Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Companion Chronicles (So Far...)

Frostfire: What an awesome achievement. With Maureen O’Brien’s evocative narration and Marc Platt’s expressive script we are whisked back to the wondrous season three for an exciting adventure with Jane Austen and a fire-breathing dragon. The production values are very impressive and the story never loses impetus, climaxing with some really exciting moments. If that wasn’t enough we also get to catch up with Vicki in ancient Greece and close the story on a very clever twist that will see the story repeat over and over for the creature. A superb introductory story for this series: 10/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/12/whats-it-about-vicki-has-tale-to-tell.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/11-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-Frostfire


Fear of the Daleks: Fear of the Daleks has a lot to answer for. I bought this story as an example of what the companion chronicles had to offer and was bored stupid and despite positive reviews of subsequent series I never bought another for years! Like the novels that were being written at the time for previous Doctors it seems that the second Doctor suffers the worst stories. The script is swamped with clichés and features extremely banal dialogue and as a result it feels like an embarrassing example of sixties naivety. Not one of the sixties stories has aged as badly as this post millennium written story, this is a horrible misstep for the first series of companion chronicles: 3/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/01/fear-of-daleks-written-by-patrick.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/12-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-Fear-of-the-Daleks

Blue Tooth: One of my all time favourite Cyberman stories because it managed to get me involved emotionally with the creatures. Blue Tooth features a superb script, which is grounded in realism and has many excellent dramatic beats throughout. Liz Shaw was always one of the best companions and Nigel Fairs captures her voice authentically and adds layers to this already fascinating character. The production is of a very high standard as well with a terrific musical score and a great atmosphere brewed. If the wrap up is a little too quick its still one hell of a thrill ride, the horror of the Cybermen told from the point of view of a companion being converted. More season seven goodness: 9/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/01/blue-tooth-written-by-nigel-fairs-and.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/13-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-The-Blue-Tooth

The Beautiful People: Irreverent and silly, what could have been a one joke wonder becomes a fun piece with a worthy message. Jonathan Morris brought this team to life adeptly in his debut novel Festival of Death and fairs just as authentically here. Romana is a wonderfully charismatic and bossy character, the Doctor blunders his way through the story making some beautiful observations and K.9 is having the most fun of all! I did find the first two parts a little slow and eventless but I thought the story improved greatly once the villainess chipped in with some really awesome lines. This is not an essential piece of audio storytelling but it is a witty piece of nonsense with more sparkling one liners than you could ask for: 7/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/01/beautiful-people-written-by-jonathan.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/14-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-The-Beautiful-People

Mother Russia: Why does history feel so dangerous in the first three seasons? Mother Russia is another gorgeous first Doctor companion chronicle and like the novels I get the feeling this is going to be the norm (there are some similarities between this story and Martin Day’s superlative Bunker Soldiers but they are both stealing from the atmosphere of season three). My favourite section is at the beginning as the travellers relaxing in Russia of the past and make friends, get jobs and chill out. The introduction of science fiction elements initially made me groan but Marc Platt uses this to study the reaction of Steven once he feels that his friends have given up on him. Peter Purves performs admirably and really hits the emotional moments just like he used to in season threes highlights. This series continues to deliver: 9/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/01/mother-russia-written-by-marc-platt-and.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/21-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-Mother-Russia

Helicon Prime: Terribly boring, one thing I have noticed about the companion chronicles is that they fall into two categories, exceptionally good or terribly dull. Helicon Prime presents some very boring manufactured dangers, a forgettable cliffhanger, a crawling pace and an unmemorable villain whose plan fails to excite. Its such a pity because Hines has not lost his touch as Jamie and he pulls off a touchingly authentic second Doctor. With such a bland script in place not even the production values feel very special and the whole piece is easily skipped. You’ll learn nothing about the characters nor be gripped by the plot: 4/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/01/helicon-prime-written-by-jake-elliot.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/22-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-Helicon-Prime

Old Soldiers: Torchwood before its time, we head to a UNIT base in Germany and discover what dangerous and frightening experiments they have been undertaking. The Brigadier is precisely the kind of character these stories should be channelled through since he is precisely the sort of man who would pour a drink and reminisce about old times. Season seven was a great time for the Doctor and the Brig’s relationship, pushing them through some very frightening experiences and making some hard choices and I love how this story deals with the aftermath of the Silurians. Nicholas Courtney’s delivery is a little too relaxed in places but the grittiness of the story still shines through. Old Soldiers has a dark, defeatist atmosphere, depressing and gripping in equal measure: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/01/old-soldiers-written-by-james-swallow.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/23-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-Old-Soldiers

The Catalyst: My favourite of the series so far, just beating Frostfire because it held my interest so firmly throughout. I loved how the story played on the fascinating and uneasy relationship between the Doctor and Leela, tensely suggesting that the Doctor might have killed in anger after criticising Leela for doing so over and again. Its longer than usual but uses that extra time to drive home the drama of the piece, the racial cleansing of the Z’nai makes the Daleks look tolerable and the script takes a strong look at an issue that is very important today. A superb piece of drama, the script paces itself beautifully and builds up its revelations with consummate skill. Louise Jameson is one of the best actresses we have been fortunate to have as a companion and this gripping slice of theatre really shows you how good she is: 10/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/01/catalyst-written-and-directed-by-nigel.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/24-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-The-Catalyst

Here There Be Monsters: Far better than I was expecting, Here There Be Monsters is another winner for the Hartnell companion chronicles. What I loved was how the story wasn’t afraid to mimic the low budget, slower paced nature of the first season and once the crew meet up with Rostrum the rest of the story is practically one long dialogue scene. Andy Lane uses this to his advantage and throws in excellent concepts and uses the original crew to drive the drama of the piece. Lisa Bowerman directs this as a piece of unnerving theatre, allowing the imagination of the writer to provide spectacle and wonder. It’s a clever, quiet piece with lots to say about the original crew and a far better than usual performance from Carole Ann Ford: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/01/here-there-be-monsters-written-by-andy.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/31-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-Here-There-Be-Monsters

The Great Space Elevator: An authentic season five story featuring floods of foam, one fantastic location, Victoria wondering into danger, arsing about in ventilator shafts and a disembodied entity! There is a lovely sense of innocence to this story that makes it charming rather than exciting but it is rather wonderful to enjoy a further run-around with the most childlike of regulars. Deborah Watling narrates the story very well, capturing both Victoria’s sense of wonder as she travels in the elevator and her fear as she is once again led into danger. The second Doctor shines in this quirky piece, miles more engaging than Helicon Prime: 7/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/01/great-space-elevator-written-by.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/32-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-The-Great-Space-Elevator

The Doll of Death: I do love a good jigsaw and The Doll of Death assembles the overall story with devilish panache. So far Marc Platt has written all of my favourite companion chronicles and this is no exception, a gloriously complicated plot and yet simple if you can get your head around the groovy central premise. There’s nothing I like more than a hole-ridden plot that cleverly plugs those holes in an imaginative fashion. The characterisation is a lot of fun as well, the Doctor almost crosses the line to escape the Earth, the Brigadier is as stuffy and wonderful as ever and Jo keeps them all together simply by being so cute! The Doll of Death wont score as high as Platt’s others simply because this wasn’t infused witch rich history but this is still another sparkling script brought to life with passion by Lisa Bowerman: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/01/doll-of-death-written-by-marc-platt-and.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/33-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-The-Doll-of-Death

Empathy Games: Empathy Games is the first companion chronicle that I felt needed more time to tell its story. Unlike The Catalyst where Nigel Fairs managed to sink the characterisation into the narrative and perpetuate the plot this is an awkward balancing act of world building and developing Leela, which for the most part barely connect. Annoyingly the Doctor turns up at the end after being absent for practically the whole story and waves a magic wand and reminds us of the moral at the heart of the story. On the plus side Louise Jameson is superb as ever and the story is beautifully realised with some very effective set pieces. I love all of the insights into Leela’s character (and I especially enjoyed joining her on a hunt in the first person) but the story lacks the punch it needed to allow it to really take effect: 6/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/01/empathy-games-written-and-directed-by.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/34-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-Empathy-Games

Home Truths: Extremely good, Home Truths takes Sara Kingdom and really gets inside her head. Simon Guerrier should be forced to pay my laundry bill after scaring the shit out of me for over and hour, his script gives director Lisa Bowerman everything she needs to create a really scary ghost story. It works as both the narration and the story are given equal weight and one is used to cleverly explain the other. Jean Marsh and Neil McGregor make the most of their roles and give the story and edge of danger and mystery. I am a huge fan of season three and The Daleks’ Masterplan and this is another valuable element of both, giving more credence to Sara’s status as a companion and tackling another genre (horror) in the already multifaceted season. A real winner, the cliffhanging ending left me eager for more: 9/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/01/home-truths-written-by-simon-guerrier.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/35-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-Home-Truths

The Darkening Eye: What with the Great Space Elevator, Empathy Games and now The Darkening Eye all being less than stellar efforts I am starting to wonder if the companion chronicles might have run out of steam in their third season. The script teeters on the edge of something interesting but never quite has the guts to explore its moribund theme through its characters, instead pushing on through some pretty lifeless set pieces. Sarah Sutton is an extremely underrated performer, she is by far my favourite regular of the Davison era and it disappoints me to see that although Stewart Sheargold has given her some development the tone of the piece is cold and dreary, precisely the sort of feelings people usually unfairly associate with Nyssa. Ken Bentley’s direction is nowhere near at its best here either with no dramatic moments beyond the cliffhanger and a general lack of atmosphere. Lacking clarity and cohesiveness, this is one memory Nyssa was better left forgetting: 4/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/04/darkening-eye-written-by-stewart.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/36-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-The-Darkening-Eye

The Transit of Venus: For fans of the Hartnell era of which I am a massive aficionado it doesn’t get much more authentic than this. Returning us to the dangers of the unknown and the remarkable characterisation of the regulars in the first season, Jac Rayner has written a powerful and involving script that gives Ian the rare chance to stand centre stage. There’s a pleasing amount of history thrown in and after listening I looked a little more into the voyages of Captain Cook and Joseph Bank’s debt to botany – I love it when Doctor Who piques my interest in times past enough to get me to read up about it. Nigel Fairs directs the story delicately, never letting the terrific atmosphere of the piece pull us away from the central relationship between the Doctor and Ian and the mystery surrounding Banks and the answers when they come prove satisfying and build the characters. A superb snapshot of the past written with care and performed beautifully, Transit of Venus restores my faith in this range and then some: 10/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/04/transit-of-venus-written-by-jacqueline.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/37-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-The-Transit-of-Venus

The Prisoner’s Dilemma: I remember once an episode of the Outer Limits featuring Nicole de Boer and Robert Patrick which featured two POWs in a prison cell who develop a relationship and the drama climaxing on a devastating twist wherein Patrick reveals the whereabouts of their fleet and De Boer turns out to be the enemy all along. It was positively gripping, beautifully performed, claustrophobic and great drama. What is this fool getting, I hear you ask? Well I expected something similar from The Prisoner’s Dilemma after reading the synopsis. It led me to believe that this would be a correspondingly stifling slice of character drama set inside one room and we would find out much about both characters in this range crossover. Audio seems ideally suited to this kind of two hander. Not a bit of it – instead I’m not even sure why writer Simon Guerrier bothered to bookend the story with the scenes between Ace and Zara in the cell because instead this story tells two equally unengaging stories revealing how they came to be in the cell in the first place. I know who Zara is now but I don’t think I understand her any more than I did before I started listening and I would hardly say she was a character who deserved this attention. Sophie Aldred proves quite a skilful narrator and this is set during her New Adventures period, which brings out the best in the actress but the story lacks tension and excitement. Its just sort of there. Perhaps they were better off keeping this series to four stories a season because the most inconsistent series of the companion chronicles strikes up another disappointment: 4/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/04/prisoners-dilemma-written-by-simon.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/38-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-The-Prisoners-Dilemma

Resistance: Steve Lyons always likes to subvert your expectations; he wrote a gripping historical for the dizzyingly camp season 24 and here he whips up a stifling historical for the monster laden Troughton era. It makes the most refreshing change of pace and shows how this sort of Hartnellesque drama could have worked a treat had they continued. It a coming of age story for Polly and takes us through a whirlwind of emotions with her, from trying to figure just what it is that she is good at in their adventuring to the aching need to save her Uncle who died during the war. She has never been so prominent or as interesting before and Anneke Wills imbues the philosophical material with some real emotion. It’s a dark piece and brilliantly structured, the first episode setting up the dilemmas and twists of the second and deserves a relisten when the revelations come to light. A strong character drama: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/04/resistance-written-by-steve-lyons-and.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/39-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-Resistance


The Magician’s Oath: Whilst the first Doctor stories have been consistently excellent, as far as I can see so have the third Doctor Companion Chronicles and The Magician’s Oath is no exception. Diamond Jack is a chilling creation and not just because he can suck the warmth from a picturesque scene, Michael Chance gives a superb performance imbuing Jack initially with much charm and then a quiet menace. He genuinely feels like a formidable force bringing the Earth to its knees. As a character study for Mike it really works because it poignantly reminds us of his betrayal of his friends, how he never really moved on with his life and how he never loved anyone quite like Jo Grant. It’s ironic that he should have started out so stereotypically dull as a military figure because he became one of the shows more jaded and realistic characters. Richard Franklin is a terrific dramatic narrator and he brings this story to life with some skill, aided by some precise direction. This was tense, melancholic and unexpectedly powerful, a real surprise: 9/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/04/magicians-oath-written-by-scott-hancock.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/310-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-The-Magicians-Oath

The Mahogany Murderers: The Mahogany Murders is just about perfect. There is an evocative location (‘eating hot chestnuts out of wet paper bags’) and two of the most accomplished storytellers (the excitable and verbose Jago and the silky voiced Professor Litefoot) making this a genuine pleasure to listen to. Andy Lane’s script is full of nourishing descriptions and beautiful language and whilst his story is pretty throwaway the atmosphere and nostalgia it generates demands that this becomes a series. A beautifully directed slice of magic: 10/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/04/mahogany-murderers-written-by-andy-lane.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/311-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-The-Mahogany-Murderers

The Stealers from Saiph: Cheap characterisation, awkward dialogue and clichéd ideas make The Stealers of Saiph a deathly dull slice of audio drama. Its lovely to hear Mary Tamm reading the story but the material is beneath her, the barest bones of a story with little opportunity to add some sparkle. I waited the two episodes to see if the Professor would not turn out to be the Saiph because that was too obvious a path for the writer to take…but bugger me if he didn’t go down that route anyway! There is a massacre and most of the guest cast are murdered but since you had invested very little time in their and their obsessions and frivolities it is much of a muchness. I want Mary Tamm back for more because I think there is some real mileage in both the character and the actress but this is a hugely inadequate start. In all honesty I preferred the documentary at the end to the story itself (‘One take Tamm!’): 3/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/04/stealers-from-saiph-written-by-nigel.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/312-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-The-Stealers-from-Saiph

The Drowned World: Lisa Bowerman has emerged as one of the standout directors in Big Finish’s repertoire and whilst I thoroughly enjoy her louder, brasher stories she seems to have found a disquieting niche in the under-the-skin atmosphere of the calmer stories. The opening fifteen minutes of The Drowned World reminded me of Home Truths and her other masterpiece, A Thousand Tiny Wings, in that it is almost terrifyingly quiet in how it is played. This just helps to serve the story when the excitement builds and the sudden moments of horror really take effect. I love a director who is not afraid to let the quality of the script step forward and holds back on all manner of audio trickery until the story needs it. Simon Guerrier has really tapped into something special in the continuing adventures of Sara Kingdom and he gives Jean Marsh some strong, emotive material to play and (naturally) she acquits herself tremendously. You’ve got two equally strong plotlines intertwining; Sara facing the danger of the silver sea and her developing relationship with Robert. The Companion Chronicles occasionally tap into something that is far greater than its source material and The Drowned World is one such example – a stirring drama in its own right and a second piece of this trilogy that leave you hungry for the third: 9/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/07/drowned-world-written-by-simon-guerrier.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/401-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-The-Drowned-World

The Glorious Revolution: History whips a potent drama once again and this time (for Jamie) it’s personal. You get a lot of bang for your buck in The Glorious Revolution; some mouth-watering and unusual conflict between the Doctor and Jamie, another valuable and interesting history lesson in the unique Doctor Who format, a chance to hear Frazer Hines charm his audience as both the Doctor and Jamie and another typically flawless production with the direction, sound effects and musical score at the top of their game. By taking the Troughton characters and planting them in a Hartnell style drama is a stroke of genius because there is so much untapped potential in Jamie’s previous life that is ripe for exploration. I love that this story takes Jamie’s defiance of the Doctor about as far as it can go and yet never once feels out of character – he is a boy of strong beliefs and is willing to do his bit to make history easier on the Scots. There are surprises aplenty (especially the terrific cliffhanger) and throughout I was enraptured by the detail and educational nature of the story. It’s worth listening to just for the hilarious scene where the Doctor and Jamie drag up as washerwomen and remove the King from the Palace in a linen basket! If the Companion Chronicles can keep up this level of quality in their fourth year it will easily be the best year yet: 9/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/07/glorious-revolution-written-by-jonathan.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/402-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-The-Glorious-Revolution

The Prisoner of Peladon: There is something about the wistful way in which King Peladon recounts this tale that reminds me pleasingly of a dark fairytale and it has all the magic and sinister atmosphere I would expect from such a story. Pleasingly this was the evening I decided to put some candles on rather than the light and listened in a haze of moody flickering light which just seemed to enhance the mood. In episode two the lyrical nature of the piece surrenders to Martian politics but this serves to build a powerful image of Martin culture at this time and there is still the mystery of the prisoner of Peladon to solve to see you through to the conclusion. The answers are very satisfying when they come and it once again sees an important galactic event taking place on Peladon – a planet can get a terrible reputation you know! The dramatic confrontation between Peladon and the Doctor at the climax is exceptional and ends the piece on a dramatic high. Nicely done indeed: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/07/prisoner-of-peladon-written-by-cavan.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/403-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-The-Prisoner-of-Peladon

The Pyralis Effect: A shame to halt the momentum of quality of this series of Companion Chronicles so dramatically, The Pyralis Effect is the dullest entry in this series since Fear of the Daleks. It lacks the humour of the Williams era and the energy when JNT took over and the story tries to take on a poetic atmosphere (highlighted by the superb music) but the script isn’t strong enough and its ideas fails to generate much interest. Romana feels more like a plot function than a character in her own right and the Doctor is lost in a story that doesn’t fit his exuberant character from this time in his life. None of the guest characters grabbed me and so all I was left with was the science of the piece which leaves the overall atmosphere very dry and dusty. I had to force myself to stay focussed on this story as my attention tried to drift away every couple of minutes or so. I remain unconvinced that Romana makes a good avatar for this series: 3/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/07/pyralis-effect-written-by-george-mann.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/404-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-The-Pyralis-Effect

Ringpullworld: Colourful, fun, imaginative and extremely pleasurable to listen to, Ringpullworld is Paul Magrs at his creative best. With two people telling the story at once you get some marvellous narrative tricks and commentary and with three possible outcomes laid out all bets are off as to which one will take place! I get the impression that Paul Magrs is a big fan of the Davison era because between this and The Boy The Time Forgot he has managed to conjure up the most important voices of the era with absolute clarity and even more excitingly has some fun with them too! It has one of the jolliest musical scores I’ve ever heard and it adds a great deal to the production. We get to see a peek into the best possible future which leaves the listener so elated you are convinced that it is the real one before that is snatched away and taken to a precipice of suspense as the possibilities are all we have to end the story on. Its both unbelievably cruel and punch the air brilliant to end the story on that note and as such I want to end this review on an equally ambiguous ending of three possibilities. One where I give this story a 3/10 where everything in this review holds but loses so many marks for letting me down so badly and not providing an adequate conclusion. One where I give it a 6/10 for providing some real giggles but not quite managing to hold itself together. And one where it gets 10/10 for being bold and brilliant and dazzling. But I’m not going to make that decision. The future is all yours.

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/07/ringpullworld-written-by-paul-magrs-and.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/405-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-Ringpullworld

Bernice Summerfield and the Criminal Code: How wonderful to have an adventure for the seventh Doctor and Benny without Ace getting in the way. Unlike most of the Companion Chronicles this isn’t a deeply personal adventure for Bernice (indeed set between Sanctuary and Human Nature which were her to most agonising experiences in the New Adventures this will probably come as a blessed relief for her!) but merely a lovely story, well told. I understand that this range should be seeking new avenues to explore underused characters in the series but Bernice has had so much coverage it is actually rather refreshing to enjoy a mere caper with her. There are some nice twists (especially the nature of the forbidden language) and it is so nice to see the character treated as an academic rather than a horny drunk. Keeping Simon Guerrier’s sweet script together is a gorgeous reading by Lisa Bowerman whose voice I am so accustomed to now (after 11 series of her own adventures) it is like luxuriating in a long hot bath when I listen to her tell a story: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/07/bernice-summerfield-and-criminal-code.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/406-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-Bernice-Summerfield-and-the-Criminal-Code

The Suffering: I’m not certain that the plot of The Suffering needs the double length to play out since the actual events of the story are quite thin but at least it changes narrator halfway through to keep things interesting. What really stands out are the lovely period touches that the extra time on this release affords. I would pay good money to see Hartnell’s Doctor roaring through the countryside in a vintage old banger, Steven creeping his way through a macabre shop devoted to the dead and Vicki heading off to a Suffragette demonstration. Peter Purves and Maureen O’Brien sound as if they have stepped back in time, effortlessly capturing the voices of their characters and making the skeletal story far more entertaining than it deserves to be. During the paranormal moments the direction lets the side down which is strange for the usually reliable Lisa Bowerman but once again the period touches of church bells, steam trains and growling cars help to invoke up the past. There are two equally strong ideas at the heart of this play – the missing link and the growing Suffragette movement but in taking the alien approach in both cases I didn’t feel that either was pushed strongly enough to really make an impact. Ultimately The Suffering is an enjoyable if hardly vital story which is sold mostly by the charm and charisma of the actors bringing it to life. Peri & the Piscon Paradox would make a far better job of exploiting the double disc format: 7/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/07/suffering-written-by-jacqueline-rayner.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/407-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-The-Suffering

The Emperor of Eternity: I’m sure there is a gripping story to be told about saving the Emperor of China from being assassinated but The Emperor of Eternity simply isn’t it. Robinson’s approach to storytelling is so lacking in ambition it hurts, his plot relies on co-incidences and the right characters just happening to turn up with information and there is an abundance of ‘choose your own adventure’ Doctor Who clichés I could have almost have plotted the story in my sleep after the first five minutes. Making things even more jarring is Deborah Watling’s discordant reading which sounds unrehearsed and unnaturalistic and is not aided by the fact that Robinson doesn’t capture her character with any accuracy. Unfortunately it takes more than a few exotic descriptions of a palace to conjure up a culture as dazzling as ancient China and it feels as though Robinson has skimmed a few Ladybird books and taken a few scant details to add colour to his story but it never once feels like he understands the society like Lucarotti, Whitaker and the best of the historical writers do. If it sounds like I am being especially harsh it is because I can see real potential in what Robinson is aiming for but it fails to reach any of its lofty ambitions. Honestly it takes more than a few beheadings! Sterling sound design and music as usual but overall this is very disappointing: 4/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/07/emperor-of-eternity-written-by-nigel.html
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Shadow of the Past: What I found most impressive about Shadow of the Past was how Simon Guerrier managed to expose all the unique elements about season seven that make it such a cornerstone of quality in the classic series’ run. The Doctor and the Brigadier have genuine opposing viewpoints, Liz Shaw is an intelligent and considerate woman in her own right and not just the Doctor’s assistant, alien incursions are something to be genuinely feared and there is a strong element of the spy thriller genre mixed in with some gripping science fiction. It’s a heady brew and Guerrier utilises it to explore a race of aliens who have caused a real stir in another spin off series. Shadow from the Past isn’t the best storytelling I have ever experienced – it is quite a simple piece with the Doctor causing the problem and providing its solution – but it’s through sharp insights into its era and strong characterisation that this story succeeds. Caroline John is a natural storyteller and her dazzling portrayal as Liz whisks us back to season seven effortlessly. One thing I have noticed about the third Doctor Companion Chronicles is that the performers reading for the third Doctor (be it Caroline John, Katy Manning, Nicholas Courtney or Richard Franklin) treat his character with a certain reverence that is impossible not to be charmed by. As they read for his character you can literally feel that they are grateful to have had the chance to work with the late, great Jon Pertwee: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/07/shadow-of-past-written-by-simon.html
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The Time Vampire: I like a sci-fi puzzle. I enjoyed the complexities of Paul Leonard’s The Last Resort but to this day people still swear it doesn’t make any sense (it does, you just have to work at it) but I have to admit that The Time Vampire has me stumped. Its like trying to do a rubix cube where each surface changes colour every five minutes. Even if I wrote out each scene in this story sequentially I don’t think I could assemble into a narrative that was in any way coherent (even if I stared at it for a really long time) and that rather cheats the audience. If you are going to hop back and forth from various time zones and groups of characters you have to at least offer your audience some hope of putting this all together otherwise they feel cheated that you are just being weird for wierds sake. By the end of episode one I was happy to give up – the Doctor turns up and suggests dire consequences for all after half an hour of listening to a confused Leela pushed from one set piece to the next. None of it connects. And then the cliffhanger comes along out of no where and offers hope that the second part will play about with some juicy ideas (the third Doctor causing the devastation and the fourth Doctor experiencing its consequences is exceptionally clever – so much so I am really surprised that nobody has thought to do it before) which leads into more disappointing crazy paving plotting. Perhaps Fairs has been corrupted by his input into the Sapphire and Steel range which (pleasingly for that series) didn’t conform to the usual narrative rules but all I can say is that in The Catalyst he told a gripping story whereas come the conclusion of his trilogy he is throwing together random scenes that pretend to be gripping and that’s such a shame. Imagine this story had it been told on a double disc (ala The Suffering) and afforded both the third and fourth Doctor a narrative each as one tries to stop this atrocity and the other tries to help his earlier self out. That would have been much more interesting than the mess that we get which completely forgets that this trilogy is supposed to be about Leela until the boggling ending. Deeply unsatisfying as the end of a trilogy that showed much promise and a failiure as a story in its own right, The Time Vampire really rubbed me up the wrong way: 3/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/07/time-vampire-written-and-directed-by.html
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Nights Black Agents: I went into this story not expecting a great deal because I thought that the idea of having a companion chronicle set during a self contained trilogy of stories really wouldn’t stand up under scrutiny as a story in its own right. Once again, more fool me. The very idea of a chilly character assassination set on the Scottish moorland is enough to get me a little excited and with the added impetus of the unusual pairing of the sixth Doctor and Jamie and the unfolding story between them you’ve got some nice elements to driving the story. What’s more Lisa Bowerman is back on incredible form and taking full advantage of brewing a sinister, exciting atmosphere and Marty Ross proves his worth by spinning lines that would otherwise be exposition into sunny, quotable dialogue. What starts as an atmospheric piece spins into a strong character examination in the second episode and I was drawn into the thoughtful way Jamie’s life was unravelled a thread at a time. What Night’s Black Agents reveals better than perhaps any other story I have experienced with him is that whatever guise Jamie McCrimmon takes he is a loyal, selfless, honourable man who wont shy away from the consequences of his actions and will do anything to protect a man that sees more in him than a fighter. For that alone this story is a beautiful thing: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/07/nights-black-agents-written-by-marty.html
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Solitaire: My favourite aspect of this devilishly clever piece of writing is that on the outside it looks like a very simple piece of drama with two characters and one location but the episode is a puzzle box more akin to a TARDIS that has a straightforward exterior but infinite complexities within. The more you explore this tale the more the more rewards you receive and like a good game it has its own rules, its own obstacles and like a really good game it makes you believe so much is certain whereas nothing is quite as it seems. A story so surreal that when things start to happen that is the red herring and one that gets more complex as the playing field gets smaller. A one-player game that you don’t know you’re playing with a solution so simple it has been staring you in the face from the very first scene and one that is so exposed that you would never guess it until it is pointed out to you. The writer proves that the best way to hide a simplicity is to dress it up as a complexity. An attention-grabbing debut from John Dorney that impresses all the more because it can be enjoyed on so many levels (as a treatise on games, as another adventure for Charley, as a return of the Toymaker, as a puzzle to figure out and as a piece of drama packed with great dialogue and superb performances) that rounds of the impressive fourth season of Companion Chronicles with the best story yet: 10/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/07/solitaire-written-by-john-dorney-and.html
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The Guardian of the Solar System: Guardian of the Solar System is less of a story in its own right and more of a continuation of the previous two Sara Kingdom stories but as a conclusion to the trilogy it proves to be very satisfying. Simon Guerrier has struck on such a winner with his Sara arc and there really isn’t a weak moment in all three exceptional stories. The story of Robert lacing through all these memories links the trilogy and the format of the Dalek Masterplan makes the vignettes of stories feel as though they are the perfect length. What’s more he has managed to take an is she/isn’t she companion and turn Sara into the definitive article for me and adding a number of wonderful stories to what I already consider to be a Doctor Who masterpiece. None of these achievements are easy and Guerrier’s skill with both the first person narrative and running arcs should be applauded. Lisa Bowerman’s direction has never been better than in this remarkable trilogy, nothing is rushed and yet there are still moments of great tension and drama and some incredible shocks and the performances she coaxes from Jean Marsh and Niall McGregor are extraordinary. Somewhere in the depths of Doctor Who’s arsenal of storytelling lie three Sara Kingdom companion chronicles and they contain some of the finest drama, moments of poetry and philosophy and represent this crazy little series at its most meditative. Breathtakingly good: 10/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/08/guardian-of-solar-system-written-by.html
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Echoes of Grey: I didn’t know what to expect from Echoes of Grey but I certainly didn’t expect the first episode to be so…lacking. After John Dorney’s superlative Solitaire I was expecting more mystery and amazing interplay (those were the things that made his debut story so memorable) but there was just a gaping hole where that should be. Why is it that the Troughton companion chronicles lack the immediacy and interest of the other eras? Its not just the slack pace either, the direction is flat and uninteresting with sparse sound design and Wendy Padbury’s performance whilst adequate is nothing to shout home about. The cliffhanger is just about the dullest in memory with no real build up and it is edited as if any old moment was chosen to split the story in two. Rather than the snapshot of an adventure with the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe I think I would have preferred to have hung out with Zoe in contemporary times and see what her life is made of. For a story with such a dramatic idea at its core it isn’t applied to any of the regulars, they merely comment on the apallingness of it and so it is hard to connect with the drama. A very disappointing release which saves its most interesting moment for the last scene but unfortunately by then it is too little too late: 3/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/09/echoes-of-grey-written-by-john-dorney.html
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Find and Replace: ‘We’re going back to the seventies!’ Jo Grant at her dazzling best, Iris Wildthyme making me laugh myself silly and the return of Huxley who made such an instant impression in Ringpullworld – Find and Replace has all the ingredients to make me one very happy chappy! The sense of nostalgia for the Pertwee era that Paul Magrs conjures gave me goosebumps for much of the second episode and left me grinning from ear to ear. This is a brilliantly funny play with a very touching reunion taking place and lots of delightful characters to spend your time with. Of the stories I have heard it is still Lisa Bowerman’s best ever direction as far as I am concerned and the music brews happy emotions with exactly the same skill as the script. With the two working together you don’t have a chance of resisting this companion chronicle. This is everything the best Doctor Who audios should be - imaginative, pleasurable and filled with great lines and performances. Easily my most re-listened Big Finish of recent years and one of the stories I grab for automatically when I am in a bad mood. It never fails to make me laugh and to cry and love Doctor Who: 10/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/09/find-and-replace-written-by-paul-magrs.html
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The Invasion of E-Space: An unusual story in that it is mostly well written and certainly well performed but it doesn’t really have the impact that the invasion of an entire world should. Perhaps it is because it is told through Romana’s emotionless, alien eyes that it fails to engage or that because the motive and the method are both coldly scientific and the impact on the people is never really felt beyond a throwaway statistic. Oddly the closest thing we get to character examination is of Adric which might go to show how effective that side of the story is. To be fair to Andrew Smith he has mimicked the static technical storytelling that was rife in season eighteen and the first half of this story is full of memorable sci-fi imagery that reminds me of the best moments of that season but the biggest problem is that there is very little heart and it is difficult to care about the events unfolding. Even the conclusion when the invading army seem to decide that they are needed back in N-Space on a whim and the closure of the CVE trapping our heroes once more in E-Space seem distressingly inevitable. I always head into these Romana Companion Chronicles with high hopes as Lalla Ward is a terrific performer but she has yet been given any material that is truly worthy of her: 5/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/10/invasion-of-e-space-written-by-andrew.html
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A Town Called Fortune: A Town Called Fortune is screaming with the atmosphere of a gun slinging western adventure. Lisa Bowerman pulls out all of the stops to evoke the feeling of the era and with Paul Sutton’s script full of lovely kisses to the genre it is easy to get swept into a Middle West mood. I’m not a massive fan of the genre it has to be said but the story pushes along with plenty of energy and revelling in the period clichés and as a lover of the sixth Doctor and Evelyn it wasn’t hard for me to be dragged along with the story. Maggie Stables could read to me any day of the week and she would have my full attention, she’s a superb storyteller I hope it isn’t too long before she narrates another of these adventures. The writing is full of scents, sounds and sights which makes this a very immerse experience and whilst I was never particularly interested in the details of the story (again that comes down to my distaste of Westerns) there was plenty here to keep me interested. I’m glad this was told intimately from Evelyn’s point of view because I don’t think it would have held up as a longer, full cast story but with her unique take on things and getting into all manner of scrapes from bar fights to being trapped in a burning building its very easy to enjoy a trip to a Wild West town with this most eclectic of companions. I like it very much but I can understand why this wouldn’t be everybody’s cup of tea: 7/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/10/town-called-fortune-written-by-paul.html
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Quinnis: David Richardson and the companion chronicle team must always be looking for inspiration in various eras to set these tales in and I’m surprised it has taken this long to set a story before An Unearthly Child before the series began because that was the first slot that came to mind when I first heard the idea. It’s a risky business for sure but this series can pride itself on taking risks and succeeding (a story with Jago & Litefoot, King Peladon) and Marc Platt has already proven himself to be a the master of the first Doctor tale (Frostfire, Mother Russia) but also the best writer for Susan (An Earthly Child, Relative Dimensions) and he has already dipped his toes in these waters in a very different universe (his superlative unbound tales Auld Mortality & A Storm of Angels). We’re in safe hands and the atmosphere that Platt conjures through his writing is definitely one of unbridled joy for the Doctor and Susan to have shaken free the chains of Gallifrey and the chance to explore exotic new worlds but also an unpredictable danger that they are new at this and finding their feet in exploring new cultures. Quinnis is an intriguing planet to visit and I love the fact that it is Susan’s humanity that gets them into trouble this time, its one time she falters that you can’t really blame her for at all. The imagery is startling; screaming birds feeding on tears and blood and mutant weed dragging the city into the waters and at the heart of it all the Doctor, more charismatic and intelligent than ever, clutching his lapels in the face of these problems and thinking through solutions. This is a very enjoyable, quirky piece which manages to juggle nostalgia and quench your thirst for imaginative storytelling in one confident swoop: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/11/quinnis-written-by-marc-platt-and.html
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Peri & the Piscon Paradox: A magnificently written comedy masterpiece that probes deeply into Perpeguilliam Brown and ultimately has some very deep things to say. Peri and the Piscon Paradox is my favourite companion chronicle because it takes the format of the range and turns it on its head brilliantly, not only breaks down the fourth wall but obliterates it and walks through to shake your hand (the sixth Doctor notes he is an underrated performer!) and offers more surprises, cheats and twists than a whole series of stories. The dialogue sparkles for its entire running time with too many laugh out loud moments to mention but what really impressed me was when the comedy was stripped away and we focus on the awful realisation of what has happened to the older Peri. Some of my most favourite Big Finish scenes occur during the course of this audio and they brought to life with absolute conviction by Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker who once again prove themselves to be one of the strongest pairings on audio. Few stories can claim to tie up messy continuity threads from twenty years ago with this degree of success but we finally hear what happened to Peri after the Trial and Fountain pleasingly leaves all the alternatives untouched. Imaginative, clever, silly, serious, hilarious and thought provoking, Peri and the Piscon Paradox has it all: 10/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/11/peri-piscon-paradox-written-by-nev.html
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The Perpetual Bond: I wondered if Simon Guerrier would be able to replicate the success of his phenomenal Sara Kingdom arc but I shouldn’t have worried because he has written another entertaining story albeit in a very different style to his previous companion chronicles. The idea of introducing a new companion to the Hartnell era is a deliciously ambitious one and to make it a never seen before all male trio added to my excitement. Oliver is a curious fellow and one of the first lines out of his mouth is a big mystery that hooks you in immediately but he isn’t explored in any great depth here because the plot demands a furious pace – all the sensitive character examination comes in the dynamite second instalment, The Cold Equations. This is a light and bubbly adventure that skips along very amiably and it must have come as a relief for Guerrier to write something this bright after the darkness of his previous arc. Purves and Allen make for fine narrators and take a fair share of the action each and there is a very fluid exchange between them that hasn’t always been the case with some of the other duos in this series. Despite the heavy subject matter this does feel quite slight and my strongest recommendation would be to buy this to experience again Purves’ awesome interpretation of Hartnell’s first Doctor. It really is something special: 7/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/11/perpetual-bond-written-by-simon.html
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The Forbidden Time: I find Polly a very absorbing narrator of the companion chronicles for two reasons; one being that given she is one of the characters that has had the majority of their episodes junked there always seems to be a lot learn about the character and her relationship Ben and secondly because Anneke Wills brings a nostalgic, wistful quality to her stories that really drags me in and gives me the kind of feeling I am after listening to this series. The Forbidden Time has a lot of strengths in its favour; a memorable, frightening location, a discomforting new alien race (that I would like to hear more of) which are brought to life with some skill by Lisa Bowerman and an unusual threat to the Earth the likes of which we have never seen before. Add to that the intriguing framing device and Wills and Hines on form and you have a strong audio adventure that pushes its era into a pleasing new direction. Having Jamie record his adventures on the Dictaphone is a really clever idea and it gives the story some a fresh feel, offering moments of unexpected tension as we head literally inside the story that Polly is telling. Kudos for the front cover too, which is evocative and nightmarish: 8/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/11/forbidden-time-written-by-david-lock.html
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The Sentinels of the New Dawn: I think I am a victim of my own making with regards to The Sentinel of the New Dawn because I had built up the story in my head as a gripping precursor to Leviathan that seamlessly answered all my question that the innovative Lost Story left hanging. Alas no, this is a competently told drama with some moments of inspiration (bringing the Doctor and Liz back together was enough to lure me in) but it is weighed down by some clichéd ideas (another organisation with international aspirations) and a lack of pace or tension. What this story does have is the multi-talented Caroline John on board who is one of my favourite narrators because she gives everything to a reading and managed to force moments of pathos and character out of a script that only feeds her morsels. Had this been read by some of the other companion chronicle contributors I might have been a lot harder on the story but John provides a smooth and easy listen and even when I could feel the faults in the storytelling I relaxed into her exceptional interpretation of it. If you have heard bad things about Torchwood: Miracle Day and cannot be bothered to watch it (I would suggest that you do because there is much more there than people have given it credit for) but want to be kept up to speed then simply slip in this story and listen to the Sentinel’s Ebola scheme and mop up. It is pretty much identical to the Families plan in Miracle Day and will save you the bother of having to watch ten episodes to get to the same revelations. Lacking substance but gorgeously brought to life, New Dawn is a curio that I would suggest every Who fan should listen to at least once. Just so you can experience more of Liz Shaw: 6/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/11/sentinels-of-new-dawn-written-by-paul.html
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Ferril’s Folly: I’ve heard of formulaic storytelling but this is ridiculous! Ferril’s Folly leaps into its tale with little of the confidence of the season it is supposed to be taking place in and introduces plot elements and characters in blandly scripted conversations that stack up awkwardly against each other. There is no sparkle or wit to the proceedings, just one very boring chat after another between characters without quirks or eccentricities to make them definable. The second episode lurches into an all action conclusion with metallic nasties coming to life and attacking all and sundry but this is another fail because the sound effects and music lacked conviction and I was growing increasingly frustrated that I could see what was going on. Audio really should encourage the strengths of its medium rather than constantly remind us of the senses we are lacking. However the most annoying aspect of Ferril’s Folly is that it fails to do a single original thing – the characters, the plot, the dangers can all be found in other, better Doctor Who stories. This feels like a hastily tapped off fanfic rushed to fill a hole in the schedules rather than a story that has been gestating for the past couple of years. Considering this is another Romana CC that fails to distinguish her character whatsoever it is a strong contender for the worst companion chronicle yet in what has been the most inconsistent season yet: 2/10

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The Cold Equations: A melancholic setting and fascinating TARDIS crew, The Cold Equations closes the fifth season of companion chronicles on a riveting high. Simon Guerrier manages to tap into the evocative nature of sixties Doctor Who whilst giving it a modern edge – he grabs hold of the black and white era and paints it in shades of grey. Fully justifying the all male team he writes a wistful first Doctor, a suspicious Steven and a naively excited Oliver who quickly learns that time travel isn’t a game. The title of the story is very appropriate as we plunge headlong into a situation that proves that science is cold and heartless, it has no respect for life and you have to make it work for you. Peter Purves and Tom Allen seize the chance to play something this dramatic and we are drawn to both characters as they fight an impossible situation and I have to give a massive round of applause to Richard Fox & Lauren Yason for their superb music. The scores on the companion chronicles are always good but the music here is extremely emotive and draws you into the story. Those who thought the Oliver trilogy wouldn’t reach the heights of the Sara Kingdom one, think again. You’ll never guess what Oliver’s secret is but I promise you this, it’ll blow you away: 10/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/05/cold-equations-written-by-simon.html
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Tales from the Vault: I know they say that the imagination is limitless but it seems that Jonathan Morris is trying to prove that as a fact because no matter how many times Big Finish book him to write a story he always delivers something fresh, exciting and hugely inventive. The umbrella theme of visiting the UNIT archive and telling stories through the various artefacts we discover is memorable and exhilarating – who wouldn’t want the chance to explore this place? It’s a great premise to include as many different companions as possible and rather than looking at one tale in depth (which usually works very well for the companion chronicles but can sometimes be a little laboured) we get lots of little quirky vignettes that show off the various actors (Manning, Padbury, Tamm and Purves all excel themselves) but also allow Morris to include a manifest of wonderfully eccentric story ideas. In fact this would make a fantastic introduction to the companion chronicles if you wanted to test the waters because it features the best of the range - classic companion actors returning and pulling off their old roles superbly, character building narration, a fresh, modern take on some of their lives adding new depths and strong direction with great sound effects and music. The only thing that confuses me is the use of Daphne Ashbrook and Yee Jee Tso but they fulfill their roles with some relish so I can’t complain too much but I’m not sure what the reason for casting two TV Movie cast offs is beyond providing the story with some spectacle that it can’t really deliver (it would have been exquisite has Grace become a UNIT operative after her experiences with the eighth Doctor). Tales from the Vault is an impressive one off that isn’t trying to dig too deep but provide a massively entertaining ride which it does splendidly. With its anthology of succulent tidbits and exposure of UNIT procedure I was bewitched by this unique tale and would certainly welcome a second visit to the vault at some point: 8/10

Full Review Here: Tales from the Vault
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The Rocket Men: This is an example of the companion chronicles at their very best. John Dorney seems to have the Midas touch, his script for this story is bursting with romantic ideas, gorgeous character development, a superbly sketched setting and an authentic tone for the period. His descriptions of the regulars shows that he has shown great observation watching the actors in their televised stories as he gets all their quirks and characteristics spot on. The dialogue is memorable and dramatic and the unconventional story structure gives the story another boost. Lisa Bowerman steps in with some of her best ever direction (those who know how good she can be will know that is high praise indeed) and she fills the exciting story with some real moments of triumph and beauty. I hope we get another sixties story from this writer/director team because they clearly both have an authentic flair for the era and for an hour this morning I was whisked away to the most exciting time in Doctor Who’s long run. I never thought we would get a story where Ian confesses his love for Barbara but it is something I have always wanted to happen and thanks to The Rocket Men I am left blissfully happy at their romance. Performed with real passion by William Russell who makes these companion chronicles come alive so vibrantly, The Rocket Men is a standout adventure that manages to capture its era and do something innovative with it: 10/10

Full Review Here: The Rocket Men
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The Memory Cheats: Simon Guerrier seems to excel at these quietly powerful stories that keep me shivering with anticipation throughout. He’s a prolific writer for this range but he always manages to deliver something unexpected and get under the skin. It might be exploring the psychology of a companion or it might be the location he has chosen to set the adventure and in The Memory Cheats he wins on both counts and with sympathetic direction from Lisa Bowerman and a sensitive musical score the resulting piece is very potent. Wendy Padbury delivers a stunning performance, treating the dialogue with the respect and compassion it deserves and she makes the story unfold with a disquieting, spellbinding effect. As usual a historical setting gives the tale a real sense of realism and Bowerman uses this to create moments of fantastic atmosphere. The ending is so clever it made me want to go back and listen to the whole story all over again to see how Zoe has managed to pull of such a feat. It’s the same sort of giddy thrill I get when a Jonathan Creek episode reveals its secrets and I have to replay the whole thing to see where I have been hoodwinked. A great slice of audio drama and Guerrier has finally broken the curse of unsatisfying Zoe companion chronicles with this gem: 10/10

Full Review Here: The Memory Cheats
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The Many Deaths of Jo Grant: Jo Grant, the suicide Queen, gets a story of her own to prove just how many times she would be willing to give up her life for the Doctor. I really enjoyed The Many Deaths of Jo Grant for its unusual storytelling techniques and snatches of storylines that feel as though they were genuinely scripted edited by Terrance Dicks. Katy Manning is as wonderful as ever and with each story I get the impression that she is pouring more and more of her love for the late, great Jon Pertwee into her stories. The dialogue isn’t always as memorable as it could be but the pace is relentless and if one storyline doesn’t float your boat another will be along in a few minutes that might be more to your tastes. As somebody who enjoys the comforting familiarity of the Pertwee era it was agreeably disconcerting to have reality playfully abandoned for a more schizophrenic piece and throughout all the myriad of locations there is the constant remind of the bond between the Doctor and Jo. I initially thought the conclusion was a bit pat but that was when I thought the ‘Rowe is evil’ reveal was for real…I laughed my head off when I realised I had been hoodwinked one last time! The journey is great fun and for a chance to listen to Manning show off her talent it is another excellent showcase. If I ever need reminding that the Pertwee era was a time of great comfort I will stick on Find and Replace and Many Deaths back to back: 8/10

Full Review Here: The Many Deaths of Jo Grant
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The First Wave: As soon as I see that writers name next to that director with those musicians and I add in the words ‘first Doctor era’ I know I’m in for something very special. Some people might moan about the fact of two Simon Guerrier scripts in such close succession but when they are of the quality of The First Wave and The Memory Cheats that argument just doesn’t hold up. Oliver’s inclusion in the range has been a fascinating experiment of an all male TARDIS crew and a handling of some intriguing historical (and sexual) politics and my only issue with it has been that he did not have a longer run. Guerrier does a massive service to Doctor Who fans by bringing back the Vardans not as some ridiculous in joke but as a genuinely malevolent force that wants to subdue the planet. Their spine tingling electric crackle and blink of an eye powers really works on audio and they make an impressive enemy. Like all of Guerrier’s companion chronicles director Lisa Bowerman injects an unsettling atmosphere to the proceedings, a spell of anxiety that sets my teeth on edge waiting for the moment when everything goes wrong. What starts as a an investigation into their own involvement in this period ends with a futile race against time to prevent the Vardans from attacking the Earth and I was literally on the edge of my seat as the Doctor’s friends defied all the odds to oppose these flesh crawling nasties. There’s real momentum to The First Wave, wonderful dialogue and complex characterisation – its another masterpiece for season six. Simon Guerrier can write all of the chronicles for all I care if he can keep this standard up: 10/10

Full Review Here: The First Wave
Buy it from Big Finish here: The First Wave

Beyond the Ultimate Adventure: Whereas I went into The Fourth Wall with absolute confidence (John Dorney, Nicholas Briggs and Jamie Robertson) I approached Beyond the Ultimate Adventure with real caution because its contributors have hardly produced the finest works under the Big Finish banner (Terrance has been practically ignored by brought Sarah Jane back with the desperately slow Comeback and Jason Haigh-Ellery directed The Rapture with no restraint at all). Judging by this story it would appear that Terrance Dicks has nothing new to bring to Doctor Who and he is writing the equivalent of one of his appearances at a Doctor Who convention where the same old anecdotes spill out over half an hour. Once you have heard them once its funny (the original TV stories – The Five Doctors, The War Games), twice and you start to look at your watch (many of Terry’s books plunder his creative backlog of stories from Timewyrm Exodus to World Game) but when he keeps showing up in the schedules with the same old clichés it goes beyond a nostalgia trip into something almost insulting to the fans who are expected to buy something this vacuous and undemanding just because it has Dicks’ name slapped on it. Coming after such stories as The Rocket Men, The Memory Cheats and The First Wave which took at look back at their respective eras and found something dazzlingly inventive and dramatic to say beyond what was on the screen this sort of copy and paste job is found especially wanting. If you were thinking about skipping this one it is probably the best idea – there is nothing original, imaginative or worth listening to in Beyond the Ultimate Adventure and its perhaps time for Dicks to put down his pen if this is the best he can come up with. Switch off your ability to hear dialogue and just listen to the music, that’s my best advice: 1/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: Beyond the Ultimate Adventure


The Anachronauts: Simon Guerrier continues to reap rewards from exploring Steven and Sara and has delivered another fascinating, polished script. What impresses me so much about The Anachronauts is how he continues to find interesting things to say about the three regulars whilst indulging in an ambitious tale that is bursting at the seams with evocative Sapphire and Steel-like concepts. The first half of the story is practically a prologue for the main adventure and chance for the Doctor, Steven and Sara to get their breath back after being chased around by the Daleks for so long. It serves as a hypnotic reminder of the ‘sideways’ adventures that the show threw into the mix to keep the format unpredictable in the shows early years. Indulging in some haunting imagery, serving as a reminder of just how magical the TARDIS is at this point in the shows history and featuring strong character development, this is top notch material. The second half of the story is posing as a historical drama of the sort that this range excels at, conjuring up an evocative snapshot of the past and forcing the characters to make some tough decisions. There’s a real feeling of claustrophobia (not all that surprising when we find out where Steven is really trapped) in these episodes, as though whatever Steven and Sara do they will end up interrogated and shot. And the answers when they come are very satisfying. The Companion Chronicles always seem to bring the best out of the directors and sound designers and that is especially apparent in The Anachronauts. Ken Bentley has directing plenty of Big Finish stories by now but this has to be one of his most accomplished productions, managing to switch genres with ease and with complete control over his fierce acting talent. I have spoken about Toby Hryrek-Robinson above but he deserves another shout in the summary for his excellent soundscapes and music which compliment the production and give it a very visual feel. You’re basically getting two companion chronicles for your buck and whilst the unforgettable conclusion wouldn’t be half as effective without the discussion of the first half, they still feel like two individual stories. Simon Guerrier continues to impress and Purves and Marsh are legendary: 9/10

Full Review Here: The Anachronauts
Buy it from Big Finish here: The Anachronauts

The Selachian Gambit: A sunny delight, The Selachian Gambit turned a particularly unpleasant walk to Tesco being battered by the elements into a joyously funny and enjoyable experience. By the end of the first episode I was so wet even my undies were soggy but I walked into the entrance of the supermarket with a massive smile on my face! Steve Lyons is such a skillful writer and one of his greatest attributes is never offering what the audience is expecting. I never thought there would be a gripping historical featuring the seventh Doctor and Mel or a timey wimey Nazi drama (years before Let’s Kill Hitler) and who would have predicted such a dark character study of Polly? The Selachian Gambit trumps our expectations again by offering something completely frivolous and enjoyable but its just as gorgeously written as Lyons’ previous works and I would say that frothy entertainment is sometimes even harder to pull off without it seeming slight and insignificant. The characterisation of the regulars is spot on and Frazer Hines and Anneke Wills tap back into that innocence of the early Troughton adventures. There is a focus on character traits that we know really well (Polly put the kettle on, Jamie the action man without a brain) but they instantly whip up an image of the era and this could happily snuggle between The Moonbase and The Macra Terror. The joy of this story is how it could have been put together at the time with just a handful of sets and a lot of imagination and how it takes a standard bank robbery plot and does something far more creative with it. I thought it was wonderful: 8/10

Full Review Here: The Selachian Gambit
Buy it from Big Finish here: The Selachian Gambit

Binary: ‘You’re just a machine!’ An oddly distant companion chronicle and a rare misfire for the range, Binary suffers from a story that has far too much detail in wrong places (there’s plenty of cold science) and too little detail in others (especially with regards to the soundscape which is minimalist and unmemorable). Caroline John is always worth listening to and Eddie Robson tries to engage by dealing with the point where Liz decides that she is going back to Cambridge but it gets lost somewhere in the not very interesting mystery of the alien computer that never feels as if it is leading anywhere exciting. The result is an oddly unbalanced piece which feels as though it should work far better than it does (especially with the Doctor turning up and guiding Liz through the alien ship – these scenes should have been gripping but they feel as plodding as everything else here). Season seven stories are vast sprawling epics packed with fascinating characters and danger but Binary feels far too focussed and small scale to be a part of the same year of portmanteau storytelling. I went into this with high expectations because I always find John a delight but ultimately came away unfulfilled. The answers we get are actually quite satisfying but the journey to get to them is far from it and when the scales are going to be tipped in only one direction or the other I would prefer it to be the latter. Next time ditch the science and focus more on the characters – when you have a crabby companion (Liz’s feelings towards the Doctor and UNIT are at their nastiest here) and a logic based mystery it makes for a cold and unengaging experience: 5/10

Full Review Here: Binary
Buy it from Big Finish here: Binary

The Wanderer: Proving that Record Time and Other Stories was a great way to discover new talent, Richard Dinnick’s first solo story is a wonderful piece which continues the magical run of first Doctor companion chronicles. I like how nothing is rushed in this story which is very faithful to the era and the slow burn tension in the first episode as the Doctor falls ill an Susan goes mad sees the schoolteacher travellers trapped in an isolated location with and encroaching danger. An alien intelligence gathering machine falling to Earth and glowing figures in the Siberian woods coming to claim it back…The Wanderer has a beautiful menace all of its own. The story is brought to life by William Russell so immediately has a maturity and passion that some of the other readings lack and he proves adept at bringing each of the four travellers to life with some empathy. Tim Chipping is certainly no slouch either and its been a little while since we have seen a pairing of actors quite this strong. Events takes a pleasing detour in the second episode and manages to invert the danger of The Aztecs with the Doctor is just as scared of somebody from the past being able to manipulate the future as he was about somebody from the future being able to manipulate the past. There is a powerhouse twist in the second episode that absolutely floored me and left me banging my head on the desk for not realising it – after a similarly pleasurable surprise at the climax of The Memory Cheats this range is proving the one to leave your jaw hanging! There’s no part of The Wanderer that isn’t firing on all cylinders and it’s the second Ian led companion chronicle to reach such a piquant high this season: 9/10

Full Review Here: The Wanderer
Buy it from Big Finish here: The Wanderer

The Rings of Ikiria: An odd companion chronicle because it contains all of the elements that make a good early Pertwee; the Doctor patronising the Brigadier, an alien visitor to Earth, humanity brought to its knees by its own failings…but it captures the era a little too well and none of this material feels especially original. If you’re approaching the companion chronicles as an exercise in nostalgia then you wont be disappointed but if you are after an unique piece of science fiction then look elsewhere. Its all pretty predictable (crop circles, enchanting alien women and their powers of persuasion) and only elevated by Ken Bentley’s strong direction and Fox and Yason’s superb score. However I was enchanted by the choice of narrator, Mike Yates, and the way that the author managed to get under his skin in a way that felt genuine and revealing. He’s a character that has been denied much exploration over the years and being able to see why UNIT means so much to him is invaluable because it also explains his late defection. I hope Dinnick gets to write for the character again, he has proven that he can unearth treasures from such a long forgotten companion and I would love to see what he could do with a story set before Mike joined UNIT or after he was retired honourably. There is clearly more tragedy to be eked out of this character: 7/10

Full Review Here: The Rings of Ikira
Buy it from Big Finish here: The Rings of Ikiria

The Time Museum: ‘I’ve had an excess of you, Ian Chesterton and you’ve still got fight left!’ A story that is based around the idea of how we are empowered by the memories we have experienced, The Time Museum is the ultimate walk through the most impossibly wonderful first two years of Doctor Who. In a bizarre way it feels like Beyond the Ultimate Adventure in that it is story that is constructed out elements of other stories but that is where the comparison ends because this is far more ingenious, evocative and agreeable. Plus its assembled out fantastic stories and not a trashy musical. As ever William Russell provides the best of readings and makes every line count. What’s so effective is that we don’t just get to see what an effect the Doctor had on Ian’s life but we also re-experience the profound effect that he and Barbara had on him. Its becoming increasingly clear to me that the initial line up of Doctor and companions was the best and The Time Museum provides another piece that assembles that argument. The ultimate nostalgia chronicle, this adventure is like slipping into a fever of warm, delicious kisses to the past and you may just come away longing to watch the first two seasons of Doctor Who again. It feels like the 50th anniversary is here already: 9/10

Full Review Here: The Time Museum
Buy it from Big Finish here: The Time Museum

The Last Post: ‘My name is Liz Shaw and I’d like to stop the end of the world…’ How would you react if you received a letter telling you when you are going to die? Witty, creative and nostalgic, The Last Post is a superb final story for Caroline John. Weaving a narrative through the classic adventures of season seven is a terrific idea (so good David Bishop had a similarly memorable shot at it in the novel Who Killed Kennedy) and the whole idea of portentous letters making targets of the scientists that featured in those stories is inspired. The events of the first episode leading up to the prediction of the apocalypse are beautifully handled and the ideas feel fresh and involving. I’ve listened to an awful lot of Big Finish adventures now and have always been impressed by their increasingly stylish production values and thought I was pretty much taking for granted how these adventures sounded. However the immersive sound effects and stirring music in The Last Post really impressed me and captured my attention completely. It’s a fitting final hurrah for Caroline John who was able to reveal brand new facets to the character of Liz Shaw but even more importantly had the opportunity to thrill us one last time with such a memorable reading of such a inventive story. I will miss her companion chronicles very much; Big Finish has lost a fantastic actress, Doctor Who has lost one of its greatest companions and John’s family and friends have lost a magnificent woman. It seems fitting that the final Liz Shaw story to be released celebrates so much about what made her era great – wonderful storytelling, smart ideas and complex characterisation. A big hurrah to all involved. I’d like to blow one final kiss to Caroline John: 10/10

Full Review Here: The Last Post
Buy it from Big Finish here: The Last Post

Return of the Rocket Men: Listening to the first ten minutes of Return of the Rocket Men I could have sworn that it was written by Simon Guerrier. Its that good. Whilst I would never take away from Guerrier’s obvious scripting abilities it becomes clear that much of the atmosphere of his best companion chronicles is the work of director Lisa Bowerman and sound technician and musician extraordinaire Howard Carter. This is Matt Fitton’s third script for Big Finish and its his finest work yet, proving that he can mix the intimate and the exciting with genuine potency. Big Finish has had a good record of discovering strong scriptwriters during their experimental anthologies and Fitton has emerged as the strongest of late and I am really happy to see his name cropping up more in the schedules. The first Doctor companion chronicles remind me just how perfectly formed the characters were back in the monochrome pioneering days of Doctor Who and Steven once again emerges as someone very special. There’s a Colony in Space feel to the first episode but its told with far more fluidity, personality and exhilaration whilst still capturing its essence. The Rocket Men make another unforgettable appearance and I hope the chat about a third story to feature them in the interviews at the end wasn’t just a throwaway joke. They come with a real sense of danger and a promise of violence, intimidating in a way that so many Doctor Who villains fail to achieve. All these treats and another astonishing turn from Peter Purves who once again eases you into the story with consummate skill and provides many dramatic and personal moments that absolutely hit the mark. This range continues to deliver and Fitton’s sequel proves to be more than worthy to follow in the footsteps of John Dorney’s original Rocket Men tale: 10/10

Full Review Here: Return of the Rocket Men
Buy it from Big Finish here: Return of the Rocket Men

The Child: Given that I didn’t have a frilly f*ck what was going on in The Time Vampire (and this from somebody who took the time to hardcore dissect both Brotherhood of the Daleks and The Last Resort) I did approach this release (both the news of it and when I put the disc in to play) with some trepidation. If this story had a stable mate then it would have to be the Jago & Litefoot drama Nothing at the End of the Garden which also follows the adventures of a little girl and has some wise words from Leela. Although the tone of each piece is extremely different. This is the latest ‘conceptual’ trilogy from the Companion Chronicles range taking the reins from the Sara Kingdom, Oliver Harper and Zoe Herriot ones that have already played out. It would seem that Nigel Fairs has a monopoly on writing for Leela in the CC range in exactly the same way that Chris Boucher did over at BBC Books. Whilst he does have a good grasp of the character and gives her some memorable dialogue, it might be nice to see another writer have a stab at her in this format. The Child is a step up from The Time Vampire with some definite plusses (the production in particular is gorgeous but the framing device that has been concocted provides a great deal of entertainment too) but its Fair’s actual story that lets the side down again. His scripts are so full of disparate elements that he really needs to sit down and find away to assemble a plot out of them that flows more fluidly than what is on display here. However I did love the mixture of science and fantasy (its very Bidmead in that respect) with the fairytale aspects coming to the fore in some memorable moments. Its not quite Fairs best (which remains his debut, The Catalyst) or his worst (The Time Vampire) but it falls somewhere in between (like Empathy Games) with lots of good elements (the idea of things being reborn is nicely evoked in several instances) but failing to cohere into something truly memorable. On a moment by moment basis this is massively entertaining but taken as a whole it is rather nonsensical: 6/10

Full Review Here: http://www.docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/the-child-written-and-directed-by-nigel.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-child-745


House of Cards: Great fun, even if it does feel like it is trying to recapture the sunny atmosphere that made The Selachian Gambit (which is referenced) such a surprise hit last year. Featuring a groovy location that immediately captures the pleasurable tone of the early Troughton’s (a space casino), an array of imaginative aliens for this delightful foursome to interact with and a plot which fizzes with imagination (a time travel alarm?),  House of Cards is not a story that you will have any trouble letting wash over you when you are feeling low. It feels very right that the story should feature the Sidewinder Syndicate from Doctor Who Adventures because this has a real comic strip feel about with heightened danger, larger than life characters and broadly drawn situations. Wills gets the lions share of the action but Hines pops up often enough to feel as though Jamie is getting a fair slice of the pie too, and there are some great moments for Ben too who (thanks to the absence of Michael Craze) can sometimes feel sidelined. Like plopping a mentos into a glass of coke, House of Cards is fizzing and frothing with life and good humour and will happily fill an hour of your life with fun space-faring adventuring. I enjoyed it a great deal and the news of a third story with this exact team (Wills, Hines, Lyons and Bowerman) can only be welcomed: 7/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://bigfinish.com/releases/v/house-of-cards-747

The Scorchies: ' It’s time for death all over the world!’ Absolute madness and a complete joy to listen to, The Scorchies sees the companion chronicles letting their hair down, camping it up and heading out for a rave on the town. James Goss is starting to make a name for himself, having penned two of the best third Doctor adventures for this range and two of my favourite adventures in the last year. Whilst this is a joyously anarchic adventure that doesn’t just not play by the rules but also makes a mockery of them, there is something truly sinister about a TV programme that is apparently so light and fluffy that is inherently evil and sadistic. I think this is the sort of tone that The Celestial Toymaker was aiming for but was too stuffy to truly aspire to whereas The Scorchies pushes that sinister playfulness right in your face until you are gagging on its gooey goodness…of Death! Rather gloriously we take part in the action, playing the part of a catatonic television audience slaved to entertainment shows (shouldn’t be too much of a stretch then) and watching the events unfold on screen. The story is beautifully plotted so that as Jo attempts to use their own rules against them to break free and save the day in the present, we experience flashbacks from her point of view showing how she became embroiled with them in the first place and further flashbacks from the Scorchies point of view explaining why they do the things they do. By the end of the tale the seemingly inexplicable opening scene that introduced us to this world feels like it has been placed entirely in context. The script is hilariously funny, imaginative, post-modern, energetic and full of great characters. Katy Manning and Melvyn Hayes deserve kudos for their efforts and for making the story come alive so effervescently and Ken Bentley once again proves why he is one of company’s most prolific of directors…because he is just so damn adaptable to whatever genre or tone they throw at him. The Scorchies might not be your cup of tea if you like the Pertwee era po-faced and militaristic (say, The Mind of Evil…mind you I love that one too) but if you’re in the mood for a Paul Magrs’ style of post modern insanity then snap this one up. I promise you’ll have great fun with it: 10/10


The Library of Alexandria: Talk about making a rod for your own back! Although I don’t recall ever seeing this particular roll call of credits coming together before the three main contributors to this story (William Russell, Simon Guerrier and Lisa Bowerman) have become synonymous with the highest quality of companion chronicles and so the expectation to deliver something spectacular is stacked up against them before I even pressed play. And a historical to boot – my favourite genre! Nobody disappoints. William Russell could read a dull old textbook and make it sound like the most gripping story ever told but grappling with Guerrier’s exceptional writing he produces more of his indefinable magic. Bowerman has directed too many of these companion chronicles to make any silly mistakes now and paces the story expertly, allowing us to sink into the atmosphere of the setting in the first part before all hell breaks loose in the second. Guerrier is one of the ranges most prolific writers and his oeuvre has become more dense and idea packed of late, which I think is perfect for audio. In a medium of sound you can knock about big, intelligent ideas where there are no visual distractions and The Library of Alexandria mimics the historicals of the time, favouring strong, educational dialogue. It means you have to pay attention more than usual but the rewards if you do are mind expanding. It’s not to say that this story scrimps on spectacle though, episode twos action seems barely perceivable on the budget of the time but in my head the harbour is torn to shreds in blockbusting style as the Mim attack. It might feel as though I give too many of the companion chronicles full marks but I gauge that score not on the story being absolutely flawless (if you dig hard enough there is always a flaw to be found somewhere in every story) but on my own personal reaction to the material. When it excites me, thrills me with its possibilities and makes me drift off  completely to another time or world I will offer full marks and so many of this range score on all three counts. It is adventures like The Library of Alexandria that add to my devastating reaction that the companion chronicles are soon to come to an end. It’s a story that captures the early days of Who, does something innovative with it and flatters your intelligence at the same time: 10/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-library-of-alexandria-753
 
The Apocalypse Mirror: Definitely a tale that could only be told in the experimental and daring season six, The Apocalypse Mirror is an attention grabbing fusion of awkward pseudo science, conceptual danger and poetic imagery. Robson takes hold of what could potentially have been a ropey idea (the idea that people can will a better world into existence) and dramatises beautifully, slowly easing us into the concept with some clever foreshadowing in the disquieting first episode before unveiling the idea in the second. It’s a Doctor Who story where fear and doubt and pessimism is revealed to be the most dangerous of weapons and hoping for a better future is the only way to make it happen. It’s certainly a moral that is well worth paying attention to. Compared to some companion chronicles this is quite a subtle tale (there are no singing puppets, people aren’t being burnt at the stake and giant squids aren’t attacking a harbour) but the just makes the impact of the message more important. Lisa Bowerman excels at these unsettling tales, adding much drama by allowing for stillness which in this case helps to drive home the excitement of the hawker attacks. There’s another stunning Fox & Yason score but since they have never disappointed that should be taken as a given. None of this conceptual horror would work if it wasn’t for the performers who are relaying the ideas to us and whilst I might question the use of Wendy Padbury (not because she isn’t any good, heaven forbid, but because she gets very little to do), Frazer Hines’s dual performance as the Doctor and Jamie is so finely honed by this point it genuinely feels like two different actors are sharing the same scene. Hines’ excitement for audio work is expressed in every syllable and he really helps to bring some humanity to this cold, ideas driven, tale. I found this quite absorbing: 8/10
 
 
Council of War: Makes you wonder if the UNIT officers were always off having their own adventures whilst we were distracted by the Doctor’s antics, doesn’t it? I’m not sure that world is ready for The Sergeant Benton Adventures but as a one-off this is a glorious piece of seventies nostalgia, read charismatically by John Levene. The way it slips from the cosily familiar (the quintessential Britishness of the Kettering council chamber) to the blatantly absurd (an alien planet influenced by the work of Margery Phipps) feels like pure Doctor Who. Whilst the concepts might even have been rejected by Douglas Adams for being too ridiculous there is an essential seriousness running through the whole story (brought by straight laced John Benton mostly) that lets it hold together with some dignity. It’s a story that dares to ape the marvellous twist ending of Planet of the Apes, rip the piss out of Churchill’s famous wartime speech and even poke fun at some the clichés of the Pertwee era (‘I reversed the vibracity of the molecule flow!’) but coming from the writers of the Scarifyers I am not surprised that the script is injected with a high degree of cheek and brio. It’s bonkers and great fun but perhaps a little to absurd to truly stands out as anything other than a silly diversion. What really impressed me was the efforts of Levene and Sinead Keenan who share a delightful chemistry as Benton and Phipps and who get to have their own little adventure off world and get back in time for tea. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this release (which is a nice feeling) and I was pleasantly surprised at the amiable results: 7/10
 
 
Mastermind: A gripping story that charters the Master’s struggle through 20th Century America, Mastermind is an ground-breaking way to open the final season of companion chronicles. In a way it is a shame that such a transfixing story of the Master’s passage from the TARDIS to the Vault is told in so short a space of time and in the first person. It is such an engaging story I would have liked to have seen Jonathan Morris turn this into a much longer, full-cast story and for it to be marketed as the next box set from Big Finish. The story as recounted would have been better than Dark Eyes and UNIT: Dominion combined. Their loss is the Companion Chronicles’ gain and I cannot imagine anybody not getting excited by the journey we take with the Master following the TV Movie and leading up to his incarceration in the Vault. Geoffrey Beevers is the living embodiment of malevolence in this tale, his voice dripping with malice. Daphne Ashbrook and Yee Jee Tso prove they are no slouches either, effortlessly resurrecting their parts from Tales from the Vault but taking on other roles within the flashbacks. Anybody bemoaning the fact that Jonathan Morris has been turning up in the schedules rather frequently of late should remember that his latest work has consisted of Protect and Survive, Prisoners of Fate, The Auntie Matter, Guardians of Prophecy, The Age of Revolution…basically the best of their respective ranges. It would appear that his imagination knows no bounds and he is still producing work as innovative and startling as his very first novel way back in 2000. Mastermind lives up to it’s title, offering a deceptive piece with a great sting in the tale. It is written with plenty of intelligent historical detail and cheeky moments whilst always focusing on the hypnotic storytelling abilities of the Master. Once you have reached the heart stopping climax you will be cursing the end credits because there is so much more of his story to be told. If the success of this release doesn’t convince Big Finish to give the Doctor’s nemesis his own spin off range then nothing will. Oh and one more thing…if your partner ever comes home a changed man, it’s time to get very worried indeed. A fantastic listening experience, the companion chronicles strike gold again: 10/10
 
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://bigfinish.com/releases/v/mastermind-752
 
The Alchemists: I’m not sure that The Alchemists is the greatest story that Big Finish has ever released, but my word it has atmosphere. If you idea of a good Doctor Who adventure is to be whisked away to another time and place then this is the story for you because 1930s Berlin is conjured up with no small amount of romance and atmosphere. It’s a tale the touches upon that rarest of periods, the pre-Unearthly Child era where the Doctor and Susan were travelling alone. With the Doctor kidnapped, Susan is forced to traverse history on her own and has to stand on her own two feet and learn important (but familiar to Doctor Who fans) lessons about not interfering in history. As a character study of Susan, it is excellent, and Carole Ann Ford gives one of her best ever performances in the role, geed on by the opportunities that the script gives her. Potter touches upon politics, science and crime but doesn’t go into too much detail into any of these subjects, instead choosing to keep the story on the move. A shame because I think a more substantial story could have been told had the pace slackened and we had been able to explore under the political surface of a pre-war Berlin. Everybody in the economic guest cast has secrets and they are revealed in the fullness of time and during the climax I got the same feeling as I often do with the Bernice Summerfield adventures – that you don’t need a full cast of characters to make a piece of drama work. With a production as polished as this and, great performances from the actors and some fine characterisation, I really don’t have that much to complain about and get away with it. The Alchemists isn’t one of the finest companion chronicles, but it is still extremely good and if this is an example of when the series perhaps isn’t firing on all cylinders then it is indicative of how strong the range is in general: 8/10

 

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