughly entertaining. Square One is one of his best scripts, taking Gallifrey’s role in the universe and suggesting there are far more secrets in the planets history that we haven’t yet discovered and that perhaps even Gallifrey itself has been privy to a little temporal nip and tuck. One thing Cole always captures well is dialogue so he is perfectly suited to the audio format and his handling of Leela is especially strong, the noble savage developing a very welcome presence in the series. The plotting is rock solid and dazzles with some clever twists and once again we are left with the impression that these stories will have consequences: 8/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/12-Gallifrey-Square-One

Monday, 20 September 2010

Gallifrey: Weapon of Choice written by Alan Barnes and directed by Gary Russell


What’s it about: The Time Lords of Gallifrey were the first to map the Web of Time. Now, under the reforming gaze of President Romanadvoratrelundar, the oldest civilisation is ready to shed its monopoly, sharing its secrets with a coalition of the Temporal Powers the Monan Host, the Nekkistani and the Warpsmiths of Phaidon among them. But the coalition is a fragile one, and despised in some quarters. When a team of Time Technology Assessors makes a horrific discovery on the barren moon of Kikrit, it seems their enemies are arming themselves to strike at the alliance. Has a terrorist group really acquired a temporal weapon so terrible the Time Lords forgot about its existence? In search of the truth, Romana sends the woman called Leela and the robot dog K9 to the enclave of Gryben, a reception centre for temporal refugees. But the truth is war's first casualty and the fallout could destroy them all.

Presidential Babe: Ladies and Gentleman please welcome Lalla Ward back to the world of Doctor Who! One of the smartest performers the series has been lucky to have; she heads up the Gallifrey series with her usual wit and gravitas. As we saw in Zagreus and The Apocalypse Element the audios have chosen to follow the same route as the novels with Romana as President of Gallifrey. Its one of the few things they agree on before splitting off and doing their own thing and creating their own continuity (is there anyway this Romana could become the black haired bitch that hunted down the Doctor in The Ancestor Cell?). Regardless, this is an impressive first showing for Romana, surrounded by enemies and threats, maintaining her cool and cutting through to the heart of the matter. An impressive debut.

Her mood is described as above apoplexy and below incandescence (they just like using big words, don’t they?). The idea of the infiltration of the CIA and the theft of a Timonic Fusion Device frightens her. I really enjoyed her relationship with the High Monan (it reminded me of the conversations between Sisko and Kai Winn in DS9), it’s loaded with threats and subtle innuendos. She makes a subtle mention that she can’t ask the Doctor for advice anymore (trapped as he is in the Divergent Universe). Romana finds it unnerving when Braxiatel is quiet. Imperiatrix is not a title she is used to hearing. I loved her tired reaction to Arcadian’s theatrics, asking for his extradition to be fast tracked. Romana faces accusations that her affection for the refugees on Gryben has affected her judgement. She stage-manages a hostage situation…with her as the hostage! Her subjects think that she is a radical but she considers herself a traditionalist, that with power comes responsibility. Romana calls the bluff and lets the TFD detonate figuring that if she is wrong her conscience wont have long enough to prickle. Some might call it an ego but she comes to the conclusion that this whole sorry affair has been about deposing her. Romana trusts Arcadian because he is an honest rogue and he considers her the perfect combination of wisdom, beauty and wit. She intends to keep her job for a very long time.

Noble Savage: Just about the only character that could topple Romana in the interest stakes, Louise Jameson returns as the highlight of the story, Leela. Jameson had created one of the more unusual and interesting companions and it is wonderful to see her back and given some exceptional writing. Leela makes a welcome addition to the series, as she is the outsider, the one who considers the Time Lords a devious, manipulative race and provides a welcome perspective on their insidiousness. Not only that but because she relies entirely on her instincts and reveals great wisdom, a fascinating counterpoint to the Time Lords reliance on logic and intellect. Basically, Leela rocks!

An outsider to the life in the City, Leela attempts to join the Tribe that live in the wastelands of Gallifrey. Andred was her lover and they proudly walked the Capitol together, happily mated. She walks alone in all things but has much to offer, she does not like her hand being forced. Her instincts tell her that Andred is dead but she wants answers. I was roaring with laughter at her method of shopping: pay or fight! When she is outnumbered by her enemies she does not consider it an unfair fight, there are simply more people to hurt and she is not afraid to fight alone. Haggling is clearly an art that she has not yet mastered. A terrible actress, her attempts to play along fail hilariously. I loved it when Leela listed all of the things she despised about the Time Lords; they hate the unalike, they sooth with promises and flattery, they promise only to deceive, they use too many words, they think that other people are crude animals to be penned. They are a bad Tribe. In a moment of triumph she threatens to disembowel Torvald and exposes a Monan Spy, catching them both of guard. Leela understands the people of Gryben, how they have had to learn to fight. When questioned how she ended up working for people she can’t stand she simply replies, ‘It is how it ended up.’ She is extremely proud to be appointed Presidential Bodyguard with K.9 as her security advisor.

Great Ideas: The thing I love about the Gallifrey series is that it makes up its own rules; it has its own style of language and has a very unique flavour unlike anything else in the Doctor Who canon. It plays with planet-sized ideas like spinning plates; it creates a world of politics, sweeping storylines and exotic locations. Having cherry picked the best elements of Doctor Who, it does its own thing with them and superlatively.

The four great time powers are Gallifrey, the Warpsmiths of Phaidon, the Monan Host and the Nekestan. The introductory scenes set up the story well; a containment chamber holding a briefcase and inside a Timonic Fusion Device (TFD). The device is a result of Project Alpha, to create a weapon that would napalm the time timeline, to erase embarrassing stings but it could not be contained so the research was abandoned. Access to the time vortex is regulated and if you attempt to enter with the correct temporal knowledge and codes your craft is diverted to Gryben. It is a processing centre where each claim for access to the vortex is dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Unauthorised access to the vortex used to be dealt with in a far less civilised manner. I loved the idea of K.9 as the intergalactic slave trader! He can’t resist hamming it up, the old sea dog (and his quiet, ‘Mistress’ at the end of his bully boy commands is adorable). Arcadian is a really fun character, a rogue with a list of crimes a mile long and a silver-tongued devil to boot! He wound up in the Enclave (The Blue Angel). The theories of the TFD have been floating about for centuries, only the Time Lords were foolish enough to build one (as Braxiatel beautifully points, ‘Ouch’). There is mentioned of Temporal Summits. The decrepitude of the Time Lords is the foundation of their tyranny? Braxiatel points out in his brilliantly dry fashion that if people have to die on Gryben let it be cleanly. If one drop of Monan blood is shed it will put their relationship with Gallifrey on a war footing. Narvin is such a snivelling toad, he prepares for Presidential mourning before Romana is declared dead! Arcadian is only in it for the crime and the scale of thieving from the thieves really appeals! The sudden appearance of the Inquisitor made me squeal…I’d forgotten she made a cameo in this one. There is an impeachment against Romana for her questionable decision in this affair. Romana has been manoeuvred into ordering a pre-emptive strike against a world of asylum seekers; this is some really dirty politics. Nepenthe commits suicide rather than reveal which Time Lord has orchestrated this affair.

Standout Performance: Miles Richardson is such a terrific scene stealer as Braxiatel, his rich silky voice is perfectly suited to the politics he is embroiled in.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Well now, did someone hear a pin drop?’
‘Madam my business is dirty enough, damned if I’ll stoop to politics.’
‘K.9 we have been unfilterated!’ ‘Infiltrated, mistress.’
‘This woman has killed herself and you think only of your evidence?’

Audio Landscape: The opening scenes feel a little weak, as though the director and sound engineer are just testing the waters to see if this sort of storytelling can work. The atmosphere soon gives way to the plot, which is more than distracting. A wind swept barren landscape, time travel capsules landing, staser guns fired and alarms set off. Leela walks across rubble in the wastelands and comes across a fire spitting out heat. I loved the mixture of the McGann TARDIS purr with the War Games SIDRAT hum, just gorgeous. The bazaar on Gryben is a mixture of exotic music, insectoid voices and hustle and bustle. K.9 smashes a bar up with his nose gun.

Musical Cues: I really like the theme tune, its oddly intrusive but mysterious at the same time and has an ominous ticking clock in the background. Dramatic organ music punctuates the larger moments in the story, pleasingly reminiscent of the music from The Deadly Assassin and The Invasion of Time.

Isn’t that Odd: Helen Goldwyn, whose performances have always been mixed, is hopelessly melodramatic as Nepenthe making her Free Time cause little more than another forgettable despot cult.

Result: Fronting a series with Lalla Ward and Louise Jameson is so intimidating to the other spin offs I’m not sure why they bothered! This is a very strong start for the Gallifrey series, it takes no time in establishing its own identity and it juggles some really juicy ideas about. Plus unlike the Excelis series it leaves a lot of intriguing threads dangling to be followed up later; what happened to Andred, who tried to set up Romana, what will be the result of the forthcoming judicial enquiry…? It’s a sharp, intelligent piece of writing by Alan Barnes and the chosen regular cast share fantastic chemistry. Witty lines and characters keep the piece even and the overall effect is a series that you want to follow with some enthusiasm: 8/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/11-Gallifrey-Weapon-of-Choice

The Plague Herds of Excelis written by Stephen Cole and directed by John Ainsworth


What’s it about: The once proud city of Excelis is a crumbling ruin in a state of siege, as barbarians catapult pestilent animal corpses into the city to spread disease among those trapped inside. Excelis is a city clinging to life by a thread. But ancient prophecies foretell a final retribution for the past arrogance of its rulers. When the sun is eaten away from the sky, when the ancient relic of Excelis is taken from its rightful resting-place, and when strangers are discovered among the people, then shall the whole world be doomed to die. Today, the sun is a moth-eaten shadow. Plans are afoot to steal the relic. And a very tired and very fraught Professor Bernice Summerfield just stomped into town in the company of a mysterious traveller in space and time known only as Iris Wildthyme. Pitted against a sinister prophet, the machinations of the Imperial court, and hordes of animal undead, Benny finds herself embroiled in the final stages of an aeons-old plan to commit genocide twice over ­ with no way out.

Archaeological Adventuress: This story is set during a particularly turbulent time for Bernice. Her son has recently been born and she is adjusting to the horror of motherhood and taking responsibility of another in her devil may care lifestyle. However she only fell pregnant because a hideous witch took control of her body and got it on with Kiloran builder Adrian. I know, I know, it sounds ridiculous but it was hilarious. So her ex husband and current lover Jason and Adrian are constantly at logger heads, the baby wont stop crying and Irving Braxiatel her employer is scheming and plotting in the background. Whoever said leaving the Doctor lead to a quiet life? Fed up of all this domestic drama Benny has stolen Brax’s executive shuttle (you know, the one with the jacqusi that he denies is there…) and buggered off for a few days to clear her head. She is questioning how good a mother she turned out to be but admits she could handle the baby screaming if everybody wasn’t doing it as well. She describes herself as a shagged out grumpy old archaeologist. Iris sums it up with a little more tact (I know, I was surprised as well) and says she is a bored, frustrated adventuress who could do with her mind taken of things back home. What shocks is that after the initial recriminations and the customary (for both of them) piss up they develop a close, almost aunty/niece bond (‘Our Berneeece’). Benny admits she has been in some demeaning situations in her life but being caged up in the town square and spat at rates up there. All she wants to do is stay alive as she realises she is needed back home. Iris tells her having a child can be an adventure too.

Transtemporal Adventuress: Its interesting to see Iris taken in hand by another writer because although nobody could bring her to life like the masterful Paul Magrs, Steve Cole adds some fascinating new facets to her developing character. In moments of this story she verges on sinister and concerned and not just the reckless adventurer of old. I loved her line that she didn’t spring from nuclear war, she came on the bus. Benny accuses her of having a made up name! Just in case anybody is under delusions that this is a chapter of Bernice’s saga, Iris declares that she is the star! She bluffs her way through explanations about the Relic by saying it matches a simply fabulous outfit she’s bought. She’s such a deluded old beast, the barman has a squint but Iris thinks he is giving her the eye! As things get more dangerous she cackles madly! Iris can stand the pestilential fumes of decayed corpses since her lungs have breathed in a lot worse in their time. It’s her scenes with Snyper that really impressed me as she coaxes information out of him; initially she is quietly menacing, then afraid before she finally assumes a threatening stance. She loves being in the thick of things and couldn’t bear life without melodrama. She knows only too well that the universe is full of old Queens. Iris was called in to broker peace when the Doctor was off sick with an earache! Her bus is built of stern stuff and is equipped with a cloaking device. She is appalled that the Relic has changed colour…its never going to go with her frock now! She realises that she was used as a pawn in a grandiose scheme to bring down the Queen and can only do what she thinks is right. In a rare moment of pathos she refuses to condemn the repentant Queen for her previous acts of destruction and believes in redemption. It doesn’t surprise me at all that the Paul Magrs/Steve Cole collaboration, The Wormery, features Iris at her all time best.

Great Ideas: This story is like The Stolen Earth of Big Finish Audios. Doctor Who (or at least the Excelis storyline), Bernice Summerfield and Iris Wildthyme all have their own individual series and here they are joining forces to end the Excelis run with a bang. Teaming up Benny and Iris is such a delicious idea it’s astonishing that nobody had thought of it before. I have a friend who hates how Bernice is always commenting on the conventions on modern day Doctor Who and he loathes Iris Wildthyme full stop for her audacious attempts to poke fun at and rework established continuity to suit her own adventures. This would be his ultimate nightmare! I take the opposite stance, combining the two maddest old soaks in the Doctor Who universe and unleashing them on an adventure stirred up by various Doctor’s - its one of the few adventures I would love to toss myself into!

Nuclear war destroyed Excelis and now the Empire is no bigger than a city. Progress almost destroyed them completely. The Palace was built on the sight of the nunnery and is besieged by barbarians and a bombardment of diseased animals (phew, try saying that three times fast). Snyder is soon revealed as the villain of the piece and he is dousing the animals with plagues and chucking them over the walls to slowly wipe out the population. Iris tells the story of an old Queen who declared war on many worlds and wrecked havoc and destruction wherever she tread. However she found religion and repented her ways, living her life in a fleet of ships that sweep the oncoming systems with black lightning for advanced technology. Snyder’s people knew that they had to plan something truly audacious to trick and murder the paranoid old Queen. The Relic was fashioned into a handbag and Iris was programmed to steal it and take it to Excelis in its primitive times. The planet is being primed as an organic bomb with the people the fuse and the Relic as the trigger mechanism. Snyder is from the future and so knows that the Queen will be passing through this system at this point and thus they had to make the planet appear technologically backward whilst all the time it was primed and ready to blow and take her fleet of ships with it. The Queen wiped out Snyder’s race. Jolene is put in charge of the Relic to ensure its progress through the years, the waxing and waning of the Excelis Empire. The war in Excelis Decays was the lighting of the fuse.

My initial reaction to these revelations was mirth but when I thought about it I could see how this would be a devious way of managing to pull the wool over the eyes of a mistrustful ex warlord. What doesn’t work quite so well is how it feels that Cole has had to look long and hard at the three preceding stories and tried to pull together some kind of rabbit out of the hat closure to the story. If this story was plotted out from the beginning in a logical way I could see a hundred little hints and clues that could have been scattered through the arc that would have made sense once these surprises hit. Instead it feels as though each writer was allowed to do their own thing and Steve Cole made up an exciting ending to give it all some relevance. Some could find the idea that the manipulation, perversion and destruction of an entire world just to destroy a fleet of ships that happens to pass through the area a plan with an alarming absence of morality. Surely this makes Snyder and Jolene’s people just as evil as anything the Queen ever did. However, despite these misgivings there is something hilariously tragic about the whole scenario that makes me believe it. Go figure.

Standout Performance: We’re missing Anthony Stewart Head completely in this story which is a shame considering his involvement in the rest of the mini series. However when you have the unbeatable (and I mean that) combination of Katy Manning and Lisa Bowerman provide laughs, chills and general sarky comments whose complaining?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Ooh I’m not having some vampire cow nibbling at my neck!’
‘The animals are taking over the slaughterhouse!’
‘For Artaris to survive they’ll have to go at it like rabbits!’
‘You mean…you know him!’ ‘Know ‘im? I’ve ‘ad ‘im! Ee’s me fancy man…’

Audio Landscape: I’m not sure if it’s the strong direction of John Ainsworth or that David Darlington is getting stronger with each release but I could really visualise this story as it was presented. There are plenty of scenes of screaming, frightened, dying hordes that really helps to sell the scene of pestilence hell. Brax’s shuttle has a very relaxing background hum. Artaris is nothing but a screaming wasteland now on to which the shuttle descends. There is pleasant chatter in the bar. The torn and bloody flesh of the horse, its corpse burning. The coughing victims bathing in trickling water. Snyder’s gurgling voice is horrible as he cleanses everyone in the bathhouse. Iris’s TARDIS grinds, vworps and groans! There is an almighty bolt of black lightning! The bus’ screeching brakes set me teeth on edge. Bernice and Iris walk through rubble and discover the flinging catapult surrounded by animals sets upon by insects, eugh. How scary are the zombie horses and the crazed animals released into the city?

Result: The strongest Excelis segment because it feels like a real event brining Iris and Bernice together and Steve Cole has bothered to whip up a genuine reason for this entire (ill conceived) arc. The script bubbles with wit and amusement, the actors all impress in their small roles and the cover is gorgeous. As usual with John Ainsworth at the helm the story comes alive vividly and within the frolics he never loses sight that this is, at heart, a serious tale. I like the fact that it manages to continue Bernice’s adventures with some aplomb provide the most interesting use of Iris yet and also end a run of Doctor Who stories with some nice surprises. Its manoeuvres arcs like Planet of Fire, only with more style. The best thing about this arc has been the different stages we have visited this planet at, having the stories leap forward in time we have seen the detailed evolution of one of the most vivid worlds our heroes have visited. All in time for Cole to shatter our illusions and make the whole delicious timeline planned. Nice: 8/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/Bernice-Summerfield-The-Plague-Herds-of-Excelis