Friday, 27 January 2012

The Rocket Men written by John Dorney and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: The TARDIS has landed on Platform Five, a floating city in the sky of the planet Jobis, and for a time the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki get the chance to enjoy this idyllic place. And then the Rocket Men arrive, led by the sadistic Ashman. When the only other option to certain death is suicide, Ian Chesterton takes the gamble of his life

Schoolteachers in Love: Finally, marvellously, somebody has written the tale where Ian confesses his love for Barbara. Its an entirely original concept because the books touched upon the subject several times (notably in David A. McIntee’s The Eleventh Tiger and Simon Guerrier’s The Time Travellers – both excellent books so check them out) but there is something spellbinding about William Russell actually saying the words that makes it less than a possibility and more of a certainty. They were our guides through the first two wonderful years of Doctor Who and it was glorious to watch these friends go from scared, unwilling adventurers to falling in love with both the lifestyle and each other. Its around The Rescue/The Romans where its clear that the two teachers are more involved with each other than they were before, particularly the latter story as they lounge about in Roman apparel, blissed out on wine, playing jokes and flirting madly. By the time they leave the Doctor of course they leave together, seduced by the idea of going home, having a rest and being together. As we see them larking about in London and embracing each other in their last shot there is no doubt in my mind that these two went on to enjoy a fantastic marriage and life together. Massive kudos to John Dorney for taking the idea of the two of them in love and bringing it to life so vividly in his story. This is the point where Ian realises that he has strong feelings for Barbara and as is typical to human nature it only dawns upon him when he might lose her forever…

Ian ponders on when you realise that you have fallen in love. Is it the shy smile or the furtive glance of first meeting or later when the roots have grown down and far beyond the giddy joys of the early days. There’s a wonderful moment where Ian says that he backs Barbara up – its almost as if the Doctor feels as though he can combat the opinion of one of them but cannot take on their combined strength of will. One thing that seemed to fall by the wayside in the second season of Doctor Who was that Ian was a scientist, by that point he was used in a far more active, protective role. Dorney corrects this by having Ian put out that the Doctor should be allowed to study the research institute of the Jovis. It had been so long since he had been able to study even the most basic science and he would love to have the chance to examine the flora and fauna of a different world. When Ian leaps from the ship and finds himself at the mercy of a battering, screaming wind he focuses on nothing but Barbara, saving her makes a mockery of the punishment from the elements. How triumphant is the scene when Ian realise he has gotten the hang of flying the rocket pack and Barbara is getting closer? Russell performs that scenes as if Ian’s very life depends on it. Ian gets to prove what an action hero he is by tussling with Ashman in the air, awkwardly at first but viciously attempting to bring down the man who tried to kill Barbara. He fears that the last words that he’ll hear from her are her screaming out his name in alarm.

Diplomatic as ever, Barbara steps in when things get heated between Ian and the Doctor and calms her friend down and tells him not to spoil their time in such a beautiful place. Ian finds Barbara all heart and so free with her emotions. He often wished he could be the same as her. Ian finds that when Barbara’s eyes light up in wonder her face contains a beatific joy. She had such enthusiasm that you couldn’t help but warn for her. Barbara refuses to let Vicki shoulder the blame for her association with the Doctor and puts herself into danger as soon as her friend makes the decision. Its when she chooses to top out of the tour that Ian realises it is deeply dull experiencing these wonders without her sense of joy. Barbara genuinely thought she was going to die when she was tossed from the airlock and clutches hold of Ian once he has saved her as if she would never let him go. She is genuinely traumatised by these events and Ian wants to give her time to recover before knocking her over with his confession that he loves her.

Hmm: The Doctor attempts to convince his friends that for once he was able to direct the TARDIS and bring them to Jovis deliberately but nobody is buying it. He revels in Ian’s jealousy and feels compelled to mention his superior scientific qualifications when it comes to his invite to the research institute! He shows his keen scientific knowledge by concocting a forcefield on the spot that keeps Ashman and his Rocket Men out of the research institute. He gave the scientists ‘a little nudge’ so they could protect themselves. He comforts Ian at the climax and Ian ponders to think that they had been enemies when they first met. I love the description of his chuckles as ‘faintly evil.’

Alien Orphan: Its astonishing that it is Vicki who steps forward as a sacrificial lamb when somebody else’s life is in danger, without a thought for her own safety she cannot let somebody else die for her. Just like in The Romans, Vicki is restless and wants to explore new things and meet new people.

Standout Performance: By all accounts a modest man, William Russell is one of our few links back to the original conception of Doctor Who and a superb actor to boot. The fact that he is willing to perform these Big Finish audio plays is a marvel in itself and he attacks every script with passion and skill. Clearly older but still carrying that same Ian Chesterton charm, he makes all these innovations seem like the most natural thing in the world and with Russell so committed these events really did take place in the 60s. The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki did visit Jovis and Ian did realise his feelings for Barbara in a moment of jeopardy. William Russell makes it happen.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Billowing gaseous forms bloomed around us, huge and dominating pastel shaded in pink and purple. Dotted throughout little pin pricks of light glistened and dazzled, reflecting their luminescence back at us like stars’ – audible poetry.
‘You see it torn from your hands when its never coming back. That’s when you know. The moment you risk losing it forever, you know.’
‘I don’t think I’ll ever get used to travelling with you, Doctor. There’s always some remarkable new thing to see’ ‘The moment when you get used to it is the moment to stop.’
‘Don’t wait too long, my boy. These things can fade. We all have opportunities we let slide. You don’t want to live your life regretting chances missed’ – the Doctor says this soulfully as though he is talking through experience. What a magical moment.

Great Ideas: As well as being a stunning character drama Dorney also employs an unusual technique of setting the story in two different points in the story as well as the narrated moments which allows him all manner of clever moments of tension, revealing things that would happen later and then explaining how we got to that point. It took me a little while to get used to this technique (at first I thought it spoilt the shock value of experiencing the moments ‘at the time’ but I soon realised it allowed him to create more suspense because I was constantly thinking ‘how do we get there?’) but ultimately it made the audio a more interesting experience than a linear narrative would have and it really worked in such an exciting tale. The story initially hops between Ian recalling their landing on Jovis and hours later when they are all being held hostage and the Doctor is being hunted down – what could possibly gulf these two disparate events? He also uses the intriguing trick of similar phrases to bridge the gap between the two periods, ending one scene in the future with the same phrase as the one starting in the past. I love the idea of the TARDIS landing on Platform Five because it gives me images of when the ninth Doctor and Rose landed on Platform One in The End of the World, linking the classic and the new series. Plus…a floating city! How exciting is that? Its one of those gloriously over ambitious ideas that would never have stopped Verity Lambert from trying to pull off with a bit of shoestring and a few flats! On audio we can let our imaginations go wild but it feels utterly authentic to the era. Glass walls that look out on the beautiful atmosphere of the planet and tours with glass floors so you can look down on the spectacular scenery of the world. Vast undulating jelly fish and crystalline insects flying past the windows. Giant manta rays float through the atmosphere of myriad colours – what a vivid, emotive image. The very idea of Rocket Men with jet packs swarming onto the decks of a ship is deliriously enjoyable, retro to the point of nostalgia and yet a visual you could still get excited about today. Its beautifully depicted on the cover. The Rocket Men wish to ‘steal the jewels from the sky’, a frightening prospect of capturing the crystal insects and trying to get them to breed. They are worth five times their weight in gold. They are an elite bunch of space pirates that have been raiding the space lanes for years. Ian being saved by one of the manta’s has a certain poetic beauty to it, swooping down and catching him as he falls. Ashman is finally killed by the wildlife his greed threatened.

Audio Landscape: The TARDIS dematerialisation noise, the cry of the manta, footsteps on metal grating, the people jostling and cooing at the views, Ashman on the intercom, the ship rocking as gunshots are fired, people screaming and panicking, buffeting cold air, Ashman’s shots, the crying victims.

Musical Cues: I still get a shiver every time I hear the original theme music, you know. Especially in 2012 when it’s a brand new story featuring one of the original cast. I bet Billy Hartnell would be thrilled to know that his legacy still lives on. Howard Carter’s score is extremely strong, especially in the moments of excitement but he also manages to score moments of real beauty too, especially the first sighting of the mantra. Ian gliding through the air is greeted with a triumphant theme that makes you want to punch the air with delight.

Standout Scene: The cliffhanger is a moment of astonishing emotion as Barbara is thrown from the airlock to her death with a horrible scream and Ian realises in moment gut wrenching, anxious terror how much he loves her. In a moment of reckless abandon Ian dives out of the airlock after her, determined to save her. It’s an exceptional cliffhanger because it plays wonderful games with the listener, a moment of extreme shock followed by the elating feeling that nothing will stop Ian from protecting the woman he loves. My other favourite moment came at the conclusion when the Doctor in that quiet, understated way of his tells Ian to let Barbara know how he really feels. It reminds me of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, he’s all bluster until it comes to real emotion where he is far more observant than people give him credit.

Result: 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 made some great observations 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

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Tales from the Vault written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: Welcome to The Vault – jokingly known as 'The Museum of Terrors' – a high security establishment where UNIT keeps all of its alien artefacts. New recruit Warrant Officer Charlie Sato is given a guided tour by Captain Ruth Matheson, and the archive reveals some dark secrets. An army jacket, a painting, crystal and a wax cylinder all hold a grave significance, and their stories are told by the Doctor's companions: Steven Taylor, Zoe Heriot, Jo Grant and Romana…

UNIT Officers: Whilst I do find it quite sweet that Big Finish have kindly made Daphne Ashbrook and Yee Jee Tso still feel part of the Doctor Who family it does us well to remember that they were part of a blind alley second chance for the show that never really went anywhere. Despite having already cast both of them in different parts (The Next Life, Excelis Decays) this is easily the best ‘story’ that either of them has been in and despite some mild mannered performances they do a reasonable job convincing as UNIT operatives. Just as a side note I have no problem with the TV Movie at all as others seem to, I find the film entertaining, the direction fluid and exciting and the performances (in particular McGann and Ashbrook) extremely good. I just don’t understand the purpose in recasting them in different roles for anything other than an anniversary story. Including makes it seems as if Big Finish are offering something they cannot deliver – a continuation of the TV Movie story.

Charlie has a choice to join UNIT secret ops or forget everything that Ruth has told him. The water she gave him to drink contained a powerful amnesiac drug and unless an antidote is given he will forget everything in the last 24 hours (perhaps UNIT and Torchwood aren’t that different after all). His job will involve not just making sure that nobody breaks in but the artefacts don’t break out!

The Doctors: We get to hear all about a chauvinistic third Doctor who has Venusian Akido at his disposal! The fourth Doctor trips into an adventure with Romana by checking a number of paintings to see if he had left himself any messages in the corner of any of them! We hear about the second Doctor posing as a seedy gangland boss who has recently arrived in the area with Jamie as his bodyguard and Zoe as his personal secretary – now that I would love to see! The first Doctor is described as an old gentleman with white hair who giggled a lot!

Dippy Agent: Jo Grant is something of a legend because she was the one who assisted the Doctor when he was exiled on Earth and helped him foil invasions on ‘practically a monthly basis!’ Listening to Katy Manning play dippy Jo trying to get to grips with a recording device peels away the years and its like we are back in the seventies again. She’s tried telling the Brig that its hard to keep up with paperwork when you’re being chased about by Axons and Sea Devils and the like! Brilliantly we cut to Jo Grant actually making the grumpy Doctor a cup of tea – I’m not saying that’s all she’s good for (and she rants that she is a liberated woman!) but its very funny! Jo has to stop doing the slowed down voice because she is afraid she is going to turn into Boris Karloff!

Brainy Beauty: There is a crystal that contains Zoe’s memories in the Vault and it is nice to know that whilst our Zoe is back on the Wheel with little knowledge of the Doctor that there is a repository of her adventures listed somewhere other than the DVD shelves of the fans! Perhaps the crystal and Zoe could be brought together…? I guess the ending puts paid to that idea. Its odd because the two Zoe companion chronicles I have heard so far (Fear of the Daleks & Echoes of Grey) have been my least favourites to date and yet I know it has nothing to do with Wendy Padbury’s delivery (she was superb in Legend of the Cybermen) and what Morris proves here is that with some strong writing the character can come alive in unexpected ways on audio. I would love a Morris commissioned Zoe story because he seems to have the feel of this trio down pat.

Aggressive Astronaut: Steven records a message during an adventure with the Doctor and Dodo in South Africa, 1900. Whilst many of the companions have a fair (and wonderfully compassionate) stab at trying to create their Doctors only Frazer Hines’ second Doctor comes anywhere near as close as Peter Purves’ superb take on William Hartnell’s first Doctor. The petulance, the sharp intelligent, the viciousness and good humour, they’re all there and despite the higher pitch he encapsulates everything I recognise in Hartnell’s extraordinary performance. Beyond bringing Steven back to life with such passion (and he hardly sounds as though he has aged a day) this homage to his mentor is Purves’ greatest gift to Doctor Who fans because it really feels as though we are getting new first Doctor stories.

Snooty Fox: Romana is a brilliantly aloof as ever trying to remind the Doctor that they had an urgent quest to be getting along with when he tries diverting them towards something more irreverent!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘To maintain public order. People aren’t ready for the truth.’
‘Follow me, I’ll show you the Security Kitchen…’ – cheeky!
‘Younger with a lined face and a great big hooter!’ – Tommy Watkins describes the third Doctor!

Great Ideas: We get to learn all the security procedures UNIT operatives have to go through when they begin their work at the Vault (DNA scans, decontamination). They figure that anything from foreign governments to terrorist organisations would be after their secrets and so they guard them diligently. They also have fears that aliens and androids might try and infiltrate. I love the idea that within UNIT there are legends and myths of ‘the old days’ with the Doctor and the ‘Vault of Terror’ containing all the alien artefacts that has been collected over the years during alien incursions. I would give my right arm to be able to explore the area myself but thanks to Jonny Morris now I can! UNIT doesn’t just wait for the Doctor to turn up and protect the Earth these days and so they occasionally have to try and hoodwink him in order to procure alien technology to help with the defence of the planet. Stuff that has been dug from beneath the ground or fallen to the Earth or any number of other ways a Doctor Who plot gets going can be found here. The base here is located underground the Angel of the North in London (where else? Although Ruth does seem to imply that there are bases elsewhere!). Whenever there is a classified incident with extraterrestrials or classified technology (such as the Loch Ness monster rearing his head out of the Thames and gobbling down a few passers by in Terror of the Zygons) their job is to tidy up afterwards. They hypnotise of convince the people involved that it was all part of a publicity stunt! They come across a Terrovore and Ruth talks about how they swarm across London ‘last year’ (The Crimes of Thomas Brewster if anybody wants to check it out and I suggest that you do because its top notch entertainment!). Also Krynoid husks (‘We keep them frozen just in case…’) and part of a Sontaran scout ship (or possibly just a lump of metal!). Jo’s story features a jacket that when worn possesses the wearer with the tortured soul of a soldier from the battle of Spion Kop (‘A haunted military costume? That’s absurd!’). A painting that was stolen from the Braxiatel Collection centuries ago and that has caused more suffering than any other work of art in history ‘including everything by Tracey Emin!’ The Kistador Molari was designed to reveal to the observer the circumstances of their own death. What a great, great idea for a story that is – thrown away on a five minute except in Tales from the Vault! That’s the one idea I wished Morris had kept for a longer tale because I could well imagine a frightening 50 minute story centring on that concept. A mind wiping crystal being used by the criminal element to wipe the memories of ex employees! Morris cleverly weaves his last tale into his first with Steven Taylor meeting with the real Tommy Watkins that was haunting the jacket worn by the friend of Jo Grant. Kali Korash planned to find himself in the UNIT vault – the Doctor revealed his true nature and Tommy Watkins sacrificed his life attempting to kill him so he allowed Thornicroft to die to convince the Doctor that he had been eliminated. Instead he transferred his consciousness into the fabric of Tommy’s uniform ready to occupy the next person to come into contact with it. He plans to use the artefacts to enslave the human race and manipulate them into developing technology to travel on to more worlds, transferring his spirit into new bodies. In the event of any vault personnel being compromised their life is to be considered disposable. We here about more artefacts still to be discovered…plastic daffodils (Terror of the Autons, a chess set (Curse of Fenric) or a grandfather clock (The Keeper of Traken?).

Audio Landscape: Decontamination, bubbling water cooler, automatic doors, clicking on a torch, fast forwarding Jo making the tea.

Standout Scene: The climactic scene where Morris links together his stories is a beaut. Kali Korash having used Tommy Watkins’ jacket to get into the UNIT vault and Ruth using the mirror to discover how Korash dies and then using the crystal to absorb his consciousness! Genius.

That Man Morris: I once referred to Morris as my modern day Robert Holmes and the more I hear his work the more impressed that I get. He has the ability to conjure up creative plots at the drop of a hat but also has a terrific grasp of character, can write with real pace, inject very funny humour and his dialogue is top notch too. Its hard not to turn reviews of his stories into love fests because he sets the bar high and very rarely disappoints. What impresses me with this releases is the versatility of the mans work because often with the strongest writers for this company you know what to expect and they deliver in spades (Rob Shearman is going to write something blackly funny, Nick Briggs a terrific action adventure, Simon Guerrier something creepy and atmospheric) but let’s take a look at the many styles and genres that Morris has turned his hand to very successfully. Nostalgia trips (Bloodtide & Hothouse), puzzles (Flip Flop, Cobwebs), companion introductions (The Haunting of Thomas Brewster), morality tales (The Cannibalists), comedy (Max Warp, The Beautiful People), dark fairy tales (The Eternal Summer), modern day entertainment (The Crimes of Thomas Brewster), character tales and historicals (The Glorious Revolution, The Curse of Davros), action adventure (Deimos/Ressurection of Mars), Lost Stories (The Guardians of Prophecy) and atmospheric chillers (The Spirit Trap, The Theatre of Dreams). He’s a superb writer that still gets me excited when his name turns up in the schedules because I find it synonymous with a high quality adventure. Big Finish are lucky to have him and I am glad they are exploiting his talent to the full.

Notes: There’s a lovely reference to the plot of the TV Movie at the millennium!

Result: 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 fulfil 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 titbits 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

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Last of the Titans written and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: The Doctor is separated from the TARDIS in the bowels of gigantic spaceship. The ship has one humanoid inhabitant but is he really as friendly as he seems?

The Real McCoy: I think this the only time we have heard Sylvester McCoy narrating a story (correct me if I’m wrong) and he is more than up to the task. In fact he sounds far more comfortable literally telling a story than he sometimes does taking part in one, accentuating the menacing and the atmospheric with those gorgeous Scottish tones of his. Am I rude in suggesting that I find the seventh Doctor works at his absolute best when he isn’t encumbered with assistants? Either the quality of the writing goes up or McCoy feels he has to up his game because he is so exposed but there is something confident and charismatic about the solo seventh Doctor that really appeals. There’s none of this melodramatic ‘Haaaaaace!’ shrieking or agonised strangling (its audible gurning – go on, put The Rapture you can actually hear it!) – its just McCoy alone doing his damdest to entertain.

He’d been promising himself a holiday for some time and the planet Ormelia has always been a favourite haunt in his younger days. There seems to be the impression that because the Doctor is travelling alone this must be set in the seventh Doctor’s future not long before his death but that cannot be the case because we can still hear the old console noise and the McGann console was introduced in an Ace and Hex story. The Doctor has been at this game long enough now to know that if he contacts whoever is in authority he will be letting himself in for accusation, insinuations or even something a little more terminal. The Doctor manages to get the TARDIS back in record time – it’s a little like when they found the fourth second of the Key to Time in The Androids of Tara in about five minutes! He’s diffused a couple of bombs in his time but this one was a piece of piddle!

Standout Performance: As wells as providing a memorable score Nicholas Briggs gives a sympathetic performance as the simple but rather lovely Vilgreth. He reminded me a bit of D84 from Robots of the Death, that same dim manner and delivery that is very appealing. He’s as cute and appealing as the Grallians were annoying in The Davros Mission! I love the way that is subverted in the story as he turns out to be homicidal mainiac after offering the Doctor tea and shortcake acquired from the last place he massacred!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Officials? Spanners in works!’

Great Ideas: The TARDIS displays a penchant for the grimy, the odious and the dangerous over holiday destinations any day of the week. I do love the idea of a gigantic spaceship for the Doctor to explore – no wonder he experiences a Doctor Who adventure in microcosm on board! Centuries ago planet eater spaceships were built to devour planetoids and asteroid belts to clear the space lanes. The Doctor realises with some sadness that this planet eater was heading straight for Ormelia and that was why its furnaces were so vast. Titanthropes are an evolutionary blind alley, much larger and more intelligent than their contemporaries the Neanderthals. The Professor wanted to cure Vilgreth of his violent urges but he saw that as an act of aggression and murdered him and all his staff. The ship is destroyed in orbit and broke up before it reached the atmosphere…to the inhabitants it would have looked like a rather spectacular fireworks display. There is a moral here that people who are true to their nature aren’t evil…the unfolding of time does the rest.

Audio Landscape: A grumbling TARDIS console, the deck hatch opening, the Doctor whistling, the hissing, growling flames of the furnace, birds tweeting, ticking bomb, explosion, making a cup of tea.

Musical Cues: It has been so long since I started this Big Finish venture and so much has happened along the way – meeting new friends, getting to know the production staff a little – that I had forgotten about some of the early contributors to the range. Remember the exquisite musical stylings of Russell Stone and Alistair Lock? The majestic, romantic score for The Stones of Venice or the bombastic, cinematic approach to The Fires of Vulcan? This is Alistair Lock through and through; its classy, powerful and highly hummable!

Notes: As an updated Audio Visuals story this alerted me to the fact that they existed and I sought out more information on them. I still haven’t listened to any of them mind (and the wealth of Big Finish stories being releases I think it will be a while before I do!) but they sound intriguing and I look forward to them.

Result: Rather lovely as a Doctor Who story in microcosm complete with a villain reveal, a race against time to stop a bomb and a planet saved! The idea of giant planet crushing spaceships is a gorgeous one and one that has real legs beyond this mini Big Finish freebie. What really impressed me beyond the economy of the storytelling was Sylvester McCoy’s lovely performance – particularly when he was narrating. That’s an experiment that should be repeated at some point because he proves to be a very enjoyable storyteller. You couldn’t enthuse about this tale too much because it is very slight but as a taster of what Big Finish can do with some nifty sound effects, a great score and an example of how well they brought the 80s Doctor’s across from the screen to audio it is a worthy little piece. I judge it not on its merits as a standalone Doctor Who story but as a appetite whetter for more Big Finish productions and on those terms: 8/10

The Davros Mission written and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: After his capture on Necros, Davros, is destined to face the justice of the Daleks. He sits alone, isolated in his cell. His creations will no longer listen to him. But out of the darkness comes a voice... Davros is no longer alone in his torment. Before he faces trial on the planet Skaro, he must go through an ordeal that will force him to the very limits of his sanity. But where do his true loyalties lie? How will he face the future?

Scarred Scientist: After having his hand blown away by Bostock on Necros Davros has a robotic hand surgically added by the Daleks. He’s becoming more and more like them every day. He can’t believe that the Daleks could be so stupid as to let their arch enemy slip through their fingers simply because of a case of mistaken identity! The Daleks think that Davros is delusional when he starts ranting that he will take his place as the supreme rule of the Daleks but the truth is that Davros cannot wait to stand trial because it gives his ungrateful creations the chance to hear the wisdom of his words. This man really does have a God complex but then he has been stroking it for the past couple of centuries so that is understandable. Davros believes that Daleks have no need of inferior species even as slaves. He wonders if he has gone so mad that he has created a voice in his head to explain away all the bad things he has done. Lareen wasn’t sure what to expect when she met Davros and she found him…ugly. There was so much hatred so she figures there must be fear otherwise he is just completely insane. He has so much more to teach the Daleks and they would know that if they weren’t blinded by their arrogance. Surely if these children are arrogant then that is something they inherited from their ‘father?’ He finds the idea that Lareen is there to save him absolutely hysterical (but in that special brand of insane Davros hilarity!). The worst punishment Davros can imagine is to lose his intelligence…it’s the one thing that he has clung on to after all these years of pain and defeat. He finds his ego is the reasons for his survival rather than his downfall but Lareen sees a very different picture. His ego has led him to his downfall at the hands of the creatures that are the very embodiment of his faults. His ego was transplanted into the Daleks and that is why he cannot be allowed to survive. His ego is what ultimately will kill him. Lareen genuinely thinks there is a possibility of salvation for Davros if he lets go of all the bitterness and fear from the terrible war on Skaro and hardwired into the first Dalek brain, if he could let go of all the feelings of insecurity from the accident that crippled him what would be left? A fantastic intellect that could be a force for good in the universe! What a fascinating idea…but those are some frightening obstacles to overcome. The Molloy Davros gets a Genesis moment of his own (‘the tiny pressure of my thumb…) when Lareen offers him the chance to wipe out the Daleks on Skaro and be hailed as the saviour of the universe. His future is with the Daleks, he has saved them all and now demands their obedience. Is Davros beyond redemption? It would certainly appear so but Lareen knows there was one moment when he was tempted to break open the virus capsule and exterminate the Daleks forever. Even he can’t deny the fact.

Standout Performance: Terry Molloy seems like such a gentle, unassuming man when you hear him speaking in interviews and yet when he dons the Davros mask (figuratively speaking) he becomes the living embodiment of absolute madness. Whilst I enjoyed his stints on the telly (especially Revelation where he truly takes the spotlight in intriguing ways) it is his work on audio that has cemented him as my favourite incarnation of the Dalek’s creator. He’s starred in a good handful of main range adventures (Davros, Terror Firma and The Curse of Davros are all absolutely superb), his own range and now an intriguing extra on a DVD box set and throughout he has maintained real integrity in the part. Taking the character from emotion highs and chilling lows, exploring his past and delving into the depths of Davros’ madness – it has been a hell of a ride. He deserves much praise for his flawless portrayal of lunacy.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘This is the justice of the Daleks!’
‘I could have destroyed you all…’

Great Ideas: Its interesting that this is the first time that we ever got experience a conversation between Davros and Thal after his near extermination of their people. That’s a conversation that has a lot to live up to. For a moment this episode reminded me of the DS9 episode Waltz where Gul Dukat is haunted by all the voices in his head feeding off his paranoia and madness – in some ways I think that might have made a more interesting story - all the doubters, critics and enemies coming back to haunt him. The suggestion that Davros cannot be put on trial by the Daleks because he has done no wrong to them whereas the Thals should have the opportunity because of his crimes against their people is a fascinating one. I hadn’t realised that Miranda Raison had taken part in this story and when I turned it on and recognised her voice that excited me. She’s a fantastic dramatic actress and really gives her all to the tense, trial scenes in Davros’ cell. The Daleks try and reduce Davros to a vegetative state until they can get him to trial. Lareen could be his executioner, his enlightenment or his freedom. The Thals have turned their genius to genocide to remove a cancer from the universe; they are now using the Movellan virus and could use it to destroy the entire Dalek central nervous system on Skaro. Lareen is described as one of those ‘Davros loving weirdoes’, which seems to suggest there is a mad cult of worshippers out there! The deaths of the Grallians was a supreme punch the air moment!

Audio Landscape: It opens on a bally big explosion, Dalek heartbeat, sucking noises, dripping chemicals, scraping metal restraints, the delicious sounds of the Dalek city from The Daleks and the ‘outer space’ planet soundscape, Dalek alarms.

Musical Cues: David Darlington enjoys laying on the striking vocals that reminded me strongly of Murray Gold’s music for the creatures in the new series.

Isn’t it Odd: I love the character that mentions that usually when there is an intrusive object approach from a distance the Daleks are usually screaming and shouting about it! But on the whole the Grallians are pretty annoying – mollusc style creatures with lisps that stop this from being a truly menacing Dalek story by taking the piss out of everything! When they start laughing their heads off as Davros is screaming for help I was really confused as to their function aside from proving utterly disposable. By the time you have listened to fifteen minutes or so of their inane dribble you are glad that the Daleks have gotten them addicted to a poisonous substance. I couldn’t believe the potential of this story was slipping away as the story spends more and more time with these creatures, even to the detriment of exploring Davros! When Lareen the Thal turns up I thought things get interesting and then we have to endure a five minute scene as she tries to convince Gus and Raz not to hand her in! I would have cut this back 25 minutes and removed them from the story altogether.

Standout Scene: Davros had the chance to truly reform his character and do something good but instead turns his back on such a notion and betrays Lareen to his creations. He gave the Daleks life once and instead of using the Movellan virus on them he chooses to give them life again.

Notes: There’s no doubt when this story is set – it is deliberately plugging a gap between Revelation and Remembrance of the Daleks. For once this isn’t a Gary Russell polyfiller dream liberally filling every singe gap in the shows history so there is no place for it to breathe any ambiguity, no it’s a point in Davros’ life that was never adequately explained and its screaming with dramatic potential. He goes from being the prisoner of the Renegade Daleks to the Emperor of the Imperials off screen and I for one can’t wait to see what has happened…

Result: A tale of two halves for sure but ultimately The Davros Mission isn’t what I thought it would be. Anybody expecting an examination of Davros akin to I, Davros or Dalek Empire style psychology will be extremely disappointed not because that style of material is absent (because it isn’t) but because this story spends so much time dawdling before getting to all the juicy stuff. Any of the scenes featuring Gus and Raz the Grallians are nothing but filler as irritating as pubic louse and I kept waiting for the story to get on with Davros’ trial at the hands of his greatest enemies. On the flip side Terry Molloy and Miranda Raison are both excellent and any of their two-hander scenes works a treat. Molloy automatically raises the quality of this mini adventure – I honestly think I could listen to Davros shopping for spares when played by this actor and by thoroughly gripped! The best scene comes when Lareen implores Davros to let go of his insecurities and become a force for good in the universe and for a moment you genuinely wonder if he is tempted by the idea. In the last half an hour the story really comes into its own with lots of intriguing possibilities (Davros wiping out his own creations in a parody of the Doctor’s dilemma in Genesis of the Daleks) and it comes to a dramatic conclusion to remember. The Davros Mission feels like it needs a few more drafts to sift out some of the nonsense but it still contains much that is worth listening to: 7/10


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

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The Curse of Davros written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Nicholas Briggs

SPOILERS...BE WARNED!

What’s it about: It's been a year since Philippa 'Flip' Jackson found herself transported by Tube train to battle robot mosquitoes on a bizarre alien planet in the company of a Time Lord known only as 'the Doctor'. Lightning never strikes twice, they say. Only now there's a flying saucer whooshing over the top of the night bus taking her home. Inside: the Doctor, with another extraterrestrial menace on his tail – the Daleks, and their twisted creator Davros! But while Flip and the fugitive Doctor struggle to beat back the Daleks' incursion into 21st century London, Davros's real plan is taking shape nearly 200 years in the past, on the other side of the English Channel. At the battle of Waterloo…

Softer Six: Doesn’t he just love making a big entrance, crashing into the Earth and emerging from an escape pod with amnesia! The Doctor is being hunted down by the Daleks who would have exterminated him already had he not been able to steal one of their ships and leg it. The Doctor talks with the oddest of speech patterns – he isn’t using contractions which is usually a massive sign that something is up in science fiction and he seems to know a bit too much about fooling the Daleks and nabbing their ship for my liking – he must be Davros! Even his concern for the Earth seems to be more artificial than usual. The way he doesn’t seem to mind that hostages are killed because they will die no matter what they do is callous even for Sixie – its Davros I tell you! When the Doctor says the Daleks consider him their greatest enemy that is a very clever line because it could mean him or Davros. When we finally meet the Doctor (ala Davros) he tells Flip about Evelyn meeting Rossiter and being very happy with him. He’s currently travelling alone. He knows now what it is like to be Davros, to have the mind of a genius trapped inside the mind of a corpse. If he knew he would be trapped in this desiccated body permanently he wouldn’t be able to endure it the way Davros does. If there was a switch to the life support that would bring an end to the agony he would have no qualms about flicking it. That’s a massive statement coming from the Doctor – he would kill himself if he were disabled and in constant pain. He wouldn’t have the willpower to resist it. He thought the mind swap was worth it even if he lost his body because it would rid the universe of Davros’ scourge. After describing the torment of being inside Davros’ body I felt something that I never thought I would ever feel for Davros when he is returned to his correct place – remorse. Chalk up another historical event that the Doctor is responsible for – the Battle of Waterloo! All thanks to shoving Napoleon in the cupboard. Sabotage comes naturally to him, he admits gleefully before enjoying another little tinker. Davros knows that the Doctor might win this battle but he will never win their war because to win you have to make sacrifices and that has always been his greatest weakness. The Doctor now considers killing Davros as an act of mercy for him rather than the universe. Astonishing stuff.

Flippin’ Marvellous: Perfect companion material, Flip is bored of the same old routine of clubbing late and catching the night bus home. When a spaceship crashes in front of them she wants to get out and explore whereas her fella Jared wants to take a picture of it on his mobile. That’s why she’ll get to travel in the TARDIS and he wont. She’s willing to protect the Doctor from the authorities simply because she thinks that is the best thing to do. Flip has perfected the ‘I’m really ill…’ voice when phoning in sick that takes years to master! She has no car because she never passed her test…and now she has no flat since Jared blew it up! Flip suddenly realises she has lost everything and she might have move back in with her mum and creepy Nigel. She works on the tills in a supermarket – no wonder she wants a change of pace! Her massively racist faux pas to the French had me in stitches (plus she considers it the mark of a good Frenchman to flirt first and interrogate later). She thinks that being able to walk into history and talk to people is marvellous. It’s a shame that Flip never finished that French GCSE because she might be able to recognise Napoleon Bonaparte when she sees him! Flip realises with some concern that she was never the Doctor’s assistant but actually Davros’ hostage. This battle marks the point where the future of mankind hangs in the balance – Davros wants to change things so the human race go from being an enemy to a potential ally of the Daleks. ‘You really have serious issue, you know that right?’ says Flip when Davros condemns her to a place in the Doctor’s cell where she will age and die before his eyes. Its not until she starts threatening Davros that he considers her a ‘charming girl.’ Flip was in counselling for a while after he previous encounter with the Doctor and thinks that she and Jared are only together because neither on them wants to be the one to split them up. Flip says she feels sorry for Davros because his hatred has brought him nothing but more pain. Thanks to the Daleks she doesn’t have a home or a job to go to. Making a brave decision she tosses Jared back into their time and chooses to try and find the Doctor. This is the change she desperately needs.

Standout Performance: Colin Baker and Terry Molloy deserve massive credit for trying to pull off the insane idea of playing each others roles. Baker’s mannered speech is more of a giveaway than Molloy’s beautifully judged Doctor but kudos to the pair of them for picking up on each others quirks. As soon as the twist is revealed I don’t think I have ever seen an actor take so much relish from playing a villain as Colin Baker and it was delightful to listen to. And can I say I was utterly spellbound by Terry Molloy’s turn as the Doctor. The things I love about Lisa Greenwood’s Flip is both the TV series and Big Finish have tried to employ the services of actors that sound as though they are just the every person on the street whisked up in the Doctor’s adventures. Usually this goes wrong because they wind up sounding like actors trying to act like cockney youths (Sophie Aldred but also Billie Piper to an extent). Greenwood’s ability to sound like a real person who has found herself in an impossible situation is astonishing – its almost as if they dragged her in from the streets and actually made her experience these things. Its great because with Flip you ca actually put yourself in her place – a pretty average life – and join the Doctor and have some great adventures. When Flip leaves with him at the end (with no special qualifications, no great experience behind her and no special powers) it could be you and that is a wonderful feeling. Molloy’s Davros on audio is still one of the scariest things ever…when that gurgling laughter screams in my ears he is without doubt the best Davros.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘He blew up my cooker!’
I love how Flip calls the Daleks ‘dodgem things from space!’
‘I know that at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender’ ‘And how told you that may I ask?’ ‘ABBA’ ‘UBBER?’ ‘They made a song about it! About you coming second!’ – Flip hasn’t quite got the hang of this ‘not revealing future events to ruthless dictators’ business yet.
‘The Doctor rescued by the Daleks. Yes, there is a first time for everything…’
‘Such naiveté! To imagine he could reform the Daleks!’
I am Davros!’ – never has that line been so funny!

Great Ideas: You would wonder if you were the one that was cursed when a spaceship crashes on your way home, you rescue a survivor and take him home and then you boyfriend comes home and tries to kill him! The Daleks have developed the technology to swap their minds with other sentient beings – as soon as that was revealed I was certain that Colin Baker’s mannered performance meant that Davros was hiding inside his head! I love the idea of the Daleks murdering a bunch of shoppers in a supermarket – its so deliciously mundane it feels even more murderous than their usual activity. The Dalek making an announcement on the bing bong system is absolute genius – who but Jonathan Morris could ever think up such an insanely brilliant idea? ‘We have brought the human captives to the area known designated ‘Deli Counter!’ Even weirder is the humans transplanted into Dalek mutants and all talking like normal people but with Dalek modulation – its so nutty I love it! Ha – I knew it! I bloody knew it! When Davros has the chance to kill the Doctor and Flip he chooses not to! Because it’s the Doctor! They’ve swapped minds. Go on Morris…prove me wrong! The Daleks are determined to change the course of history by ensuring that Napoleon wins Waterloo – another of their typically madcap schemes to take over the universe. Napoleon Bonaparte controlled by Daleks learning that he will surrender at Waterloo – has Jonathan Morris taken all of his happy pills on one day. I have absolutely no idea where all this madness is going but this kneading and stretching of Doctor Who’s malleable formula is proving a delight. A French châteaux that has been constructed around a Dalek mothership, wouldn’t you just love to see that realised on screen? Davros considers his own body a withered husk of rotting flesh and never wants to return to it. He is quite happy inside the Doctor’s body, a fierce brain in an active body and for the first time he has no pain. The Daleks are so paranoid about the Doctor that they treat him suspiciously even when he claims to be Davros. I felt really sorry for the Dalek who realises he has been duped by the Doctor and is scolded by Davros for humiliating him – he asks if Davros wants to punish him, poor dear! He gets one to self destruct and the Supreme Dalek to torture itself, what a psychopath! We learn that was his hatred and desire for revenge that sustained Davros in his torturous body for so many years. The Doctor tells the story of how he swapped minds with Davros; he detected the Dalek mothership in this time period and managed to break inside and conceal himself. Davros chose this place because he wanted to test the mind exchange in the field of battle where he didn’t care who lived or died. Davros admires Bonaparte because he has a one track mind and he has a genius for war and when the war is won he will take that genius and plant it into every Dalek battle computer. The Doctor was skulking in the shadows that whole time all this malarkey is being discussed. He chose to exchange minds with Davros so the Daleks would obey him now and exterminate Davros in his body. The Doctor plans to use the technology to wipe the Daleks minds and to make them a force for good in the universe. Davros’ grand mistake is not killing the Doctor when he has the opportunity, instead he want him to suffer as he has over the years…forgotten in a cell and trapped in a withered, decaying body. Dalek mutants swimming screaming to be killed, filled with the minds of British and French soldiers. The Doctor’s plan to turn Davros into a Dalek in order for them to escape is so simple but makes perfect sense. I was giggling with glee as the Doctor and Davros both tried to convince the Daleks they were each other…and even the audience don’t know! Baffling brilliance! Napoleon agrees to lose the battle for the glory of France because he knows what will happen when the Daleks take over. Davros is pitiless in his revenge and kills all the Dalek infected soldiers so there are no bodies for the minds to be returned to. The Doctor manages to wipe the minds of all the Daleks on the mothership which leaves Davros the opportunity to teach them to hate all over again…

Oh yeah…I can still remember some years I ago when I was fresh to Doctor Who fandom and Outpost Gallifrey and I suggest on a Doctor Who forum that there should be a story where the Doctor and an important villain have mind swap and I remember being summarily executed by a barrage of insults and abuse by other fans. It was almost enough to make me never want to go back! Poor, terrified little Joe. To all of you who took the time to have a go this audio is a massive finger in the eye! Cheers Jonny!

Audio Landscape: Squeaking bus turning up, a flying saucer flying overhead, crashing and exploding, police radios, extermination noise, police siren, the echoing Dalek voices inside their operatives heads is harsh and glorious, the screams of the hostages as they are all gunned down, pursuit ship descending, rain lashing, landing in mud, explosions, birdsong, the echoing corridors of the châteaux, Dalek heartbeat, ugh – Dalek self destruction, a bubbling Dalek hatchery.

Musical Cues: Wilfredo Acosta is not a name I have read before but he certainly makes a strong first impression with a dramatic soundscape and musical score. Nicholas Briggs always manages to cherry pick the best of the sound designers for his stories and it’s a great thing he does because coupled with his strong direction these stories come to life with dazzling panache. I loved the music at the beginning of episode three especially – strong drum beats accompanying the sudden turn of events. Listen out for the fantastic score when Davros and Napoleon discuss the war as it plays out before them in episode four.

Standout Scene: Love, love, love the cliffhanger to episode two. Although I had guessed early on it was still glorious to hear Colin Baker reveal his true identity as he threatens to kill Flip. Cue chilling mad laughter and boastful Davros reveal! Awesome – who can say they get to introduce Davros to a story and then get to knockout the audience with a twist like that?

Notes: Morris brilliantly subverts the Doctor and Davros’ parting from Revelation of the Daleks ‘I shall return!’ ‘And I shall be waiting for you…’ with the same words coming from the wrong mouths.

Result: A playful Dalek story…who would have ever thought? It’s a great compliment to Jonathan Morris to admit that this is the sort of story I would have expected Douglas Adams to have written for the Daleks instead of bumf like Destiny of the Daleks (which was a tug of war between him and Nation). It manages to take a reasonably whacky premise and have real fun with it whilst telling us something very personal about the Doctor (lonely and trapped) and Davros (who exists in a world of pain). Along the way Morris tosses out so many creative notions (all of which would generate an entire story in other hands) its like a Catherine wheel of imagination is fizzing off in all directions and I was chuckling away with the madness of the scenario come episode four. I especially loved the fact that when the humdinger of a twist was revealed in episode two things did not revert back to normal and the story allowed both Colin Baker and Terry Molloy to stretch themselves far more than their roles would usually allow them to. I wasn’t sure what to think when they announced Phillipa Greenwood’s return as a new companion because she had a very minor part to play in The Crimes of Thomas Brewster but as written by Morris she is given a super introduction with plenty of witty and wonderful lines and Greenwood proves a absolute win. I can’t wait to hear more from her. You’ve got some history, original Dalek action (bing bong!), a fascinating role reversal, a new companion, character development (you’ll never feel such pity for Davros again), Jonathan Morris at his ingenious best (conjuring up a superb reason for this most unusual of settings) and an excellently realised production with great music and effects. What more could you possibly ask for? Wonderfully, blissfully brilliant: 10/10

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The Children of Seth written by Marc Platt (from a story by Christopher Bailey) and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: During one of Nyssa’s experiments, the TARDIS’s temporal scanner picks up a message: ‘Idra’. Just one word, but enough to draw the Doctor to the Archipelago of Sirius. There, the Autarch is about to announce a new crusade. A mighty war against Seth, Prince of the Dark... But who is Seth? What is the secret of Queen Anahita, Mistress of the Poisons? And what terror awaits on Level 14?

An English Gentleman: Its been 43 years since the Doctor last saw Idra and since then her face has been scarred by an accident on Ragnarok and imperfectly patched. He gets younger everyday and finds it quite alarming. The Doctor meant to get around to reading the book that Idra gave her – it was banned and would have explained a great deal about what is going on now had he taken the time. Here’s your chance to hear the Doctor being broken down into the binary language of numbers – I bet the director was horrified to learn that he had to try and actualise that on audio! Its fascinating to see that when the Doctor wants to find Nyssa so badly the numbers converge and bring the image of her before him, its almost as if they have read his subconscious and given him what he most desires. As the system dissects the Doctor so he exploits the system and before long he has mastered this new way of looking at things and can access the defence systems. He walks the streets with wanted posters bearing his image as the Prince of Evil! He still gets funny looks even after the android rebellion is over and he wonders if he was that convincing as the Prince of Darkness.

Alien Orphan: Nyssa has always loved probability with lines of chance crossing and diverging but theory is as far as she ever got. Unfortunately Tegan doesn’t have a clue what she is talking about and it highlights that these two whilst good friends would never be able to spend a great deal of social time together! When she makes a joke (Tegan is shocked!) the Doctor wonders what the odds are on that. Upon hearing that they have landed in war zone Nyssa cries ‘another war?’ – to be fair the wonders of the universe that she has explored thus far all seem to be tearing lumps out of each other. After being brainwashed in The Elite and put up for a mind wipe in this it’s a surprise that Nyssa can remember anything of her past! Imagine if she did lose her memory altogether, she is the last surviving remnant of Traken and that would be lost forever. Nyssa is held captive on level 14 or what people around here call Hell and as she wonders about the demonic environment she has lost all sense of who she is. As her mind slips away she giggles and talks in a sing song voice as though she is drunk – its quite frightening to see the normally composed Nyssa so out of control. Nyssa did think about leaving the Doctor after Florana but she considered one planet or the whole universe and found that the choice was made for her,.

Mouth of Legs: Like the most irritating kid in the car you just know that Tegan would be the one to moan ‘are we there yet?’ There’s a lovely moment where the Doctor is trying integrate into this society and Tegan just bustles up to the first person they meet and asks them about the distress call in the TARDIS. ‘Why does she always do this?’ asks the Doctor but you’ve got to admit her sledgehammer approach gets results! Tegan is no monarchist, she’s a fully paid up Aussie republican and she doesn’t think spirited is enough to describe her, the word she goes for is bolshie! Listen to Janet Fielding’s cheeky performance as she flirts with the guard to get information about the Doctor and tries to free him. I would have loved her to have had this kind of material during the eighties because it reveals a frivolous side to the character that is very appealing. Mind you a lot of the audios with Tegan lately are revealing that the character would have been far more attractive had they injected a little humour into her. Even the Doctor has to admit he is astonished that Tegan could be so resourceful (I think he’s shocked because he’s never seen that flirty side of her before). Nudging is too subtle for Tegan, she would rather shout to get noticed! The Doctor describes her as a bit mouthy he considers her one of his most resourceful companions because when she puts her mind to something she will damn well get it done. She’s so gentle in the last episode, calming people, helping the sick – this is the Tegan we deserved on the telly.

Standout Performance: The top drawer casts Big Finish manage to assemble never ceases to amaze me and returning to Doctor Who here is Honor Blackman who is as good an actress as the show is ever likely to attract. Naturally she sounds a lot older than when she last appeared but that is an advantage, he gorgeous, throaty voice oozes class as she brings the role of the Queen Consort to life. David Warner has played a number of roles in Big Finish Productions over the years and has always been 100% committed to making each character a fully realised person. Here he tackles a pampered ruler who is trading off the reputation of past glories and as ever Warner can make the simplest of put downs sound like ego crushing insults (‘I’m the Doctor…’ ‘I had a check up last week!’). Thje relationship between these two characters is fascinating, often seen as a marriage of convenience but when her life is in danger he suddenly drops away all the domestic anger and shows that he really cares. Their parting scene is beautiful, the two of them back together but still winding each other up. I could have happily have spent more time with both of them.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The only question left will be who inherits the ruins?’
‘Numbers. Like an endless cascading grid, shifting, bombarding me with information. Here or there they cluster or thin out and I think I see shapes but I can’t reads or making sense of them yet! But I’m still here in the other world, our world, I can still smell it and touch it. I’m still here’ – poetry as written by Christopher H Bidmead! Kudos to Marc Platt for taking on such an imaginative idea and trying to verbalise it.
‘Seth is the demon that every government needs.’
‘The enemy was within not without!’ – that’s a great moral and one we should be reminded of.
‘I am the World Breaker! The Soul Eater! I raise up the Dead!’
‘If there had to be a deus ex machina it might as well be us.’

Great Ideas: One of the great strengths of the Christopher Bailey scripts was that he managed to make both Deva Loka and Manussa feel like real places before the Doctor arrived. So often in stories it feels like the Doctor is the catalyst of events wherever they visit and not a lot happened before or after they visited. The Children of Seth opens in a similar way to Bailey’s previous stories with real characters going about their lives before the Doctor shows up. A low level intelligence drone infiltrates the TARDIS as part of a defence system to analyse their defences as a threat and the TARDISes infinite co-ordinates fry its tiny brain! This is far more exciting than a dull old console room scene! Was it just me or did episode one have a real sense of momentum to it? Like we were skating down a precipice to a very important event. The scene setting is almost irrelevant (as strong as it is) compared to the impetus of the piece. The fanatics of Seth are a canker infesting the Empire and now they are planning to strike at this cause of evil – the Fortress of the Dark lord Seth which has been located in the worlds beyond the Rim. The palace is built on the spoils of war, its civic level a warren of cut throats and intriguers. Warriors stood together on the plains of Ragnarok and fought for glory and honour but there is precious little left of it now. The Queen Consort is Idra and she directed the message at the TARDIS because she knows that without the Doctor the whole Empire from its hub to its shattered rim will fall into ruin. There is such an emphasis on the glorious Empire that once ruled that I felt I could see that as vividly as the decaying civilisation that it has become. I didn’t have a clue what was going on at the end of episode two once the Doctor had plugged himself into the net but it was bloody exciting and realised in a similar way to the cliffhanger of The Face of Evil episode three – absolute surreal madness! It is a mark of their decadence that Byzan has been allowed to rise so high and of Idra’s blindness that she saw it too late. Hell is populated by enemies of Byzan, purged of their memories and left to rot – it’s a whole derelict city of the damned. Scaring the people witless is how to take control and they use the Doctor’s face to represent Seth and become the peoples new bogeyman. Byzan is building up a private army of androids under Albis, the autonomous logical binary intelligence system that has outgrown its master. The androids have been planning their coup of a while and talk of a culling of those humanoids that resist them. They want a world wiped clean of humans, a simple mechanical world. Idra invented Seth in her book, the bogeyman that every administration needs to scare children and adults alike, to keep them in order. Byzan stole her idea and didn’t even change the name – they have been living in fear of a lie. The real enemy, the children of Seth are the androids. When they are stopped they freeze like statues and all over the city random people just stopped, guards, businessmen and workers…they will never know how deep the android infiltration went. I love the little mention that Byzan was poisoned in his cell and Idra only visited him the evening before…

Audio Landscape: The TARDIS bleeps and boinks like she is singing a song, the drone cutting through the console, screams in hell, the Doctor broken down by numbers and put back together again, a binary world of zeros and ones, a frothing fountain.

Musical Cues: Fox and Yason can always be relied on to conjure up some impressive music and here they channel Paddy Kingsland at his best but also managed to give the story a sense of gravity. The last two episodes feature an insistent score which gives the story an astonishing sense of drama – you are never in any doubt that serious things are happening. The simple percussion instruments that sound in the last episode remind us of the clashing steel of the androids as they make their move.

Isn’t it Odd: I couldn’t quite figure out why Nyssa thought that she was the Doctor, it made little sense in story terms.

Standout Scene: The image of the Doctor stumbling blinding through a derelict city of the walking dead, falling to his knees and drawing in the sand is a very powerful one. Follow this up with the cliffhanging trick of the Doctor is taking over the reins of government and you have a very strong showing for the fifth Doctor.

Result: Not your typical Big Finish story, The Children of Seth will probably take you two or three listens to fully understand it and appreciate all of its riches. Like Kinda and Snakedance the scripts are extremely wordy, full of juicy dialogue, excellent world building and intriguing characters. As an audio experience this is far more denser than we are used to, rather than an action adventure this is an exploration of ideas and concepts in a very mythical way but like Bailey’s TV stories if you are willing to put the effort in and look at its roots you will get a lot out of it. The main difference between this and the other Lost Stories is that it is that creates worlds out of ideas rather than visuals and as such it is most like classic Doctor on television that I recognise. Ken Bentley deserves a lot of credit for making this marbled story come to life so hypnotically, the actors are extremely good (any story being played by actors with the calibre of Honor Blackman and David Warner deserves your attention) and there is a real pace and momentum to the piece, aided no end by Yason and Fox’s blissful musical score. Whilst there are some nice moments for Tegan and Nyssa it’s a story that puts the Doctor centre stage which is a relief because since his TARDIS became overcrowded in the main range again the fifth Doctor has felt a little sidelined. Here Davison gets the chance to take centre stage again and engage with some truly bizarre science fiction concepts. On a basic level this is Doctor Who exploring a society and sifting through its layers until it exposes the rotten core at its heart but with Marc Platt fleshing out the characters and the culture it is much more than that. The scant explanations and sophisticated layering might leave you a little bemused but take care unwrapping this one and you might be surprised at what lies inside. Beguiling: 9/10

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Destination Nerva written and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: After saying their goodbyes to Professor Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago, the Doctor and Leela respond to an alien distress call beamed direct from Victorian England. It is the beginning of a journey that will take them to the newly built Space Dock Nerva… where a long overdue homecoming is expected. A homecoming that could bring about the end of the human race.

Teeth and Curls: I had to be the only curmudgeon in the pack but I really wasn’t terribly excited about Tom Baker joining the fold of audio Doctor’s a getting a range all of his own. When he threw scripts back in Gary Russell’s face and savagely took the piss out of being asked to do some Big Finish adventures and then had to be charmed by Nick Briggs and David Richardson into coming into the fold where the others were happy to do it without such ego stroking my respect for the man went right out the window. Not only that but with the advent of the Paul Magrs BBC audios that were available it didn’t even feel like a special event because the fourth Doctor had already been brought to life on audio. I have to say I went into Destination Nerva with a heavy heart and whilst I would say he captures the spirit of his era with far more success here than in the Hornets/Serpent/etc series’ that the fourth Doctor has never been one of my favourite Doctor’s anyway so even the thought of just having the character back I greeted with little more than a shrug. So whilst I’m sure I will get over my initial disdain for the actor (watching him swearing and bullying everybody in the behind the scenes snippets of his last couple of season of Who didn’t help) I hope the rest of you get far more out of having him back than I do. I am far more excited about Colin Baker’s return with a new companion and Davros this month. Saying all this I’m not actually sure that Tom Baker is a natural audio performer in the same way that Davison, Baker and McGann are anyway…there is something a little stilted about his performance here where he tries to annunciate a word to the nth degree in every sentence. You might say that the Doctor isn’t supposed to be naturalistic and the fourth is the most alien of the lot but I counter that by saying the dialogue has to at least flow – what else have you got on audio? I was also a little confused by how kindly he seemed to be to Leela because the fourth Doctor I remember at this point (and certainly Tom Baker’s performance) was quite vicious towards the character whereas here they really seem to be a team in progress. Are Big Finish going for a ‘this is 1977’ feel or like Colin Baker’s Doctor are they offering us a ‘this is what it could have been like…’

I’m not sure I like the idea of this picking up directly where Talons of Weng-Chiang left off either. Big Finish seems to be determined to fill in any gap in continuity even to the point now of finishing sentences that started at the end of televised adventures! He’s always had a soft spot for Butlers…in fact he once knew a Butler whose name was Butler – the dialogue needs to be smarter than that to capture the 4th Doctor’s acid tongue wit from the 70s. He often finds the mark of a good theory is that it doesn’t make sense. Can you ever imagine this incarnation of the Doctor walking in on an authority figure and saying ‘I’m sorry to interrupt your day…’ No, me neither. He’s said it before but human beings are quite his favourite species…yawn. It was interesting for the Doctor to see Nerva again for the first time so at least somebody enjoyed the story. He could travel in the TARDIS for a billion, billion years and still scratch the surface of eternity.

Noble Savage: Now Louise Jameson on the other hand is a different kettle of fish. She’s a fascinating actress who always has me mesmerised whether she is playing a part (go and listen to her in Pulling Faces, she’s magnificent) or talking about her craft and always seems very humble when discussing her career and glad to have been a part of such a television phenomenon. Louise picked up the character of Leela in the Gallifrey series (and now the Jago & Litefoot series) and ran with it and provided some of the best moments of drama for that spin off and increased the range of the character tenfold (her reaction to the fact that Andred is not dead and has tricked her is still one of my favourite ever audio scenes). Whilst I would have given my right arm to hear Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen back together again (but fate has a cruel way of getting in the way) Jameson’s Leela was probably the most interesting companion to have travelled with him so it is a fair compromise.

Leela understands that her words might sound strange but points to the Doctor as the man with the explanations because he is the ‘man of wisdom.’ Leela gets to experience space walking for the first time and her head cannot tell which way is up or down. It’s always nice to see Leela whipping up a revolution and she is determined to take on the entire planet with one ship if she has to. She wants to know why the TARDIS travels through time as well as space and nobody has ever asked that question before.

Great Ideas: The transformation scenes are pretty nasty and are easy to visualise despite this being on audio.

Audio Landscape: Cocking weapons, kudos for getting the TARDIS console noises so spot on, lightning cracking the sky, rain falling and slapping an umbrella, sonic screwdriver, crackly radio, the Nerva Beacon scanning noises are peerlessly genuine, walking on the hull.

Musical Cues: Massive kudos to Jamie Robertson for ditching his usual cinematic style of music and going for something that sounds authentically Dudley Simpson. I have heard people try and pull off his style of music before with disastrous results (remember that dreadful Keff McCulloch score for Shada that was supposed to be aping Simpson?) but this is an orchestral delight with some lovely melodramatic stings. Its enough to make you feel as if you have been transported back to the seventies and are watching this tale in your front room whilst your mam is pouring gravy over your mash and the rain is lashing outside. I could have sworn I heard a xylophone in there somewhere – woohoo! All we needed was a glockenspiel and it would been the perfect synthesis of The Ark in Space and Revenge of the Cybermen! Love the up beat piano theme at the conclusion.

Isn’t it Odd: So let me see…the Doctor and Leela walk into a house where they meet a Butler and can see the carnage of a pitched battle between people and aliens and a star drive suddenly activates and almost disintegrates them and then find themselves on Nerva Beacon. No I’m sorry but I’m not following this at all. Is this being made up as it goes along? It bugs me that we are supposed to understand what Nerva Beacon is without any real explanation from the Doctor or the guest characters – anybody new to classic Doctor Who would come to this story thoroughly confused as to the setting. Is Nick Briggs expecting the audience to be entirely Who fanboys? Possession of a character, space station Nerva and a base under siege – this is more like a greatest hits of the Tom Baker years than a story in its own right. I would have rather they had trusted their audience and gone with something completely revolutionary for their first story rather than all this easing the audience in gently nonsense. What Big Finish should remember is that its the bold, intelligent, unusual stories such as The Holy Terror, The Kingmaker, A Death in the Family and Chimes of Midnight that score highly in the popularity polls and certainly far more than workmanlike stories that are spliced together from elements of classic stories like Destination: Nerva. Episode two progresses and soon you have both Tom Baker and Louise Jameson screaming hysterically – this really isn’t drama you know, its just shouting. What ever happened to the exploration of ideas on audio? There is a fantastic story waiting to be written about the effects of possession (or it might already be called Spare Parts) but in this case it all about reacting rather then discussing and that is the least intelligent approach you can take. Is it simply the case that nobody else wants to write for the fourth Doctor because the first line up seems to consist entirely of the producer and the script editor of the main range and new golden boy John Dorney and BBC Books creative editor Justin Richards? Is this just playing it safe again or did they all want a couple of goes first before letting anybody else play with him? Aside from Dorney whose name always excites me in the schedules it’s a pretty predictable line up. I would have liked to see some new names in there to re-energise the company on this new venture.

Standout Scene: There was a moment at the end of the story where the Doctor and Leela banter for a moment and he promises to teach her some more and leap off into a universe of unpredictable adventures. It’s optimistic and full of potential and almost succeeded in whipping me up in a frenzy. After the workmanlike adventure that has played out it offers a glimmer of hope for The Renaissance Man.

Result: I was shocked at what a non event this was. After a decade of bringing us top-notch audio adventures I was appalled that Big Finish could introduce their supposedly greatest coup (stroking Tom Baker’s ego enough to get him to agree to make a trip to the studios) in such a slapdash story. Destination Nerva fails on practically every count as far as I can see – it’s a confused narrative that is spliced together from other, better stories, the guest characters are one dimensional and vacant, the dialogue lacks sparkle and the jeopardy angle lacks any excitement. Even worse the one reason people will pick this story up so eagerly is the reason it bombs so spectacularly – Tom Baker gives the least convincing performance I have ever heard from him. People might bemoan that the Hornet’s Nest Doctor is a far cry from what we saw on the television but at least that was Baker giving a hearty, menacing performance. The way that Tom Baker inflects some of his dialogue you would think that he was the one that was possessed at the end of part one – some lines fast, some lines slow, some injected with madness, some deep and menacing. It is literally all over the place and needs a much stricter director to whip him into shape. I don’t think even McCoy who was until now the most inconsistent performer has ever been this incoherently schizophrenic in a story. When your main man can’t even say ‘Run!’ convincingly at the cliffhanger you are in trouble. He does settle down a bit in the second episode and at the conclusion seems a lot calmer so lets hope this is first story jitters. Louise Jameson tries gamely to salvage something and she is the one person who escapes this madness with her dignity intact. I think the advent of fourth Doctor’s return will be enough for everybody to give this a pass but if anybody can objectively say this is to the usual standards of Big Finish…well I would say they were wrong: 3/10

Monday, 9 January 2012

Legend of the Cybermen written by Mike Maddox and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: The Cybermen are on the march through the Hundred Realms, killing and converting as they go. Resistance is useless. Trapped on the outermost fringes of the battle, the Doctor and Jamie are astonished to encounter an old friend: astrophysicist Zoe Heriot. It's the happiest of reunions. But what hope is there of a happy ending against the unstoppable Cybermen?

Softer Six: He keeps forgetting that Jamie and he have technically just met and the Highlander doesn’t understand what he means when he says run… He’s not a what he’s a Who! He is a Time Lord and he doesn’t need to be lectured on temporal solecisms by some penny dreadful pedant! Zoe asks the Doctor how he came to look so different and the Doctor begins his explanation by saying it all happened the day they last saw him – if he’s going to tell the entire story of Doctor Who from 1969 through to 1985 I think there should be the audio equivalent of asterisks to show that some time has past! Or better still you can use this as a Wheel in Space style thought scanner excuse to watch all the stories between The War Games and The Twin Dilemma! Getting into the fictional spirit the Doctor says his life is an open book of the Prydonian Chapter. Because he is usually so charming it is easy to forget how one track minded the Doctor can be and he develops an instant dislike of Dracula based on no more than the words that Bram Stoker wrote. There is a history between the Time Lords and Vampires – bad blood you might say but you would think he might be able to put all that aside for what is essentially a fictional creation! Jamie calls the Doctor on how they got the original Master of the Land of Fiction home and he cannot give a satisfactory answer – I’m really glad they didn’t explain that because its ambiguity was what made that story such a fascinating tale. I cannot believe the story tries to sell that the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe had never escaped the Land of Fiction and that everything since has been a dream. Its such an alarming, absurd idea that had they tried to suggest it was real I wouldn’t have known what to think but as it is it is a one minute moment of glorious madness before an even bigger twist crowbars its way in. The Doctor admits that he is no longer running away from the Time Lords, these days it is borderm mostly. Jamie asks what Sarah asked in School Reunion and Jo asked in Death of the Doctor…why did the Doctor not return for him and Zoe? Jamie wonders if the Doctor moves on and forgets about those who have travelled with him but he denies that vehemently. He tries to say sorry but words aren’t appropriate for how the real Jamie McCrimmon was violated.

Who’s the Yahoos: The Doctor tells Jamie that this world is made out of the imagination but not their imaginations but that doesn’t stop Jamie trying to conjure up a bottle of whiskey and a lassie with a cheeky smile! Zoe tries to unlock his memories by given him a data retrieval node but he initially refuses saying that he has read the bible and knows all about young men being tempted by lassies with apples. This whole trilogy has been leading up to the point where Jamie gets his memories back and learns about his previous life with the Doctor and the sequence doesn’t disappoint. The listener is assaulted with a barrage of spine tingling sounds effects from Jamie’s adventures in the TARDIS – Quarks, White Robots firing, the Yeti activation noise… It’s a nostalgia fest! He remembers the horrors but also that he had good friends…Sailor Ben, bean poll Polly, Victoria who was precious like china and Zoe, the clever one. The Doctor was small and scruffy with a funny little gleam in his eye. Its only been a month for Zoe but he has lived a full and fruitful life since they last saw each other and it has been a good life. Making Jamie a fictional character was probably not an result that any of us wanted but its still a hell of a shock. All of a sudden you have to question everything that has happened since this trilogy began and of course Jamie first met the Doctor in Scotland which was part of the Land of Fiction so it all makes perfect sense. But I so wanted them to go off travelling together again at the end. Still even a fictional Jamie is still a great character and he has developed a fine chemistry with the Doctor in this run of stories and it has been great to catch up with Frazer Hines again who gives his all whether the character is real or not. Jamie is violently angry about this revelation because he is finding it hard to accept so many different version of his life – firstly his life with the Doctor and then the fact that he isn’t real. It is rather a lot to take in to be fair. Zoe created this version of Jamie and took away his memories so the Doctor had a mystery to solve so he would stick with him. All those pieces are coming together nicely. The Doctor offers him the post as the Laird of the Land of Fiction but Jamie knows that all he is good for is fighting. They embrace warmly and even though he knows he isn’t the Jamie he knew there is still a connection there.

Brainy Beauty: I got crazy excited when Zoe turned up to save Jamie – listening to this pair together again, one of my personal favourites of the classic series, is an absolute joy. I loved the reference that Jamie has gotten old when its clear that Wendy Padbury’s voice has…matured too. She’s appalled that Jamie thinks he has conjured her up out of his imagination and she certainly doesn’t have any Whiskey secreted about her person thank you very much! Zoe confuses the Doctor for the Artful Dodger and gives him a massive hug. The second big twist is the unshrouding of the Mistress – its Zoe, our Zoe and the one we have been travelling with is an avatar. She has been trying to hold the Cybermen off with stories from her childhood and waiting for the Doctor to find her. It was years later on the Wheel and Zoe was remembering how they had fought the Cybermen together and she went for a medical scan and learnt that she was a two years older than she was a few days ago. She worked it out for herself that she had travelled with the Doctor and had her memories wiped. The Cybermen captured her and decided she would make a good Cyberplanner and when they probed her mind something snapped the mental blocks the Time Lords imposed fell away. With her super brain Zoe conquered the Cybercomputer and brought them somewhere she knew they could do no harm – the Land of Fiction. She plugged her subconscious into the Master Brain and she has been fighting the Cybermen ever since. She gave the characters freewill, made them cunning and unpredictable. The Doctor knows that as soon as she leaves The Land of Fiction Zoe’s memories will shut down again and he lays her back on the Wheel.

Standout Performance: It’s the sort of story where you have to commend actors for throwing themselves wholeheartedly into something truly out of the ordinary and there is no better example than Ian Gelder’s superb Count Dracula. As well as making the speeches about his backstory sound like poetry he also manages to play the part with a great deal of pathos and by the end you are cheering his character on. Listen the way he says Cybermen – its delicious. His conversion is a tragic end for his character but his strength of will invades the Cyberplanners consciousness.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘How did you do that?’ ‘Magic, obviously.’
‘I’m sure its much easier to send your troops to their deaths when they look like toys!’
‘You’re standing in an enchanted forest looking through a magic window made of fairy dust and you’re telling me something’s odd!’
‘Remember when Grendel’s mother attacked the Cyber Controller…?’
‘None of this is real. It’s all a wonderful children’s adventure which adults adore.’
‘The Cybermen have converted mermaids!’ ‘Oh, that’s just wrong’ – thanks for saying it for me!
‘I think you’ve complicated your plot quite enough!’
‘You’ll never beat McCrimmon yet,
Jamie bellowed at the silver threat,
And once more with battle met,
And vigour undefeated his muscles stretched, his sinews keen,
He slew the half man-half machine!’
‘And I was lost to her again…’

Great Ideas: The White Robots are look a bit more sophisticated since the Doctor last met them and he suspects that the Master of the Land of Fiction has been upgraded too. Odd that because they are exactly the same as The Mind Robber on the inside sleeve! There are some kisses to The Mind Robber as you would expect such scenes of the Doctor and Jamie wandering around the void, lost, and screaming out each others names. It’s a chance for the writer to enjoy bringing to life some of the best fictional characters ever written and the first one the Doctor stumbles across is the Artful Dodger! The Doctor has read Oliver Twist half a dozen times but he doesn’t recall the Dodger saying ‘We may be following a by and large linear narrative but out here continuity is distinctly malleable!’ There’s a magic forest where the fairies live which they use a safe hiding place where you can find the land of Camelot. How awesome is it that the Cyberplanner is located at Dracula’s castle? Every time we cut back to him there is a gothic organ playing and lightning striking like he is some mad scientist plotting for the Cybermen! Apparently Sherlock Holmes was a General but he had his own demons to face. The Cybermen don’t want control of the Land of Fiction, they want the power of the Master Brain which can adjust the thoughts of all mankind and make them like them. At first I wondered how on Earth Mike Maddox was going to pull off such an insane concept as the Cybermen in this imaginative realm but that is actually a rock sold motive to back up all this madness. Bravo! They seek to destroy the human imagination because once that is destroyed humanity itself is destroyed. They would be robbing humanity of the ability to tell stories, to lie or even to exaggerate. The Cybermen had the fortune to convert werewolves…what a horrifying idea! This opened their minds to new kinds of Cyber conversion and they started with the fairies. Oh this is great stuff, absolutely barking.The catacombs have been turned into refinery to extract the blood of the land, ink. Just like the factories in the Scottish landscape and the hold of the Nautilus. The ink is being collected and used the way it would be on the page, to create more fictional characters – bloody genius! Cheekily the Doctor hums Ride of the Valkeries as spirit maidens but the Cybermen have converted their wings and turned them into jet engines. Giant behemoth Cybermen stomp forward to attack. Characters in the Land of Fiction literally bleed blood. It couldn’t have been long before the great white whale Moby Dick reared its head except it has been fitted with portholes and torpedo tubes by the Cybermen! The Nautilus makes a spectacular return with Nemo and Rob Roy on board tying the three stories together even tighter. Zoe describes the Doctor’s adventure to her as ‘psuedo historical to base under siege!’ Cyber fairies attack! The space leeches from City of Spires were the Karkus’ enemies from the Hourly Telepress brought to life. Zoe tried to bring the Doctor to life fictionally by novelising all of their adventures together and she shows the real Doctor her library featuring Doctor Who and the Dominators and Doctor Who and the Krotons. If this story parodies anything else I know to be true I’m going to start wondering if I am real. I love how Jamie and Rob Roy vanquishing the Cybermen is narrated in the form of a good old fashioned Scottish poem and joyfully reality shifts halfway through a stanza and Jamie is left without a rhyme to finish! All the fictional Cybermen are made to disappear when Dracula convinces the Cyberplanner that they never existed in the first place. With the stain of the Cybermen wiped from its pages the Land of Fiction began to grow again becoming something quite different – a wonderland with Alice as its mistress.

Audio Landscape: Prepare yourselves for the audio experience of a lifetime as Nicholas Briggs and Jamie Robertson take you on a surreal adventure through The Land of Fiction! The mechanical grinding of the White Robots, that fantastic alien hum of the void, clockwork ticking, squeaky door, Jamie falling a great height lured on by Zoe’s voice, dripping tap, mechanical Cyber footsteps, the White Robot firing noise, thunder rumbling, the bubbling voice of the Cyber planner, birdsong, fairies tinkling around Jamie, dog barking, unicorn whinnying, trees swaying, bubbling ink making a person, siren, Dracula vanishing in a puff of smoke, bombing raids, spitting, crackling flames, Zoe trapped under rubble, bomb whistling to the ground, explosions, flintlock going off, a spindle radio dish, wolves baying in the distance, running water, crossing a rope bridge, a Cyberman falling down a chasm, ooh an old fashioned internet connection noise, storybook noise, biting wind, knocking on a glass booth, a sea shanty, Karkus teleportation noise, the gigglingly childish Cyber fairies, Cyber mermaids squeaking on the hull of the Nautilus.

Musical Cues: The clockwork soldiers are accompanied by a jaunty marching band tune this time around, a handy audio sign that they are close by. Once all the cards are on the table we are treated to some fantastic music in the second episode – exciting beats when the Cybermen attack, a rousingly heroic theme in Camelot and a dashing fun as Jamie heads on a horse!

Standout Scene: Only Doctor Who could get away with something as utterly bizarre and chilling as the end of episode one. Putting aside the fact that we are walking around in a world where fictional characters can come to life there is the additional threat of the Cybermen who are revealed here as Oliver Twist steps from the mist half converted asking in an electronic buzz ‘please sir, I want some more…’ Its funny, macabre and shocking. I love it.

The story takes a wonderful diversion into bedtime storytelling as each of the characters narrates a little piece of the action in a unique way. Dracula reads the spine chilling words of Bram Stoker’s classic, intersped with scenes of magic fantasy read by Alice – the two stories colliding with the young girl almost murdered when the white rabbit (the Doctor) pops up to tell them both that the Cybermen are playing with their perception of reality! Zoe reads The Secret Fairies, asking if you have a responsible adult to make you a nice glass of synthymilk and giving you the special noise to indicate when to turn the page. Jamie winds up in a audio recording booth at Big Finish Productions with director Nick Briggs giving him instructions on how to proceed with his reading. The Doctor starts talking from the very next booth and prevents Jamie from being taken over by Briggs/the Cyberman! All of this goes somewhere beyond epistemological post modernism and meta fiction into a spiralling descent of unreality but I love it. Its such an imaginative and clever way to tell the story, I was grinning gleefully throughout.

Result: Prepare yourself for the greatest mindfuck fan fiction experience of the century! Every time I thought Legend of the Cybermen couldn’t throw anything more insane at me it always managed to find some other little creative titbit in the darkest recesses of its twisted imagination. Where else will you find Dracula telling to Little Lord Fauntleroy to try and hold Atlantis back from Cyberman invasion? We’ve got gothic Cyberplanners, Moby Dick with torpedo tubes, bedtime storytelling, fictional characters bleeding ink, Cyber converted fairies, and even Nick Briggs making a cameo as himself! Underneath all the creative bluster there is a touching character tale taking place dealing with the aftermath of The War Games and the tragic circumstances surrounding Jamie and Zoe’s departure. We learn that Jamie isn’t real but that isn’t enough, Zoe is revealed as the Mistress of the Land of Fiction and that isn’t enough, characters from the first two stories of the trilogy join the fight and that still isn’t enough…this is a story that keeps giving, twisting, evolving, subverting until I was left tied up in fictional knots and laughing manically all the way. For the chance to hear Colin Baker, Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury working together it is a treasurable on its own but Legend of the Cybermen also features a cinematic array of audio landscapes, moments that will make you laugh and cry at the same time and a stirring musical score. Its everything this climatic final instalment needed to be and it answers the stack of mysteries very satisfactorily and has a tearjerking final scene. Its completely, mind bogglingly, escaped from an asylum madness and I loved every second of it: 10/10