Sunday, 30 May 2010

The One Doctor written by Gareth Roberts & Clayton Hickman and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about? When the evil Skelloids launch an attack upon the seventeen worlds of the Generios system, its peace-loving inhabitants face total destruction. So it's fortunate that the famous traveller in time and space known only as the Doctor is in the area, and doubly lucky that, with the help of his pretty young assistant, Sally-Anne, he manages to defeat the deadly creatures and save the day. But now it looks as though the Doctor¹s luck has run out. Who is the mysterious, curly-haired stranger who insists on causing trouble? What role does the feisty redhead Melanie play in his scheme? And what have they to do with the sinister alien cylinder approaching Generios? One thing is certain: for the Doctor and Sally-Anne, there¹s deadly danger ahead ...

Softer Six: This is where it had finally cemented in everybody’s minds that the sixth Doctor was the reigning champion of the audio adventures, that he had totally swept away his post regenerative slumber and was firing on all cylinders in a way that was totally unique to himself. Whether he was battle monsters alongside Peri, Evelyn or Mel this was the Doctor that Colin Baker wanted to play and we love him to pieces for all the right reasons. No wonder he won the best Doctor poll this year instead of lacking behind in last position as always. It was a vindication of the sixth Doctor and about bloody time!

He is (as we all know) extremely theatrical and melodramatically plays monopoly with Mel as though he is a power crazed dictator who likes to win! He tries to control the TARDIS and hates the vulgar end of time and he has never been to Generios before. He can usually sense the proximity of another self nearby as his hair stands on end. He suggests once looking a photo of Banto posing as the Doctor that all of his previous incarnations have tried to maintain a certain Olympian dignity. Hilariously he cannot quite get out of the habit of talking in the language of Pip’n’Jane and asks Mel how her wilting willow impression is rather than simply telling her that he has a plan. The Doctor is a corridor veteran which is really funny way of looking at budget cuts! There are tons of digs about his weight (‘You’re not exactly sylph like!’) which only serves to make him more adorable. He declares to Banto that he is the one and only Doctor and there is nobody he would rather be. Described as a curly head piece. His brilliant escape plan to smash in the door with the food dispenser is by his own words ‘force with a little finesse.’ Having the answers to everything is one of the advantages of being very old. How wonderful is it for somebody to fancy the unfanciable sixth Doctor by of course he plays hard to get for the most part, only giving her a kiss when he gets very excited. The Doctor has never gotten used to arriving on a new planet. He’s very clever and possibly very sexy and his companions are supposed to rouse him from his slums of despond. In a wonderful spout of egotism he thinks he can take on the greatest mind in the universe…and win! His three wishes on his 900th birthday were peace throughout the galaxy, better control of the TARDIS and more manageable hair! He admires the Spraxis Jelloids and is called a pompous bore. He talks about the beauty of the universe and being eaten by the Jelloid in the same breath! The Jelloid thinks he has an honest face so he simply gives him the greatest treasure in the Generious system. At the story’s climax he puts on an appalling cockney accent and snogs Sally-Anne! Despite all of the insults he will rescue Banto from his grisly fat. He has his companions because he cannot do it alone. The Doctor states (quite rightly too) that the universe is only ready for one Doctor at the moment.

Generous Ginge: Somehow…somehow Roberts and Clayton manage to highlight all of Mel’s overdone morality, enthusiasm and squeaky cleanliness and make her utterly wonderful at the same time! They manage this by showing just how much fun she and the Doctor could have had in the TARDIS and by comparing them with their inept alter egos! She is appalled by the Doctor’s theatrics and she was a girl guide which he finds hilarious. Mel has the most fantastic ringlets! It is great to see Mel lusted after rather than Peri and Banto comes onto her at various stages of the story with little success. I loved the exchange between her and Sally-Anne who cannot comprehend that anyone could be so desperately sweet: ‘You can drop the goody two shows act!’ ‘What act?’ declares Mel innocently! Because of his weight usually the Doctor is lagging behind her. She is very brave in the face of danger and thinks there’s no point in worrying until you know you’re in trouble. Mel’s Christmas speech is bloody brilliant, hilarious and full of warmth and taking the piss out of her character in the most affectionate of ways. She likes asking questions and being the one to prompt the Doctor and gets annoyed when Sally-Anne tries to take over. Alternatively she steps on the Doctor’s toes by facing up to the monsters before him! Banto tells her that she is the most beautiful, intelligent and spirited woman he has ever met and asks her to marry him but she has to refuse because she is an android! The extra at the end of the disc sees the Doctor and Mel cosying up to a log fire and enjoying a Christmas sherry and it is possibly the warmest moment between any Doctor and companion.

Great Ideas: This story is packed full of them – it is one of those quest stories like The Keys of Marinus and The Chase only its really, really good – a bit like The Tomorrow Windows! The vulgar end of time is where everybody knows everybody else’s business, everything has been discovered, technology has made every pleasure affordable and all the interesting wars have been fought and won. The Skelloids are described as ferocious aliens from deep space. What a fantastic idea it is to have the Doctor pissed off that he has to save another civilisation only to be trumped as he has already done it before he has arrived! Someone trading off the Doctor’s reputation, turning up on an unsuspecting planet and faking an invasion for financial recompense is absolute genius! Apparently Banto brandishes his psychic screwdriver and travels in the STARDIS – which is smaller on the inside than the out! The Cylinder that appears in the sky is very menacing and its purpose is to collect tribute or it will destroy everything in the Generious system. The Assembler robots control a dead planet and roam around a huge warehouse obsessing over furniture. They are creatures of pure reason and have a homicidal hatred of humans…they are chatty and they sure giggle a lot! An enormous amphitheatre ruin houses Mentos – the greatest repository of knowledge in the universe who has been playing the game Superbrain for the past 33,000 years. The box is linked to a team of electronic research gatherers suspended in a shadow universe and they work tirelessly to ensure the Mentos device can answer any question. Brilliantly Sally-Anne foxes him with the only question he cannot answer: ‘What don’t you know?’ The Shelves of Infinity can never be assembled as parts of them exist in different dimensions! Mel and Banto bluff that they have finished because the Assemblers can never have seen the finished product. It must have taken geological extremes to create a diamond the size of the greatest treasure of Generios. The Doctor is gobbled up by one of the Spraxis Jelloids! The Jelloid is waiting in for an entertainment unit and doesn’t want to leave this spot because ‘you go out and they turn up – it always happens!’ He has been waiting for nearly two million years for it to arrive. It turns out that the Cylinder never wanted the treasures…they were after the Doctor for some unknown crime he has committed in the future and so they set a task that only he could complete and because of his vanity (he is under the misapprehension that he will be receiving a monetary reward) they take Banto instead! The Doctor – ever a show off – tries to make it snow in the console room with disastrous consequences!

Standout Performance: Who else but the incorrigible Christopher Biggins, one of our national treasures and an absolute hoot as the conman Banto Zame. He is hilarious throughout and has many laugh out loud confrontations with the similarly verbose sixth Doctor. Just read some of the dialogue listed below to see what a marvellous character this is.. Claire Buckfield’s Sally-Anne is only a heartbeat away – a common space troll with a huge crush on the cuddly sixth Doctor and who learns to become a better person in his company.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Time’s winged chariot marches on especially for a Time Lord!’
‘It must have been the excitement of being that close to the Doctor!’ enthuses Mel after fainting!
‘Please be gentle with them…its really very sad’ says Banto as the Doctor and Mel are marched away as over excited fans.
‘You don’t get the same effect with audio – people actually want to see the monsters!’
‘That voice sounded fishy to me’ ‘Oh of aquatic origin you think?’ ‘No, Doctor!’
‘I would rather pluck out my own eyes with a pair of rusty forceps than ever see you again!’
‘I’ve seen your eyes roving all over that ginger piece!’
‘I’ve got a memory like and elephant…it’s a running gag I share with the Doctor.’ ‘Oh I bet the hours just fly by!’
‘Don’t talk to me about giving up because I’m a Bush and Bushes never do!’
‘Awe inspiring in that coat? Have you taken a look in the mirror recently? Come to think of it I shouldn’t think you do much else!’ ‘I intend to rise above your barbs…but before I do I’d like to say that this coat can only be appreciated by someone with a sharpened aesthetic sense – not a dunderhead like you!’ ‘Sharpened aesthetic sense? Sharpened by what a dose of mind altering drugs?’ ‘I warn you a verbal duel with me would only lead to ignominy for you!’ ‘Igno-what? Talking with you is like arguing with a thesaurus!’
‘It’s a gigantic body composed almost entirely of super heated gas.’ ‘Rather like you then!’ ‘If I have to endure another insult…’ ‘Oh here we go another voyage around the English language!’
‘Luck you were wearing that coat, no way of knowing someone’s just been sick over it!’

Audio Landscape: The Doctor’s grandiose speech of an opening eases you into the story with all the subtlety of farting during a wedding ceremony! I love the Horns of Nimon style TARDIS noises. There is a riotous crowd to beat all riotous crowds with lots of bottle gurgling which then devolves into an all consuming conga dance routine! The Cylinder makes its presence aware with a very powerful audio attack and its voice is like a crack of electricity and a grumble of thunder all at once. The destruction of the 11th planet is practically an audio afterthought with a bolt whizzing past and the planet exploding in the distance but it does show off the awesome hand wave of the Cylinder. There is an awful gurgling toilet noise as the STARDIS dematerialises. Two hearts beat very healthily in the Doctor’s chest. Generios 8 is some very creepy echoey corridors. Generios 13 is a windswept plain. The whirring bleeping Assembler robots cry out ‘DISSASEMBLE THEM! DISASEMBLE THEM! NOOOOOOW!’ The horrendous Delaware theme tune is used during episode three! Mentos playing Superbrain does sound very Weakest Link with treading on any copyrighters toes. I love scene where Banto asks how they are going to make the Shelves of Infinity without a screwdriver and a door opens and one is chucked in the room – so simple but what a great audio gag. The bubbling lavascapes surrounding the Jelloid are very impressive. The Jelloid makes some very upsetting noises especially the squelchy sound of its gastric tracks when the Doctor is inside its stomach and the gagging noise just before it throws him up! On the plus side the Jelloid’s song is adorable!

Musical Cues: The music in this story is phenomenal; Alistair Lock tips his hat to a number of blockbuster movies and makes sure The One Doctor is as enjoyable as it can possibly be. All of his instruments are broken out to announce the arrival of the Cylinder – what a dramatic sting! I love the comedy shelf making music, very unusual and funny. There is a gorgeous festive tune as Mel recalls her Christmas story to save the old folks from festive borderm. How great is the jolly tune as the Assemblers head off into the sunset to make an occasional table and some throws! I love the low horn as the Doctor is eaten by the Jelloid, its funny and gross at the same time!

Isn’t it Odd: This is my most listened to Doctor Who audio bar none – I must have heard it over 30 times now and I still love every second of it and it still makes me laugh in all the right places. Now that’s staying power!

Result: The crowning achievement of Big Finish. Don’t listen to those people who say that it is Chimes of Midnight…although that story is fabulous too but it far easier to scare people than it is to make them laugh and The One Doctor makes you really laugh. There is never sense that the writers are trying to take the piss out of the show but merely affectionately poke at its extremes and for a story that sees the sixth Doctor and Mel having the piss taken out of them so much they come off with more dignity and humour than any serious story could achieve. Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford deliver peerless performances and Christopher Biggins and Clare Buckfield are an absolute delight as their cahoots and alter egos. I may have moaned at Gary Russell’s constant turns in the director’s chair but his work here is nothing short of genius and the music and sound effects really drive the story along. Full points to Clayton and Roberts for such a witty script with so many great one liners for the actors to gobble up and tons of fantastic ideas as well. This story was a total surprise when I first heard it and I cannot think of a single Doctor Who story that cheers me up more. Orgasmically good: 10/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Primeval written by Lance Parkin and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about? Nyssa will die at dawn, and the Doctor doesn't even know why. To save her life, he must make a desperate journey to the only place in the universe where a cure might exist. When even that fails, the Doctor has a choice -- let Nyssa die, or make a deal with the devil. After all, the road to hell is paved with good intentions...

English Gentleman: Who would give credit to Peter Davison’s assertion that the fifth Doctor and Nyssa would have made for the best combination during his era. Frankly although I do feel that Nyssa is the best companion of the era it sounds like a recipe for bordermsville to me! What a surprise to learn that it could have been just as fun and interesting as he suggests and perhaps even more so! This story opens with the Doctor desperately trying to save Nyssa’s life and reveals a far more parental fifth Doctor than we have seen before and throughout there is a unspoken feeling that they are made for each other, right down to his offer to let her stay on Traken where she would be safe but she would rather explore the universe and be exposed to dangers so long as she is with him. It is a surprisingly believable relationship that maintains its integrity even when they are arguing. Unlike his shaky relationship with Tegan this is one of a (stand in) father and daughter.

He introduces himself as a traveller and agrees that it is ironic that he needs help in medical matters.

He has travelled widely and accepts that evil is relative. The Doctor has no doctorate in theology, he only has his opinion. With two hearts is it more or less likely that he would have a heart attack? He tries to help people but finds it much better to help them help themselves. He accepts his hand in the destruction of Traken in the future and when Kwundaar thanks him for destroying the planet he admits he couldn’t do anything to save it. The mark of a gentleman is that he knows how to Charleston but doesn’t, as the Doctor doesn’t here. He has exiled a few Gods in his time. He reveals himself to be something of a sneaky bastard when he gives Nyssa the wrong code knowing that she wouldn’t be able to resist Kwundaar and steps into the position of the Keeper, the first ever. The has now been marked as a slayer of primeval beings.

Alien Orphan: What better showcase could Nyssa have than to return to primeval Traken? It is great to see how much of her society she still appreciates and how much she has now broken away from their rules and regulations. This script could have been written by Johnny Byrne for the amount of development it gives to Nyssa; the sting of her fathers death still lingering, her flirting with Sabien, her resistance to the scripture of Traken and her choice to continue to travel with the Doctor rather than staying on a planet that will survive in harmony for thousands of years. Because she is known as being quite a clinical character Sarah Sutton is in an ideal position to surprise people and Parkin’s sensual script gives her a chance to really shine.

Great Ideas: The very idea of taking Nyssa back to Traken is pretty heartbreaking considering everything she has lost but finally allows us to deal with those feelings that were ignored on the television. The darkness and exposure to evil is treated like exposure to radiation. The Trakenites suggest that it might be Nyssa to die to prevent her spreading an infection of evil! The cliffhanger to episode one is a great moment – I don’t know about you but I was intrigued at what could make the Doctor scream in pain like that. I like the idea of the spa that is imbued with the healing powers of the Source…can I visit there please? The sun going black is a vivid image, the light from the Source being hidden. Kwundaar was the Trakenite God 250,000 years ago and he taught them the language of science and how to build the Source and with it they no longer needed a God. They kicked him out and twisted his form into Kwundaar where he has vowed to get his revenge ever since. Shela is the first Keeper of Traken – well second, technically the Doctor is the first Keeper.
< Sparkling Lines: ‘Perfection is something we should strive for, not something we should ever attain.’
Evil knows evil.’
‘Let a man sit by your fire and he’s warm for the night. Show him how to build a fire and he’s warm every night.’ ‘Set him on fire and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life!’
‘They replaced faith with reason and they kicked you out!’

Standout Performance: Aside from the regulars it would have to be Stephen Grief’s star turn as Kwundaar. He sits in the shadows plotting and scheming and manages to make the Doctor scream and Nyssa betray her own people. It is a wonderful character and ex-Travis from Blakes’ 7 gives him a gloriously quiet and intimidating quality.

Audio Landscape: Bubbling streams, birdsong, a ticking clock, a heart monitor, the noise of the space port, Kwundaar’s bubbling voice, 80’s blaster sounds, the echoing shouts on the ship, the spaceship descending on Traken and of course that gorgeous sound of the Source. Gary Russell is very faithful to the original Traken story and gives this story a relaxed feel all of its own but I am a little sick of seeing his name on every single story. Giver another director a chance!

Musical Cues: Soft, seductive and quite sexy. Kwundaar’s tune is especially good as it is quietly menacing just like his voice.

Isn’t that Odd: That this is supposed to be a replica of an 80’s Doctor Who story and there is no tedious TARDIS scenes!

Result: This story isn’t simply a retread of The Keeper of Traken but an exploration of the planets history and a powerful look at superstition, religion and morality. The first two episodes are quiet and uneventful and almost lethargic with their developments but re-introduce Traken with some style. Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton grab hold of this grab and milk for every bit of pathos it is worth and the Doctor and Nyssa leave the story as the ideal Doctor and companion combination. Russell Stone’s music imbues the story with a seductive quality and makes the whole thing easy on the ear and the developments in the last episode, especially the revelation of who Kwundaar is makes the story very polished and rewarding. A nice story in every sense of the word with some lovely dialogue and character touches: 8/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

Monday, 10 May 2010

Colditz by Steve Lyons and directed by Gary Russell

The Real McCoy: I’m at crossed purposes with the seventh Doctor at the moment. He is the ultimate marmite Doctor, even more so than Colin Baker’s sixth Doctor. Some people adore him and think his juggling with planets and magic tricks and mind games are the ultimate expression of what the Doctor is about. Others abhor his era and consider Sylvester McCoy the worst actor to embody the part, seeing his characterisation as an embarrassing juxtaposition of comical madness and shadowy psychosis. I’m somewhere in the middle, not entirely convinced but intrigued by his possibilities. The trouble is that the majority of his Big Finish stories build up his Godlike persona masterfully but McCoy is at his absolute worst during these plays…often garbling his dialogue and sounding like he has never seen the script before in his life. Can good writing be sabotaged by a poor performance…of course. I don’t know if it really matters here because the material is so good but in future releases I wont be quite so forgiving.

The Doctor wants to leave as soon as he realises where he is – almost as if he knows how the events are about to spiral out of control. He menacingly suggests that he hopes the Nazi’s are ready for his secrets and pushes Kurtz’s buttons by revealing just how impotent he is to the Nzai party. He reveals Klein as an impostor, picking her pocket and destroying her papers. In one of their many moral debates on their different methods at dealing with time Klein accuses the Doctor of picking and choosing which fights he intrudes on. Their relationship is fascinating (I can fully understand why Big Finish chose to bring her back in a trilogy of stories in the future) as she represents everything that he loathes, a killer, a paradox and someone who wants to keep a tight reign on peoples freedom. He plays mind games with her but she bests him as much as he does her. This is literally a game of chess with the timeline as the prize. I love his glib line, ‘I think I can hear your golden age beginning to crumble away.’

Ace of Hearts: This is where the rot really started to set in for Ace. I can understand why Gary Russell wanted to try and do something fresh with the character and giving her a new name kicks things off as Ace is hardly a name an adult would choose to call themselves but aside from this how do they represent this bold new dawn for Ace? Well she hates Nazi's for one thing. No wait, Old Ace hated them too. Erm... she stands up to authority and mouths off to the wrong people! Nope, she used to do that too. Oh gee this is hard... she is resourceful and cunning, managing to get in touch with the escape committee and blackmail her way out of Colditz... well she always was good at escaping from places. The worst aspect of Colditz is just how intensified New Ace is presented which is not really different from Old Ace except she is exaggerated to such a degree she seems to be a parody of her old self. However despite some truly embarrassing dialogue/acting (‘Not Nazis! I hate Nazis!’) Ace is actually vital to the story's success, she is the gambling chip that Klein has to manipulate the Doctor with. By introducing Klein, a character who exists from the universe where Germany occupies England, the audience has definitive proof that that outcome is possible and the will she/won't she death of Ace is a distinct possibility. It makes the cliff-hanger to episode three especially good, so much emphasis is placed on the escape attempt, Tim's betrayal, the Doctor's desperation, Ace's determination that the moment Kurtz is pointing a gun her heart and the music cuts off the action I was frantic to learn the outcome. Frankly she is lucky that she has writers like Steve Lyons trying to inject some life into her but these narratives tricks would have worked with any companion.

If the Doctor doesn’t know where they are she cannot be walking into one of his masterplans. Aldred really does spend a great deal of time shrieking in this story with ‘You killed me friend!’ the worst example. She listens to Danny Pain. She is really quite na├»ve at moments wondering why the Nazi’s are so upset that she has tried to escape! Aldred is fine during the quieter moments but at any time when she has to emote we are on shaky ground (she is a lot like McCoy in that respect). Ace likes to get her own way and often does. .Klein threatens to murder her to keep history on track. Her condemnation of Tim Wilkins almost gets him killed and we really do see the nasty side of her character that cannot bear to betrayed. Schaffer shames her by suggesting that she might have turned coat if she had been stuck in Colditz for as long as Tim has. The conclusion of the story really shakes her and she asks for some time off to think about things. She doesn’t want to be called Ace anymore – ‘its Dorothy McShane now.’

Great Ideas: Three cheers for somebody finally setting a story in Colditz, the most secure prison in Germany. Doesn’t the idea of the Nazi’s getting their hands on the TARDIS chill your blood and using Ace’s life as a bargaining chip how can the Doctor refuse? I loved Klein’s bluff to get him to hand over the key (‘She attacked me. Sadly it has become necessary to shoot her’). The TARDIS is described as the ultimate weapon of war. Whilst it is hardly a great idea, the character of Schaffer is really well conceptualised and presented, a kind Nazi office who turns a blind eye to the worst of the British offences and smuggles in biscuits and jam to the British officers. The cliffhanger to episode two is priceless where we learn that Klein is from another time and she travelled back to 1944 in the Doctor’s TARDIS. She is from an alternative 1966 and was in charge of examining the captured TARDIS. The Germans winning the war is described by the Doctor as the oldest paradox in the book. The whole scenario of Klein knowing that Ace dies provides some great tension at the end of part three. Wilkins betraying Ace is one of those hold your breath moments and his excuses (‘I’ve got my asthma to think about’) and toadying makes you want to leap into the story and punch his lights out! In Klein’s timeline Ace died and the Doctor left but returned 10 years later and the SS were waiting. They took the machine and he took 6 bullets. Ace’s CD walkman, introduced early in the story and forgotten about, rears its head in the finale giving the Doctor ultimate answer as to how the Nazi’s won the war, utilising laser technology and creating the A bomb. The idea that the Doctor and Ace have tipped the balance and created this potential future is chilling.

Standout Performance: Tracey Childs deserve kudos for creating such an intriguing character in Klein, not so much a villain as a woman who know what she thinks is right and will go to any lengths to achieve it. I love how Childs can switch from incredulous victim to smug victor in the blink of an eye. We will see great things from her in the future. David Tennant also deserves a mention for taking on the hissable character of Kurtz, a frustrated, horny and sadistic Nazi Officer. His voice is unmistakable and he pulls off a German accent with some skill. Kurtz is a nasty guy and Tennant plays up all of his nastier tendencies to ensure we are rooting for his death by the climax.

Sparkling Dialogue: There is one dialogue scene quoted in full which sums up the story beautifully. Whilst some of the dialogue is unsubtle in places on the whole Lyons fascination with time paradoxes lends the story some great lines.
‘I think people learning how to be free, learning new experiences, new forms of self expression, bandying together to combat inequality and injustices…I can’t imagine that your world is very similar?’ ‘Are you trying to imply that my time shouldn’t come to exist? That Germany should never have won this war? You are wrong?’ ‘Am I?’ ‘You want to change history!’ ‘ Not change it! Put it back on the right tracks!’ ‘According to whom?’ ‘According to what I’ve seen.’ ‘And what about the world I’ve seen? The world of the future, Doctor. An efficient, prosperous world. A golden age.’ ‘Built on how many corpses? Oh I’m sure your trains run on time Klein but was it worth the bloodshed? Was it worth the slaughter of millions?’ ‘Yes’ ‘No! It’s never worth it Klein. There’s no excuse for genocide!’

Audio landscape: Okay seeing Gary Russell’s name on every single story is starting to grate now. Give another director a chance! Besides this is one of his off days where the story’s content is much more gripping than its presentation and besides a few moments where everything gels there is an awkwardness to the whole production. There aren’t actually that many sound effects in the story and those that we do get are used over and over…the sound of the men chatting in Colditz genuinely sounds like people mumbling rather background conversation and the only real indication that characters are outside is the sound of trees blowing in the wind. Many of the dialogue scenes are drowned out by the reverberation of the voices echoing from the stone walls. I did like the slow lead in to the dogs hunting Ace. The conclusion of the story sees the production finally coming to life…bullets firing and the time vortex tearing Kurtz apart.

Musical Cues: Really weird stuff happening here. I can see why Toby Richards and Emily Baker were never used again because music has never seemed less incidental outside of a Malcolm Clarke score. However much like a Clarke score there are moments of experimentation where their style actually pulls off some very memorable moments. Tim and Ace’s escape plans are accompanied by some sneaky percussion instruments and the end of episode three has an angry forcefulness to is just like Kurtz’s rage. The dramatic punch as Kurtz is murdered really drives home the horror of his death. The music is never really at odds with the action but it is often way too loud, competing with the echo sound FX at obscuring the dialogue.

Result: Far better than its reputation would have you believe but this is still a major step down from Lyons’ masterful Fires of Vulcan. A mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous, this is a story that has come in for a lot of unnecessary flak since its release that I'm not sure is entirely justified. There are some gaping flaws in Colditz but there is also so much that is good about this story; the excellent plot, the thoughtful dialogue (on the whole) and some unexpectedly powerful moments. It doesn't help when Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred are the weakest performers in the play. He continues to overact, spitting out emotional speeches and rushing where he should really be driving home some valuable lessons. She over emphasises every line and shouts just to prove she is a girl with attitude and bullies her way through another story. I find it gets better as it goes along and the fascinating plotting outweighs the uneven production. Defeaning music and lazy direction wound the story but it is still worth it to meet Klein, one of the more interesting characters to walk free from a Big Finish story and well worth a return: 6/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Eye of the Scorpion by Iain McLaughlin and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: Egypt is in mourning. Pharaoh, the great God-King, is dead. The future of the Two Kingdoms of Egypt is shrouded in uncertainty as the Council of Priests debates the claim to the throne of Pharaoh's only heir. Out in the deserts around Thebes, Egypt's capital, a warlord chief is assembling an army of mercenaries, waiting for just the right moment to strike at Egypt's heart. But not all of Egypt's enemies are outside the city. What is the secret of the strange box discovered in the desert? When the TARDIS arrives nearby, it has apparently been hi-jacked... by the Doctor?

English Gentleman: He steps from the TARDIS boards a chariot and rescues Pharaoh in the first few minutes, this is a story that wants to put the Doctor in the best possible light. The unexpected is something he is very familiar with and you should avoid sparring in word games with him. Described as a dangerous enemy. For saving Erimem he is honoured and has a lavish banquet thrown for him. The first episode ends with him being stabbed by a poison stained knife to which his Time Lord metabolism cannot counter at first. Whilst he is unconscious his mind goes for a wander and he makes contact with the alien telepathic force. It is very odd for the Doctor to vanish for an entire episode but it not only allows Peri the chance to chine but also strongly resembles the old Hartnell Historicals where one of the regulars would take a weeks holiday. When he returns he steps into the Egyptian political arena with considerable verve; facing up to Horemshep, defending Antranak and speaking for Erimem. In a moment dripping with religious connotations the Doctor uses science to control the Sun. The creature wants the Doctor’s mind and the planets and places contained within. Unlike some of his younger, older incarnations the Doctor is not willing to push the correct course of history and he gives Erimem the choice to become Pharaoh. He’s willing to take her on board and let her learn from her travels.

American Attitude: At the beginning of the story Peri is being shown around the TARDIS so this must quite close to the beginning of her travels. She is apologetic when she smashes vases after vase over a bandits head. Howard was always cross that she didn’t share his interest in history. Like all women (and most men these days) she takes ages to get ready but emerges to the banquet with Egyptian fashion and eye make up. Her mum worshipped Paul McCartney. She boggles at the topless dancers and wants to punch the men that are letching on her. Putting her botany to good use she wants to brew an antitoxin for the Doctor’s poison but realises Egypt’s arid desert is not the best place to find herbs! Poisoning the Doctor allows Peri to take charge and Nicola Bryant is awesome; producing a smart, sassy and spunky Peri that is a joy to listen to. This is how good she could have been on the telly! She gives Antranak a mouthful for not doing his job properly. She is asked if she is the Doctor’s wife, concubine or slave and her response is that she finds the sexual politics prehistoric. Weird to think that an American student would explain the idea of democracy to an Egyptian Pharaoh. She criticises Margaret Thatcher but praises Ghandi (good girl!). In a crisis she can keep her head and think intelligently (covering the scorpions). I love the twist that suddenly sees her as the villain of the piece, suddenly every question she asks is insidious and devious. She is revealed as the host of the mind creature and Nicola Bryant puts on a silky British accent that nails the role. Cheeky Peri has the Egyptians build a statue of Elvis in the safe knowledge that Napoleon’s troops will destroy it.

Dusky Babe: Initially scared and distrustful of the Doctor. She is yet to be crowned Pharaoh but is aware of her public duties. Erimem has a nasty temper when her friends are threatened (‘Throw him to the crocodiles!’). Her father had over 60 wives in the temple of concubines before he died. The Royal line is supposed to remain pure and she was to marry her brother before he was killed. She doesn’t consider herself a God because she is so afraid. Scolded by her father for not being regal enough and feels as though she has a heavy burden. Erimem enjoys walking through the market like a normal person. The Doctor tells her stories of the Daleks and Cybermen and she is bewitched by them. She has always been sure that she will never be Pharaoh. During the battle sequences she proves her mettle by wielding a bow and battle sphere and is willing to fight for her people. She proves herself as perfect companion material throughout but really comes into her own at the climax where she unblinkingly questions the creature until it has a nervous breakdown! She brings her cat on board the TARDIS with her. Nicola Bryant and Caroline Morris have terrific chemistry so it will be very interesting to see where they can take this relationship.

Great Ideas: There is a lake in the TARDIS where the library should be! I just love the idea of the Doctor and Peri stepping from the TARDIS into ancient Egypt – its such a dazzling period of history and it would have been great to have seen this visualised. The very idea that the Doctor does not recognise the Pharaoh Erimem leaves a huge question mark over her fate in the story, heightening the tension. Eunuchs and harems, scarabs and scorpions, politics and poison, McLaughlin explores his setting in some detail. There are lots of lovely visual touches that you could never afford to visualise on screen that marks this out as an ambitious story; attacking scorpions, an encampment of thousands of troops, breathless battle scenes. Another claim to the throne, Fayum, is he the son of a living God? A prison ship crashed and a prisoner of pure mental energy was released and has been jumping from person to person, stealing their memories and maintaining control. It needs the mind of others to keep on living.

Standout Performance: The award should probably go to Harry Myers who growls his way through the entire script menacingly as the bandit and killer Yanis but this story belongs to Caroline Morris who burst into Doctor Who as the brave and ruthless Erimem. She has the potential to be the most interesting companion since Leela, as she is going to be in for some dramatic culture shock and there is something extremely engaging about her sisterly relationship with Peri. The regulars both deserve a mention to simply because they are both fantastic.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Death to Erimem!’
‘Is it your duty to murder innocent women?’
‘No one leaves the house of death alive…’
‘She truly was a God.’

Audio Landscape: This is the fourth story in a row to be directed by Gary Russell so I think he is long deserving of a mention for the excellent work he has been doing recently. There would come a point later in Big Finish’s run where you can see how tired Russell has become with the audio medium and he can barely inject any life into some horrendous scripts but that is a long way away yet. The last four stories have seen Russell at his height creating worlds as vivid as prehistoric Earth, vampire ridden casinos, screaming planets and now ancient Egypt. The atmosphere he brews in Eye of the Scorpion is nothing short of masterful and when I wasn’t gripped by the wonderful script I was happy to soak up the local treats. The story opens with desert winds blowing and sand storms brewing and a horde of hungry scorpions attacking. The TARDIS sounds completely authentic to its era from the console room hum to the materialisation and that weird noise the console makes when it is out of control. We are soon enjoying a chariot chase with horses trotting and neighing and experiencing the crowds of Thebes. The House of Death is revealed to be a flame lit dungeon from which horrific screams of torture travel. I love the fly bugging device, both the buzzing insect and the watery insect voices that Yanis experiences on his scanner. The Harem weep piteously for Varella. Flames crackle in the wind. Horemshep, Yanis and Fayum all talk with the alien mind. Scenes of battle and murder impress. The hideous angry cats of the Sphinx. I love the crescendo of schizophrenia at the climax, it really is a smashing finale.

Music: Another exquisite score with everything from bombastic battle music, foot tapping party scenes (love those drums!) and the menacing chords that play over scenes of possession.

Standout Moment: There were a couple of scenes that I thought deserved a mention this time. The scorpion attack is just remarkable, the critters screeching and biting at each other, climbing on each others backs to reach Peri and Erimem on the altar. Peri ripping down the tapestry to cover them is quick thinking and they escape over the writhing fabric. Episode three becomes a political drama with a long sequence that sees Antranak accused of murder, Erimem accused of being a fake Pharaoh and Fayum pushed into the limelight. The climax of the story is bloody brilliant, an audio triumph of great ideas and bold execution. The personalities of the creature bleed out of Peri with spectacular fireworks.

(A small mention for the beautifully evocative cover – they are getting better and better…no more photoshops!)

Result: History brought to life at its finest in a rip roaring tale that sees Peri take centre stage, the Doctor dazzle in politics and introduces a fascinating new companion. Debut writer Iain McLaughlin brings a fresh approach to his storytelling and injects action adventure, history, politics and horror into his script and Gary Russell brings it to life with his usual skill. We finally see the advantages of writing Peri as an upbeat character and Nicola Bryant grabs the chance to bring some warmth and wit to the character and she genuinely impresses. Whilst I usually complain about alien influences intruding on historical stories I feel this is one tale that is enhance by its science fiction elements and the two combine to make a potent brew. An impressive piece, all the more delightful because it was so unexpected: 9/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @