Tuesday, 30 November 2010

No More Lies written by Paul Sutton and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What's it about: What links a disintegrating spaceship to a posh garden party, where a wealthy couple are celebrating their love for each other in style? Gatecrashers the Doctor and Lucie think they know the answer. But they're not the only uninvited guests - ferocious alien warriors riding pterodactyl-like Vortisaurs are about to make their entrance!

Breathless Romantic: He’s still charismatic, romantic and dashing, he’s still rather wonderful in this season. Lucie reckons he loves taking a look at her bum! When questioned on the subject he admits that he feels bad the way he manipulates people. It is really nice to see him and Lucie working together so well before the grand finale, they are well on their way to becoming the rock solid team that soared through seasons two and three. Zimmerman suggests that the Doctor and he have missed many years of friendship but the Doctor is still sore from all that time whipping he experienced. The ending is especially good; the Doctor’s dramatic reaction to Lucie’s kidnap really drives home how much he has come to care for her.

Luscious Lucie: Runs out of the TARDIS in the first scene like a whirlwind of energy and attitude. The Doctor almost feels sorry for Zimmerman because Lucie is hunting him down! She’s not a full-blown time sensitive she just travels with one so the time whip does not work on her. I loved the exchange between Lucie and Rachel once the crisis is over: ‘Thank the Lord…’ ‘And the Time Lord, if I know my Doctor.’ What a step forward for the pair of them and a far cry from their tension in Blood of the Daleks. Lucie wonders if she will ever love anybody as much as Zimmerman loves Rachel.

Standout Performance: Its another sterling cast with some huge names making a real impact. Nigel Havers makes a charming villain, torturing and wooing in equal measure, Tom Chadbon is always a winner and makes Gordon pleasingly pathetic and strong and Julia McKenzie soothes us all with a gorgeous operatic song and a lovely, gentle honest performance.

Great Ideas: I really like a story that opens with the Doctor already firmly embedded in the narrative (ala Human Nature on TV). The Tarmadock can smell time, they chronosynthesise, f
eed on time energies. Zimmerman is selling rare time technology that will kill millions in the wrong hands. The Doctor and Lucie arrive decades later in Zimmerman’s time stream where somebody has time looped a garden party. Zimmerman has turned over a new leaf, he fell in love with Rachel, told her the truth about his heritage, cheated on her and fallen for her all over again. The Doctor has great fun riding Margaret the Vortisaur to find the focal point of the time loop. Rachel is dying; Zimmerman trapped himself in the time loop for one last eternal evening with his love – what a gorgeous conclusion. Lucie is kidnapped by the Headhunter. Finally she’s caught up with them!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Give me your time!’

Audio Landscape: This story is beautifully put together, capturing the romance of the writing perfectly. I love how Edwards effortlessly slips from one scene in the future with lots of technological sounds to scenes in the past ringing with music. The story bounces back and forth for the first 20 minutes dexterously. The spaceship itself is very noisy with lots of bleeping consoles, ringing alarms and finally tearing metal as it is torn apart. The time whip fizzes nastily. Birds twitter in the grounds of the house, people crunch across the gravel and there is some polite applause after the speeches. Vortisaurs screaming in the sky and bang on the exterior of the TARDIS. Thunder rumbles ominously and rain falls with a delicate splash. Rachel’s bedroom window smashes unexpectedly.

Musical Cues: The score is pleasingly ostentatious with a glamorous violin and piano dazzling the senses. Rachel’s singing is operatic and divine. Can I go to this party please? I wouldn’t mind being stuck in a time loop as long as I can listen the live piano playing and saxophone.

Result: A story about the past coming back to haunt you, No More Lies is a class act. I much prefer these character based tales in the 45 minute format, there was just enough time here to set up the situation and give it some meat before revealing why the time loop had been set up and finish on a tear jerking ending. The direction is extremely polished and with Havers, Chadbon and McKenzie on board the story pretty much sells itself although Paul Sutton’s script is more than up to the job. The story hits the ground running and there is a tasty cliffhanging ending that leaves me hungry for the next instalment. Very pleasing on the ear: 8/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/16-Doctor-Who-No-More-Lies

Phobos written by Eddie Robson and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What's it about: The TARDIS lands on Phobos, moon of Mars - where extreme sports nuts of the future indulge their passion for gravity-boarding and wormhole-jumping. But there's something lurking in the shadows, something infinitely old and infinitely dangerous. It's not for nothing that 'Phobos' is the ancient word for 'fear'...

Breathless Romantic: Hands down the characterisation of the eighth Doctor is the best thing about this audio, more than keeping up with the high standards of this series. Does he need a licence or does he just make it up as he goes along? He tests the gravity of Phobos by jumping up and down like an excited child! The Doctor has known savages with better manners than Lucie. A smug fop? He’s seen entire species destroyed, civilisations left in ruins, witnessed solar systems wink out in the blink of an eye and seen things that would freeze your blood. Don’t ever threaten him. Petty threats irritate him. When you live as long as the Doctor you see a lot. I love the scene where he tells Kai that if he doesn’t get the answers he wants he will break something, what a hard ass! He thrives on saving people, enjoys risking his life for others. The Doctor gluts the creature on his fears, the things he has seen and the things he never wants to see again. He faces his fears and it makes him stronger, that’s how he wins. He tortures the creature with evils from the past and future, things that scare the living daylights out of him. He finishes it off with the things that he might do someday (his hand in the Time War?). Lucie wonders of ultimately the Doctor is more frightening than the monsters?

Luscious Lucie: I love her answer when the Doctor asks why they thought Lucie was a monster – ‘Choose your answer carefully, lads.’ Lucie yawns through the Doctor’s science lecture. Her Auntie Marnie was a big woman; all her relations
were by the sound of it! She’s really good at dealing with the mushy stuff although her subtlety mind have deserted her when she asks ‘If it’s not a rude question, what is he?’ The Doctor is not Lucie’s anything and she is getting tired of people making that assumption. Lucie is awestruck at the Lunar surface, looking out at Mars. She admits that she is not sure that she would ever want to see the Doctor’s fears. I really like Lucie’s humorous pop culture references, calling Amy and Farl Polly Pocket and Hagrid!

Standout Performance: Paul McGann plays the few scenes where the Doctor is nasty with silky, quiet menace. Very nice.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Had enough honeydew? Is the milk of paradise turning sour?’
‘Only give us what you can afford.’ ‘A laudable policy if ripe for abuse.’

Great Ideas: Lunar Park on Phobos has been left to look after itself and the squatters claimed the environment dome. The wormhole is a vertical tunnel you can jump down and never hit the sides. Drennies are adrenalin junkies that come to the planet for kicks. An entity built a singularity bridge between our reality and theirs, it feeds of fear and if it gets strong enough it will break into our universe. Kai has been trying to drive the Drennies away to stop them from feeding it. It wants to twist the living matter of our universe into a new body. The Headhunter turned up before the Doctor and Lucie arrived with days to spare and she has an accident, once again missing them! Gutted!

Audio Landscape: The story opens with a scream and a splash about in the water, cold winds, the TARDIS sounds awesome these days, I like the effect of the Doctor talking to Lucie from within the TARDIS, Farl’s accent is odd and bestial, there is some nice harmonica playing in the dome to prove this lot are hippies, crunchy footprints, I really like the spacesuit helmet communicators, screaming monsters, droid voice.

Musical Cues: The music was okay but not a patch on the first three stories. I like that hip and exciting music, as the Drennies were about to jump down the wormhole.

Result: Phobos is the first casualty of the eighth Doctor series. It lacks substance; odd from the usually reliable pen of Eddie Robson but this story is a tedious experience of action and melodrama with little intelligence to keep it interesting. There’s a snowy backdrop which seems to be the default Big Finish location these days and I’ve lost count of how many stories feature against a background of screaming winds and brilliant white. There is a bucket load of tack as well which is ripe for piss taking; a lovers tiff between an hairy beast and squeaky girl, a blink and you’ll miss the embarrassment gay romance and lots of hip kids speak (‘I feel the need for speed!’). The creature turns out to be nothing worth getting excited about and the Headhunter turns up again like a bad smell and fails to generate any tension (she’s a bit rubbish actually): 4/10

Buy it here from Big Finish: http://www.bigfinish.com/15-Doctor-Who-Phobos

Friday, 26 November 2010

Immortal Beloved written by Jonathan Clements and directed by Jason Haigh-Ellery

What’s it about: 'Theosophy? Ha! Surely you mean theophany? Because we're not talking about real gods here, are we? We're talking about the appearance of gods. Your heavenly powers are a little too mechanical for my liking. And, if I may be so bold, Lord Zeus, your demeanor is not very godlike.'

Breathless Romantic: The Doctor is Lucie’s bumbling assistant. His Miss Marple routine of turning up somewhere and sussing out what is going on and blabbing it all out without thinking causes more trouble than it helps! He’s seen his fair share of worlds ending. Its another story this season where he really goes at one character with a censuring attitude, where he utterly disapproves of their lifestyle. He doesn’t think the way of the world is immortality, he thinks its perversity. The Doctor would happily give an organ to save a relative’s life but he draws the line at wiping his mid to save a relative. There is a really tense moment when he is told that Zeus will make hundreds of clones of Lucie and perversely exploit and torture them every day killing them off one by one is he doesn’t do as he’s told and plant Zeus into Ares. I really like that the Doctor doesn’t simply destroy the ailing machine but leaves them to it to make up their own choices. He admits that he does need Lucie. This is a very responsible take on the eighth Doctor in a season that thus far is nailing him just right.

Luscious Lucie: I love Lucie’s breathless ‘Thank you so much…’ before following that up with a scathing ‘…for parking on the edge of a cliff!’ She really isn’t a girl you want to get on the wrong side of! Lucie sees two young people in a remote location and automatically jumps to rude conclusions! She is Lucie of the M68! A Goddess of anger? When her clothes go see through in the portal of cleanings she declares it the ‘portal of perving more like!’ A fan of soap operas. Lucie has a frank way with words and she doesn’t belong to the Doctor. She really gets put through the wringer in this episode, first being forced to watch as Tayden commits suicide and begging him not to. The way of the world here makes her feel ill. ‘I like you Lucie and think you would be an interesting experience’ – the fat, ugly, pampered takes a shine to Ms Miller and suggests that if she doesn’t come to his bed he will clone her with a lock of her hair and do what he wants with them. It’s a really scary, character defining moment because for once Lucie is really frightened. It is Lucie that spots that there is something wrong with the Sarenti transfer. She easily dismisses the possible fate of her clones. In a moment of righteous anger Lucie is willing to destroy the TARDIS to stop the Doctor from helping Zeus. She slapped the ‘fit’ Kalken and missed out on a snog!

Standout Performance: I really liked how meritoriously Ian McNiece played Zeus; he really manages to convince that he thinks murder is an acceptable way to prolong your life. His threats to Lucie were one of a few moments where he really threw caution to the wind and really went for the villainous bit.

Great Ideas: The suicidal opening is arresting, a prince and his missus willing to jump from a mountainside to protect their love. What on Earth could have driven them to this?
The Portal of Cleansing is a ponced up way of saying Decontamination Chamber. They make clones of their leaders every thirty years and let them grow to a certain age and if the older clone dies between the ages of 18 and 30 they are transferred into their mind, effectively wiping that person clean. It doesn’t do for important deities to die! When the transfer is complete the older body is then murdered – Ares doesn’t want to compete for his wife’s attentions! Zeus brought his people to this world and the crew that survived are treated as Gods, taking over the civilisation that were already here. Cloning is an art and you can lose things if you don’t know what you are doing. To make a perfect copy of yourself and rule forever is something that all great leaders, from Emperor’s to Pharoah’s, have aspired to. When they were experimenting they tried transferring one mind into several bodies with disastrous results. The race against time, killing Serati to save Hera is a really tense moment. Kalken will pretend to be Zeus now but never forever, growing old with the woman he loves.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What is this? The planet of idiots?’
‘Long live the King! The King is Dead!’

Audio Landscape: The mountain climbing opening really gets your attention with its biting wind at a real altitude and rocks clipping down the side. The helicopter approaches to pick them up. The night birds and insects suggest a planet teaming with life.

Musical Cues: Once again this season the music is terrific, its dramatic in parts, soothing in others and is perfectly in synch with the atmosphere of the piece.

Isn’t it Odd:
‘You! I hate you!’ – I love it when Ganymede shows up; this is all he ever says!

Result: A story with a morally ambiguous concept at its heart which the Doctor and Lucie condemn and Zeus and Hera defend. It’s the first story of the year where I feel a longer running time would benefit to explore its dramatic ideas (in particular the ending feels very rushed) but because it is condensed the story feels really punchy and thoughtful. Its Lucie Miller’s coming of age story and Paul McGann continues to impress as the tougher Doctor. Immortal Beloved flew by for me and had just enough set pieces and moments of discussion to really drive home its intriguing idea. Highly enjoyable: 8/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/14-Doctor-Who-Immortal-Beloved

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Horror of Glam Rock written by Paul Magrs and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: The Doctor and Lucie go glam when the TARDIS makes an unexpected landing in 1974. Slade, The Sweet and Suzi Quatro are Top of the Pops - and brother-and-sister duo The Tomorrow Twins will soon be joining them, if starmaking Svengali Arnold Korns has his way. But will their dreams turn to dust at a service station somewhere on the M62, besieged by a pack of alien monsters?

Breathless Romantic: A little more fun than he was in Blood of the Daleks and he gets wrapped up in the atmosphere of the 70’s leading to Lucie telling him that he likes a bit of handbag! He thinks tea in a motorway café is usually like a mouthful of copper coins. Arnold describes him as ‘the bloke in all the velvet tat.’ He thinks Lucie is just a kid. As an enthusiast of the age, the Doctor always wanted a stylophone. He doesn’t go looking for trouble but it always finds him anyway. He shows his teeth again when he wonders why he bothers with the human race at all sometimes. His technobabble is extraordinary – ‘I want to reverse its wotsit and make it a thingy!’

Luscious Lucie: She is still adjusting to life aboard the TARDIS and needs Ibuprofen for her travel sickness (especially the way the Doctor drives!). The 70’s always looks a bit rubbish on the telly, you know tacky and Lucie considers it to be the Dark Ages! I loved her reaction to seeing a corpse, ‘Look at what he’s wearing!’ The Doctor’s not her bloke and she’s got used to weird stuff lately. She’s glad she has met the Doctor and he agrees. Lucie is ecstatic when she realises that it is her Auntie Pat from the 70’s. Unfortunately she drops herself in it when she tells her Aunt that she never had any children, she doesn’t make it as a rock star and she is nothing out of the ordinary in the future (way to go Lucie!). Later Lucie proudly declares that the universe is teeming with life. If someone was to offer to show her the cosmos she might think that was okay…I love how the Doctor and Lucie skirt around the idea that they might love travelling together but neither one of them will directly say it.
Unbeknownst to them and the listener but elements are introduced in this story that would later go on to tear the two of them apart.

Standout Performance: Glam Rock is more about scintillating performances than it is a complicated plot and it has possibly the strongest arsenal of talent than any other Doctor Who cast…I mean take a look! Bernard Cribbins adds some charm as record manager Arnold Korns, Una Stubbs makes for a heart-warming Flo, Lynsey Hardwick convinces as Auntie Pat out of her depth and Stephen Gately (RIP) and Clare Buckfield provide some youth.

Great Ideas: Lets face it…Glam Rock is a great title. I simply adore the name Mentholated Spirits for a band, its pure 70’s tack! Paul Magrs always manages to conjour up that feeling of cosiness on Earth and generates a fabulous atmosphere with words by setting the story in a motorway café cut off from the world by crisp, beautiful snow and broken dreams. Patricia Rider is Lucie’s Auntie! The Only Ones told Tommy that they were the only aliens out there. Arnold sacrificing himself is a surprisingly noble act considering how much of a bully he is in parts (I think that’s down to the mighty Cribbo’s performance). I love the eventual reveal of the Only Ones as beautiful wraith like beings coming out of the stylophone with graceful wooing when its suddenly ‘Oh its you, Doctor.’ When asked why they want to take over the world they respond, ‘This shabby dump? Don’t flatter yourselves!’ All they want is to eat through Tommy’s adoring fans; human beings are high in polyunsaturates apparently! They are sucked down a funnel like a genie in a lamp after Arnold goes at their beast with some hot chip fat. Trapped forever on shuffle mode, the Doctor warns Lucie to never play that particular track on her MP3. Ever. The Headhunter turns up again, she’s actively pursuing Lucie through time now but she just misses them.

Audio Landscape: Edwards and his sound engineers manage to conjour up a wonderful wintry atmosphere with biting winds, screaming cars, shivery breath and ghostly voices. The beasts sound positively ravenous and tear apart Ron like he’s a pork chop (‘Just like my Bentley! Only less expensive to replace!’).

Musical Cues: Very nice electric guitar score which sets the scene perfectly. The song Children of Tomorrow is 19070’s groovy! I really like it!
The madness of the rock Doctor Who theme at the end put a big smile on my face.

Result: What an odd, rather wonderful story! I cannot understand the purpose of such a story but to wrap us up in a warm glow of nostalgia for the 70’s and yet it achieves that beautifully whilst also providing a big snowy cuddle on a winter’s night. The cast are superb and give the warm material some real oomph and the story concludes nicely never forgetting the musical theme. I always get a rush of sadness when I listen to this story because of Steven Gately’s untimely death and in a story about broken dreams that seems even more poignant. Its not going to appeal to everybody but as another example of how this new series of eighth Doctor adventures are not going to play by the rules, it is a real breath of fresh air: 7/10

Buy it here from Big Finish: http://www.bigfinish.com/13-Doctor-Who-Horror-of-Glam-Rock

Blood of the Daleks written by Steve Lyons and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: "People of Red Rocket Rising, my fellow citizens. Our long night is over. I've been contacted by a benevolent people. They too have known great trials, but they have overcome them and made it their mission to help others do the same. They have offered us refuge, and passage to the nearest human worlds. They have the resources, and the patience and compassion, to evacuate every one of us. My fellow citizens, my friends, rescue is at hand!"

Breathless Romantic: Its very interesting to see the subtle differences between this eighth Doctor and the one from the main range. He’s far less Tiggerish and has a more sulky, forceful nature and he feels a little more dangerous than we are used to. This is all healthy development perhaps as a result of his previous experiences with Charley and C’rizz (assuming the Lucie relationship comes after The Girl Who Never Was). He actually feels more like the amnesiac eighth Doctor from the BBC range, still with moments of gentleness but forcing home his points with real drive. It’s fascinating that both BBC Books and Big Finish took on the eighth Doctor and he began his life as something less than popular with his fans and both ranges decided to take him in a whole new direction and radically alter his character. I guess it’s no different than the quantum leap of the Doctor from Dragonfire and Remembrance of the Daleks and whilst this is only the first story to feature this harder eighth Doctor if he keeps this up he will certainly be more enjoyable to spend time with than the up’n’down guy from the main range.

It is his real hair. Lucie calls him a frock-coated ponce and an alien weirdo…geez it won’t even be this hard with Donna! A rubbish driver in her opinion. He gets a proper nark on about having Lucie dumped on him by the Time Lords, he’s furious at their interference in his life again. He declares it is too late for the people of Red Rocket Rising without even trying to see if there is anything he can do. I love his ruthless condemnation of the Daleks (and rightly so), if he saw the slightest hint of redemption he would be thrilled but he doesn’t think they are capable. It’s really nasty when he gets a live cable to his back! The Daleks peg him as a terrorist whose actions have claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Daleks (interesting spin, they should be in politics). Thinks he looks sharp but he actually looks as though he’s never shopped anywhere trendy in his life. About the same age as Lucie’s dad? The Daleks get very excited about the Doctor! At times he is bitingly witty the likes of which we haven’t seen since Tom Baker’s fourth Doctor at his height. The Daleks reckon him to be an efficient ally! He will not allow there to be two races of Daleks and will help one side commit genocide to prevent this – wow. He gets a newsflash from Lucie, if she waited for him to save the day she would still be waiting. Lucie revises her opinion slightly and calls him gutsy and he apologises to her for the deadly situation the Time Lords have put her in. The Doctor’s plan is sheet murder and he has to walk into the heart of it. For the Doctor this is like a recurring nightmare, he could stop the birth of this new race of Daleks just like in Genesis of the Daleks. He taunts the dying Daleks, praying for a scrap of decency but mocking their unflinching prejudice even in death. He genuinely tries to leave Lucie behind (that would have been a short partnership!) but the TARDIS cannot leave without her.

Luscious Lucie: This is a really interesting take on bringing in a companion on the show; the Doctor is forced to shack up with her (and unlike The Ribos Operation this is not an amicable understanding). Lucie is dumped on the Doctor by the Time Lords in a witness protection scheme, she has seen something that she cannot remember and her life is in danger because of it. As far as Lucie is concerned she is supposed to be on her way to her first day at work and she is not thrilled to find instead that she has been shoved in a magical cupboard and sent to a post apocalyptic world! What I really like about this approach is that we are asked to take most of this on faith, on Lucie’s word and because she is so (dare I say it) unlikable for most of the first episode you have to wonder if something far more insidious is going on. Consider my appetite whetted…

Lucie is cocky, she’s mouthy and she will stick up for herself. She’s from 2006 and not from Preston. She’s nearly 20 thank you very much! She spends most of the first episode being cold and argumentative, a far cry from the warm-hearted sonova that she would become.
I really like how suspicious the Doctor is of her – clearly he’s had his fingers burnt in the past with companions and its great to see a bit of northern attitude in the TARDIS. She’s cagey because she doesn’t trust the Doctor either. Where she comes from tin foil hats are usually not a good sign. Lucie knows the Doctor is a Time Lord…how? Their relationship can be summed up with her spitting at him ‘you can get stuffed, nice not knowing you!’ in the first episode. Lucie wants to live a bit, to see a few things before she has to go back to her life. She’s hopelessly naïve at this point, shouting ‘Oi Mr Dalek, over ‘ere!’ to hitch a ride with the metal critters. Once she is their prisoner she’s even mouthier to the Daleks than she was to the Doctor! She admits that the Doctor is just someone she hitched a ride with. She needs the Doctor to stay alive as he is her ticket out of here. Even at the story’s conclusion they are only uneasy allies.

Standout Performance: I didn’t even realise that was Anita Dobson until Nick Briggs read out the cast list in his deliciously melodramatic fashion. She’s really rather good. However the regulars steal the limelight in this story with Paul McGann getting his teeth into some dark material and Sheridan Smith holding her own beautifully in her debut story.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Those who forget the past are doomed.’
‘For your species of mutants there can only be extermination!’
‘We came to make sure that the blood of the Daleks remain pure!’
‘We have come to help! Fish and chips for all!’

Great Ideas: The TARDIS is not even scratched when a speeding car smashes into it. The people of Red Rocket Rising are like animals, using the exodus to surrender to their baser instincts. The fallout of the asteroid strike is literal acid rain, earthquakes, tidal waves and most of the population died within minutes. Martez needed human tissue so he violated barely dug graves and took living specimens. I love the Daleks offering the hand of friendship…the devious bastards – they caused the disaster in the first place! ‘We wish to help you’ indeed! Painting the Daleks as patient, compassionate saviours is fantastic and it shocks me that writers can still find new facets to these creatures. A much-maligned species to be pities who have offered their help to prevent the people of Red Rocket Rising from becoming like them? The Doctor suggests that the Daleks are afraid of everything, which is a really good point. Martez found a crashed Dalek spaceship and began to turn his own people into Dalek mutants based on the creatures he found in the wreckage. He sent out a invitation to the Daleks to help him with a birthing of a new strand of Daleks but instead they deflected the asteroid in an attempt to destroy the abominations. When they realise they have not succeeded they land under the cover of helping them to find the mutants and murder them. The Daleks shot down the exodus ships and the ionic dust in the atmosphere is from the engines of the evacuating ships. The waited, watching this world die. Martez realises what she has done when his Daleks call their own brothers reinforcements. Their creed is that everyone is an enemy of the Daleks, everyone must die and all this death and destruction doesn’t make them rethink that one bit. The blood of the Daleks must remain pure. Inside of a Dalek is described as like someone throwing up a squid dinner! Oh God how unlucky can one planet be? Help is coming from a world populated by people like the survivors, a world called Telos! Argh! The ending is intriguing, a Headhunter takes an assignment to find Lucie Miller and there is nowhere in time and space she can hide from her…

Audio Landscape: Lucie drops in on the TARDIS with an unforgettable scream, poisonous winds, people screaming, grinding, squealing metal, rumbling ominous thunder, pitiful Dalek voices offering help on the comms, the landing ramp extending, Dalek voices echoing around the valley, the Dalek heartbeat, the quirky mutant voices, sonic screwdriver, Dalek blasts battering at the door, bloodthirsty crowd attacking the Daleks, the utter destruction as the two factions of Daleks tear the ¤¤¤¤ out of each other, pitiful dying screams of the Daleks, sticky sickly mutants…

Musical Cues: The music is superb with some really dramatic beats and bursting with tension and excitement. It makes the story feel really urgent and important. There’s unforgettable choral music as the Daleks arrive. Listen to the music as the Daleks ask for the Doctor, its crashing drumbeats and really aggressive.

Result: A juicy dramatic production to kick start the eighth Doctor’s new series. It starts rather weakly (the first 15 minutes are a little awkward) but as soon as the Daleks arrive it just gets better and better, adding layers to the apocalypse storyline and truly driving home their dislike for the unlike. In fact it is a fabulous story for the Daleks because they are absolute evil bastards; indiscriminate murderers, perverse plotters and genocidally evil. The pace is extraordinary after the ponderous, overlong chapters of the Divergent Universe arc so it feels like an action packed breath of fresh air, unpretentious and exciting. Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith get to butt heads furiously throughout but there are hints of the magic to come and this is certainly an intriguing take on the usual orphan companion introduction. Attention grabbing, which was exactly the right note to start this series on: 9/10

Buy it here from Big Finish:
Part One: http://www.bigfinish.com/11-Doctor-Who-Blood-of-the-Daleks-Part-1
Part Two: http://www.bigfinish.com/12-Doctor-Who-Blood-of-the-Daleks-Part-2

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Next Life written by Alan Barnes & Gary Russell and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: "All things must die." Washed up on the sandy shores of a paradise island, a wild-eyed shipwreck survivor is rescued by the wife of Daqar Keep, the richest man in the galaxy. Her name's Perfection. He's the Doctor. Together, they face a journey into the dark heart of this mysterious island, to discover the deepest secrets of this timeless cosmos. That's if the giant crabs, killer crocodiles and murderous natives don't get them first. Meanwhile, fellow travellers Charley and C'rizz have their own ordeal to endure, in the grip of the Doctor's most dangerous rival. And in a universe that's facing extinction, even the best of friends may soon become enemies... This life is almost over. And not everyone will make it to the next...

Breathless Romantic: It has to be said that whereas the Barnes/Russell team got the regulars characters so totally and utterly wrong in Zagreus they more than make up for it in The Next Life. In fact aside from a few juicy fates of the villains in the final few scenes I would probably say the characterisation is the strongest thing about this story. The Doctor is probably the weakest of the three but he’s still very well done and this is easily the loosest we have seen this incarnation (and Paul McGann) since way back in Invaders of Mars. Its almost as if the Doctor has had enough of his grumps and the daft suggestions of menace in this universe and has just decided to have a wail of a time taking on giant crabs and rescuing damsels in distress! McGann really seems to appreciate the more romantic material and he plays the character with more conviction than we have seen in ages. Very well done.

The Doctor is really, really, really happy to have the TARDIS back. Ecstatically, verbosely, excitedly happy! Described as having pale skin and shaggy hair. He seems to enjoy flirting with Perfection, offering a saucy comment here and there. Rassilon tries to paint two very different pictures of the Doctor – one whose fault it was that L’da died and one who has been lying about the infection of Zagreus energies (ha! That would mean he slapped Charley about in Scherzo for kicks!) and both of which could have a touch of truth about them. Apparently now he is almost free to jump back into his own universe he wants to dump Charley and C’rizz…if only that were true! Suggests he was brought up in the Gallifreyan gutter. He thinks women’s intuition is seriously underrated. The Doctor has known plenty of women in his time but none like that. I loved the scene where he decries that the world is going to be destroyed and he doesn’t care! Doesn’t he ever tire of being so good? He promises the Kro’ka the TARDIS and means it. The Zagreus energy thinks that it is good for the Doctor. He wants to go back to his own universe more than either Charley or C’rizz but their friendship means more to him and so he lays down the law, they are all friends or they aint going home. Whilst I could think of better times to have it out than their rapidly shrinking window of escape it is so nice to see him finally force them to air their grievances and reconcile. It’s about time somebody bashed the three of their heads together!

Edwardian Adventuress (Yadda Yadda Yadda!): Wow. I was extremely impressed with how the great Barnes/Russell writing machine dealt with Charley here. After their poisonous characterisation of her in Zagreus (I know its pointless to say it again but just because it always gets a laugh… ‘You’re dumping me!’) I was cringing at the thought of another epic that charley would play a large role in but rather than take her down further routes of horror they take the opportunity for her to reflect on her adventures with the Doctor and see how she has changed. This is very healthy for Charley who has already starred in double the amount of stories most companions are privileged to. Not only that but she shows some real balls here; she’s feisty, independent and pretty frightening in places! Me likes this gutsy, outspoken Charley who speaks her mind and never once mentions her feelings about the Doctor! It reminds of the fabulous Charley who later travels with Sixie!

Charley is the expert at saying ‘What’s happening, Doctor?’ melodramatically! Her Uncle Jacques lived in Cairns and when she visited him every summer he taught her French and to eat frogs’ legs. I love Charley’s diplomacy with the TARDIS, ‘Listen here you dizzy cow of a TARDIS!’ She is been around with the Doctor far too long to be surprised and seeing her mother in a universe where she couldn’t possibly exist doesn’t faze her in the slightest. God and the afterlife don’t feature highly in her list of priorities anymore.
In a thoughtful moment she ruminates on what it must be like to have a long and healthy life only to be cut short by a horrible death. I loved her admission that she has become desensitised to death, that she doesn’t care anymore. She can’t remember Rathbone’s name (Storm Warning) but she will never forget his face when he died. There is no next life, there’s only one and she plans on making it count. Charley feels she has lived a full life already. A spoilt little rich girl flirting with some rough stuff – Charley and Merchford? ¤¤¤¤ me, when Charley calls the Kro’ka a ‘malicious piece of excrement in need of a damn good hiding!’ I flinched! Throughout the story she becomes unsure as to where the Doctor’s priorities lie and since he never wanted her in this universe in the first place she wonders if her would turn on them to get home. Charley has been to Crystal Palace. She was never involved in fox hunting back home; she loved the jacket and the horses but couldn’t handle the killing of an innocent animal. Sissy was different, she came home covered in blood and loving it and that was the day that she changed, and Charley too. She has the English Rose tint to her skin. She thinks on her feet too and convinces that a catapult is a ‘Gallifreyan death hurler’ with which ‘the gobstoppers will have your eyes out!’ Hmm…panicking and screaming in the jungle has more than a whiff of Gillian McKeith about it. Perfection makes disparaging remarks about her weight, which is the start of a beautiful relationship. If she weren’t such a well brought up young lady she would recognise Perfection for the sort of woman she is (and I howled when someone calls Perfection a whore and Charley casually chips in ‘if the cap fits…’). I love it where she goes in for a trademark moan and sighs and says ‘you know what? I haven’t got the energy.’ She loves spooky old caves and tunnels. Her seal impression (‘arf arf arf!’) is hilarious! Imagine a whole season of Charley and Perfection and their bitchy banter (‘You cold heartless cow!’). C’rizz gets in on the bitchy act and ask Charley ‘haven’t you got any bunnies to boil?’ Hahahaha! Charley admits that she doesn’t want to share the Doctor and that she has always thought he needed her when it has always been the other way round.

Chameleonic Rogue: What’s this now? A story which stretches to over three hours where C’rizz doesn’t suck? Where he is treated some detailed and extraordinary backstory and allows Conrad Westmaas to emote without me wanting to scratch his eyeballs out? A story where C’rizz turns his back on the Doctor and still manages to be achingly cool? Either I have been at the Merlot or Russell and Barnes have really got their act together.

He is the Utermizen with the every changing epidermis, C’rizz the colourful chameleon! My God he’s even having fun, changing colours for a laugh (although blue and yellow polka dots are a bit beyond him!). C’rizz drank as though it was his last day alive the day before his wedding and his father gave him the Moonstone. 20 minutes into their marriage the Kromon attacked. Now that’s what I call timing! His ‘next life’ was supposed to be as a husband. We learn that L’da was not the first person that C’rizz killed, that he had a penchant for bringing peoples life to an end and allowing them to find peace, to get them into the next life. When L’da found him he was very disturbed and she brought him back to sanity. With L’da gone are those feelings brewing up in him again? Rassilon threatens to tell Charley about all the people he has murdered, to let her hear the voices of the dead in his head, all his victims. He likes the Doctor but he has never stopped to questions his motives. I laughed my head off when he took the Michael out of Charley’s love for Time Lords! Meeting up with his father again, Guidance attempts to purge him of the unruly alien thoughts the Doctor and Charley have put in his head. It was C’rizz that guided the TARDIS here. Does he genuinely think that all things must die? Rassilon promised him L’da and everything back how it was before the Kromon which is a promise the Time Lord can keep. The universe repeats itself and everybody who has ever lived is reborn. However he would have to relive losing her again and the pain that came with that. He is chameleonic socially and mentally. I would have loved to have seen more of a series of Rassilon and C’rizz together – I think they would have made a great pair with the Kro’ka around to bug them! He doesn’t know who he is or what he is capable of but he wants to be with the Doctor and Charley and see how he changes in their universe.

Standout Performance: Don Warrington has a fabulous silky voice that I could listen to all day. Whilst I would probably be able to see through Rassilon’s manipulation, Warrington’s soft conviction really sells his insidiousness. Paul Darrow has a similar velvety voice, which is gorgeous to experience; his portrayal of Guidance is a world away from melodramatic Tekker or camp icon Avon. Its nice to see Daphne Ashbrook back in Doctor Who but it’s a real shame she couldn’t be playing Grace because that would have been very interesting – she seems to really relish the full flirtatious Perfection and until she has to ham it up as Zagreus she was great fun to be around. However my money goes on Conrad Westmaas who gets to really bare his teeth in this story, have some fun and share some terrific bitchy scenes with India Fisher.

Great Ideas: The TARDIS is going backwards in time in a universe with no time. The Kro’ka uses the dream weaver to create versions of Lady Louisa Pollard and L’da to manipulate Charley and C’rizz. Was Rassilon infected with the time energies? Is that why he turned bad? Of course not…he snuffed out the Divergents and bottled them into a dead end universe!
A blue planet (the hand of some unknown creator or the boon of a long extinct species?) hurtled through the galaxies, destroying all life, reverting them to primordial youth or ageing them to death. Bortroysoe is the crucible world. The Divergents began experiments with Rassilon’s help. A creature was forged – Time – the true Divergent and escaped into another galaxy. Seeing how a random element would affect the development of life – the sound creature, the Kromon progeny, the alien cave, Lanskar…all of them evolving beings somehow changed by the Doctor’s arrival. Keep wants to repopulate the universe in hi image with Perfection as Eve to his Adam. Keep is revealed to be a result of the Doctor and Charley’s joining in Scherzo. Rassilon has been hiding in the TARDIS all along and promised the Kro’ka he would take him away from this universe. The insects that attacked the Doctor and Charley in Kromon was Keep keeping an eye on them after his creation. Rassilon has lived his life in this universe 84 times already trying to make his way back to his home universe. He is zapped back to year zero again with Kro’ka and they land in the circular corridor from Scherzo. Perfection is Zagreus; she took over the dead body of the real Perfection when she killed herself. The Doctor/Charley creature and the Doctor/Zagreus creature join forces to take on the Divergent Universe…look what a difference the Doctor and Charley’s visit is about to make on this universe… The Doctor walks back into our universe and slap bang into a bunch of Daleks and Davros! Give the guy a break!

Great Dialogue: ‘Can’t have you dying when there’s so much suffering to be had.’
‘So yaboo Kro’ka with knobs on!’
‘You’ve got villain stamped through you like a stick of Blackpool rock!’
‘They should find it most diverting…’
‘Just get lost, Zagreus!’ Woohoo! My sentiments exactly!
‘Ah Doctor. Welcome back. I…we have been waiting for you…’

Audio Landscape: Forest insects and wildlife, song birds, the TARDIS groans as it tries to resist landing, whipping wind, alien church bells, Kromon weaponry, heart monitor, waves crashing on a beach, snappy crabs, screeching ten foot crustations, being shot, soothing jungle noises, worms and beetles (ooh crunchy) being eaten, elephant hoots, bubbling bogs, rhinos, monkeys chittering, blood gushing from a wound, the Scherzo tunnel, the Dalek hum and screaming Dalek voices. A superb production.

Musical Cues: Reminiscent of Zagreus (which I took as a bad sign) but with a much better story to guide. Sweeping, epic and gorgeous to listen to. The bongo drums are very native.

Isn’t it Odd: It’s a Divergent Universe story…of course there are still problems no matter how much I ejaculate praise! God knows what was going on in the teaser and by the time the answers came I had forgotten all about it! I loved Charley’s line ‘The Doctor’s always trying to suppress the Zagreus energies! Actually I can’t think of the last time he mentioned it!’ Is this supposed to be a diversion from the fact that this arc really hasn’t been well thought through – why on Earth point out its faults? All the ‘call of the wild’ nonsense in the jungle is nothing but hours of endless padding. ‘Grace? There’s not Grace here…’ – groan. Given all my problems with this arc on the whole I cannot believe that after all this build up for the Divergents that we never get to see them! Russell and Barnes should have taken note from the Future War arc in the EDAs where they also build up this horrendous foe that was going to destroy the Time Lords only for them to never appear! I would have hacked away some of this mumbojumbo jungle nonsense and found a way to write them in. The way they are so casually written off as having been absorbed by Keep is pretty insulting to the faithful fan that has stuck out this arc. The explanations that pulls in all of the other stories in this arc feels really hackneyed, like Barnes and Russell had re-listened to all the stories and desperately looked for links between them to give some reasonable payoff. Whilst the payoff would be really good the reappearance of the
Daleks at the end of this story fails to work as a cliffhanger (for me at least) because it feels as though the company is really running out of original story ideas. Is Rassilon destined to live his life in this pitiful Divergent Universe over and over? What a painful end for a once great character.

Result: Far better than I was expecting but not as good as it could have been, The Next Life ends the Divergent Universe on a reasonably entertaining but ultimately unfulfilling resolution. On the one hand it is an atmospheric production with lush soundscapes, lovely music and some fantastic performances. The characterisation of the regulars genuinely rocks with the Doctor looser than he has been for ages, Charley gaining some healthy development and C’rizz finally sharing his backstory! On the other hand there is no pace to the story, the plotting is non-existent and there is a painful lack of incident. The story could happily be half the length without losing any of its developments or resolution. And yet for all my complaints even when The Next Life is indulging in ridiculous beetle eating padding it is oddly quite fun to listen to. Barnes and Russell have learnt some lesson from Zagreus, giving the material some meaning and bounce. Does it conclude this two-season arc satisfactorily? Not in the slightest, its explanations are confused and its revelations pretty bland. Does it provide a good time? On the whole yes. It’s a hard one to judge but considering I managed to race through the last four parts in one go after two weeks of avoiding them I think I’m inclined to lenient: 7/10

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

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Nicholas Briggs Interview

Nicholas Briggs is by far the most prolific writer, director, actor and musician of the Big Finish ongoing saga. He has written a large handful of stories that often top the ‘favourite story’ polls and his atmospheric scores can be heard in such diverse locations as Dalek infested futures, alien worlds and never Neverlands. His style of direction is hard hitting and beautifully atmospheric, his stories always have a strong visual sense (a hard feeling to pull off on audio) and he drives some compelling and convincing performances from his actors from the regulars right down to the extras. It is little wonder that with the departure of Gary Russell, Nick took up the reins of Big Finish and has continued the success of the Doctor Who audio drama with similar aplomb.

Nick thank you very much for your time.

Tell me something about the effect Doctor Who had on your formative years. Which was your favourite medium to enjoy the show; the Target novels, the comic strips or the TV show itself? Do you have any favourite stories in the classic series that really made you want to work on this show when you were older?
Nick: Doctor Who was a huge thing in my childhood. Although I went through phases of loving Tarzan, Stingray, Thunderbirds, Joe 90, The Champions and Randall and Hopkirk Deceased, oh, and Star Trek… I always returned to Doctor Who. It always seemed to be there. That was the one programme that my parents would not dare to deny me, no matter how much they wanted to. I believe I deserted it once – round about the time of The Space Pirates – because Joe 90 started in our region, and it had been heavily plugged in a school magazine that I’d read, but I was back in time to watch, aghast, as Patrick Troughton’s Doctor spiralled off into the Vortex. By far, my favourite medium was the TV show, naturally.
But I would say that the comic strips were almost as important to me. I certainly regarded them as proper Doctor Who, which seems daft looking back at the format deviations in TV Comic, Countdown and TV Action – but I loved those stories. I’m not sure there were any favourite stories that made me actually want to work on the show; but there were loads that made me interested in telling stories, creating stories… and I would do that by writing or getting out my super 8mm camera and filming Dalek toys and spaceship models or recording audio drama in which, rather sadly, I played all the parts!

Can you tell us something about the formation of Big Finish and its enduring legacy and continuation to produce high quality audio dramas for over a decade?
Nick: Jason Haigh-Ellery had formed Big Finish some years before we started doing the Doctor Who audios. It’s named after Jason’s favourite episode of that Steve Moffatt kids’ series Press Gang. But when he and Gary started talking about getting a licence to do Doctor Who audios for the BBC, I think Jason thought that Big Finish would be the natural home of such productions. Gary and I had always talked about how we wanted to do Doctor Who audio drama professionally, after we’d both spent years doing it for fun with Audio Visuals – a group of fans producing top quality Doctor Who audios for no profit. After a false start in 1996, when the BBC turned us down, we got underway in 1999, and I was involved right from the start. As the years passed, I think we developed a great expertise at what we do, and my aim, when I took over as exec producer, was and is to continue learning. We listen hard to our audience and we listen hard to our hearts too. And between the input of both those sources, we hope we provide great entertainment for our audience. My ambition for Big Finish is for it to expand into other areas and one day for it to become a major entertainment platform. I’m just starting to figure out how to do that. But Doctor Who is unique for us and we have a hugely loyal following, which we hope will stay with us and cement our popularity, even long after I’ve moved on from Doctor Who… which I don’t anticipate doing any time soon, by the way!

Were you the natural successor to Gary Russell or was this strongly discussed at the time?
Nick: I think many people regarded me as the natural successor, and there were times when Gary Russell felt keenly that I wanted his job. But I never did. I always thought it was a nightmare of a job. Too all-consuming, leaving you no time to live your life or do other things. I thrive on variety and hate repetition. But when Gary had been offered the job in Cardiff, I was having a redefining moment in my life. My father had recently died, and that kind of shock really makes you start to assess your progress and perhaps strive for a stronger identity and purpose. I knew I had the energy and ideas to run Big Finish, but I also knew that doing the job exactly the way Gary did it would crush me. So I took some proposals to Jason Haigh-Ellery and we talked it over and came up with the plan of having a line producer, who would do all the day-to-day running, leaving me free to be in a more creative, policy-making role. Of course, as it’s turned out, I more or less turn my hand to anything that needs doing – including emptying the bins! – but having the line producer, a script editor and a producers’ assistant has left me in a really rewarding, creative position. I still have to pull the odd all-nighter and there are still massive pressures, but probably nothing like the pressure that Gary endured, because I’ve got a team. I love being part of a team! And luckily, we have all the right people doing the right jobs, which doesn’t often happen in life, but it makes things a hell of a lot easier.

Can you take us through the construction of a typical audio drama, starting with the script conception right the way through to the finished product on the shelf?
Nick: Okay… Alan Barnes, script editor, and I will chat through what we want to do for the coming year. We will talk about the kind of stories we want to tell, how we want to develop any ongoing story arcs, companion stories etc. Then we will hone that down to specific story types… writing simplistic notes like, ‘something in outer space, maybe involving a new monster’ or ‘something supernatural’ or ‘a police procedural with aliens’. Then we start to fit writers to the story ideas. In the process, we nab any commissions for ourselves that we think either of us suit. Then we ask those writers to pitch a few ideas. During that process, we work out with them what it is they and we actually want to do.
Once we’ve decided on a storyline from a particular writer, we commission a full storyline. We may discuss and edit that with the writer. When we’re happy with it, we send a shorter, concise version to the BBC, for their approval. After any alterations have been made in line with BBC input, we commission the script. Our usual way of working is to go to a second draft from the writer, and if it still needs major fixing after that, either Alan or I do it, depending on who is most busy or free at the time. If the fixes needed after a second draft are not major, we will sometimes ask the writer to do another draft, but we don’t believe in working them to death on draft after draft. The thing can die on the page when that happens, and you end up with something incomprehensible, or horribly fake. When the first draft is in, we often involve the director, who will often give notes for the second draft. Then when the script is signed off by me or Alan, the director starts casting. The recording dates will have been predetermined by David Richardson, who will have provisionally booked the Doctor and companion several months in advance. Basically, for publicity reasons, we need to be sure that a production is definitely happening six months before release, and ideally, it needs to have been recorded six months before release, so that we can promote it by naming any notable guest stars.
Then the play is recorded over two days in the studio. The recordings are then sent to the sound designer and composer, and the director works hard with them over the next couple of months. I will also listen to the sound design and music stages and give notes on those. Files are flying around the internet all the time. How we managed before all that, I shall never know. We had to wait for the post to arrive! Then the finished production goes to the BBC for compliance listening, where they may point out any contentious or worrying issues in the content of the production. So far, we have self-policed and have yet to be asked to remove anything at the BBC’s request. I’ve had a couple of things removed from stories at my request. But basically, we are very keen for the BBC to know we’re a safe pair of hands.
Then, after that, the masters are sent to the pressing plant, along with the files for the covers to be printed, which will have been designed during the sound designing stage. The booklet/cover designer will have read a script and listened to any bits of finished production on the way. When the CDs are delivered to our mailing unit, the mp3 files are uploaded to our website for download purchases. So the downloads go up as the CDs start being mailed out.

You wrote the very first story for the main range, The Sirens of Time. Is it true that this raised a few eyebrows at the time?
Nick: Well, I’ve told this story many times, so I won’t go over it again here. But suffice it to say, that was the moment I discovered that there was a whole universe of Doctor Who fans-turned-writers – just like me – who also wanted to do the job! Quite a wake-up call.

What was the feeling like having three Doctor’s in the studio performing original Doctor Who that you had written?
Nick: It was amazing. I took it dreadfully seriously. Probably far too seriously. But it was a like a dream come true. What could be better than writing a bit of Doctor Who history and getting the proper Doctors to act it out for you? I think I was a bit stern with the Doctors, because they were larking about and having a good time. But they were brilliant and I was living the dream. Looking back, I suppose I wish I could have lightened up a bit. But we’d never quite done that kind of production before, and I was terrified I’d run out of time. That seems so long ago now. We’ve all learnt so much.

Was there a driving passion to tell the Dalekmania-inspired tale, The Mutant Phase?
Nick: I don’t know what you mean by Dalekmania-inspired tale. But it was an Audio Visuals title. The basis of the story was similar, but it was pretty different in the telling. It was really great to do. Lots of fun.

Do you find Nyssa works as a much stronger character in the Big Finish adventures without her contemporaries from the TV series edging her into the background?

Nick: We had no choice but to do Nyssa on her own, because Janet Fielding didn’t want to do the audio plays then. But Sarah is lovely. We’re about the same age, and we met doing a Myth Makers interview… so there’s a sort of affinity there. And she’s great to work with. I’ve always found her a very easy person to get on with. I have a bit of a soft spot for our Sarah. And I think the character works beautifully with Peter’s Doctor. Peter is also very supportive of Sarah and they work nicely together. Now that Janet has made it possible for us to do Nyssa, Tegan and Turlough, the dynamic is different… but we’ll always return to the Nyssa-only stories too.

Can you tell us something about the long running saga of Sword of Orion in its various forms?

Nick: I don’t know that it’s a saga. It started life as an Audio Visuals amateur release, with me as the Doctor. Gary and Jason were big fans of it. It had been just about the most popular Audio Visuals play we’d done. And my adaptation of it for Big Finish didn’t change it that much. Interestingly, it attracted a lot of criticism on its release, but it’s still one of the biggest sellers. I recut it for Radio 7, and I think that edit is better… tighter.

Was Embrace the Darkness meant as a purely visual piece with lots of chances to show of the astonishing sound range of Big Finish?
Nick: I think you should always try to be visual with audio. But I also exploited the advantages of audio with this one. There were several ghastly bits in it that we couldn’t have done visually without being a full-blown horror movie. But on audio, it was just… chilling.
I think it came out very well, and I’m particularly proud of the episode one climax.

How difficult was it to construct Creatures of Beauty? Where you happy with the finished product?
Nick: Creatures of Beauty rattled around in my brain for ages and ages. I think Gary was wondering whether I’d ever get on with it and just write the flipping thing. Then suddenly, it all came pouring out. I was very preoccupied at that time with the notion that we all knew Doctor Who back-to-front. The format was sooo familiar to us. We always knew how a story would end. So I just wrote it in completely the wrong order, just to find a new way to make it interesting. I wanted the audience to focus on how the story happened, rather than just being shocked by ‘what happened next’, because, at that time, I felt we already knew ‘what happened next’, so why bother to pull that old trick? I think I was being a bit too purist.
But I think it worked well. Gary very kindly said that he thought it was the best thing I’d ever written. Which I think was a compliment.

You had the chance to write for the extremely popular sixth doctor and Evelyn in The Nowhere Place. What are your thoughts on the two characters and their enduring popularity in the BF stories?
Nick: Colin is the Doctor I know best, because we’ve worked together the most. We worked on Bill Baggs’s videos together. And when you worked for Bill Baggs, you all had to crowd together and make a community to survive the ghastly conditions and the machinations of Bill’s strange schemes. So we are mates. Maggies is also a mate. I’d worked with her in theatre before her Big Finish work. I introduced her to Big Finish. She’s all my fault! Gary came up with the Evelyn character while relaxing with friends in a pool in LA at a Doctor Who convention.
And I thought what he came up with was brilliant. And, of course, Colin and Maggie work brilliantly together. She’s just done a brilliant job in a Sylvester story recently (A Death In The Family) and she’s got another run of adventures with old Sixy next year, which I directed. I love working with the two of them.

How hard was it to write the 7th Doctor solo in Frozen Time?
Nick: I really enjoyed that. I liked the whole vibe of him getting to know someone afresh, and getting to know himself afresh. I wanted that feeling that it was the first story for a new Doctor. It wasn’t, but I just wanted to deploy that effect.

Was it exciting to push the eighth Doctor into his own range of shorter but punchier episodes?
Nick: It was very exciting, yes. And it was my way into exec producing the whole range. I started producing the first Radio 7 season of Eighth Doctor stories because Gary wasn’t interested in doing it. That was my crash-course training for doing the main range. And the most important discovery for me was that Alan Barnes and I work really well together. We have a good mutual respect thing going. At least, that’s what he tells me!

Was this new format inspired by the new series?
Nick: There was a large degree of being inspired by the new series. Remember how struck we all were with how the new series was different? It’s hard to remember now, isn’t it? But we certainly wanted to have a go at that bolder kind of storytelling.

What are your thoughts on Sheridan Smith’s Lucie Miller?
Nick: Isn’t it dull reading interviews when producers just go on and on about how brilliant actors are?
I can’t really offer anything new about Sheridan. She’s brilliant. A fabulous actress. There’s something really raw and dangerous about her. And she’s brilliant to work with. She never just ‘makes do’, she wants to get it right. She kind of wants you to be tough with her. It’s been a delight working with her. She can do anything. And it would be my wish to work with her throughout my entire career. A really special actress…

How did you find writing a two-part season finale with Sisters of the Flame and the Vengeance of Morbius?
Nick: I loved that. The first thing was to give more or less a whole episode to Sheridan, because we knew she could carry it. And I wanted to do an epic with a fairly small cast. Morbius was brilliant to write for, and getting Sam West in was an inspired bit of casting by Barnaby Edwards. But yeah, I really enjoyed writing that one. I think that’s when I really acknowledged to myself that I wanted to write all those pivotal moments in the series,
when the stakes are really high and it seems that all is lost. It’s for that reason that I co-wrote Orbis and all the pivotal Charley Pollard and Sixth Doctor stuff. Ah, India Fisher, another brilliant actress I’d like to work with all my life.

Wirrn Dawn was a real adrenaline rush of an adventure. Where you consciously trying give this story some pace and excitement throughout?
Nick: Of course! When Alan, Barnaby and I discussed this season, we said, ‘Space opera… possibly Wirrn… kind of Starship Troopers’. Alan just looked at me. ‘That’s got you written all over it,’ he said. I was happy to pick up the challenge. I wanted to do a story that kept moving forwards and never returned to the same place. I’d read that about James Bond. James Bond movies hardly ever go back to a previous location, the story keeps moving ever onwards.
And, of course, Jamie Robertson did the most extraordinary score for me. Really great, snarling, clanking orchestral stuff!

Why was Charley Pollard picked up by the sixth Doctor? Where you aware that this would be a controversial twist in the tale and did you ever imagine the combination of Colin Baker and India Fisher would be as popular as it was?
Nick: We thought we’d give it a go, because we felt we hadn’t finished with Charley yet. The line-up with the Eighth Doctor had gone off the boil a bit, I thought. We gave her as high stakes an exit in The Girl Who Never Was as we could, but we still felt there was more potential in Charley… and in India herself. So we thought we’d do three with her and the Sixth Doctor and wrap it up. But we were surprised by how popular it was, both with the audience and with Colin and India.
Colin virtually demanded we do more. And you can’t really stand in the way of Colin Baker, can you? Well, I would have said ‘no’ if it’d been unpopular, but the combination of good audience reaction, good working relationships and excited writers – including me! – was irresistible. We very nearly considered doing it forever. But I think the Eighth Doctor stories with Charley had taught us the lesson of not flogging things to death. Don’t get me wrong, there were loads of good things in that Divergent Universe series, but somehow, the energy of the stories and characters seemed to do dip a bit.

Were you aware of the importance and expectation surrounding Charley’s departure from the series?
Nick: We became more and more aware of it. And we delayed it as long as we dared… but then I knew, I wanted to be the one to do the deed. Alan said, ‘Look, I wrote her out last time, I can’t bear to do it again. You do it!’ And I was really flattered and as proud as punch that both Colin and India couldn’t stop telling me how brilliant they thought my scripts were. Very kind of them.

How well do you think it was executed in your two stories in her final three tales, Patient Zero and Blue Forgotten Planet?
Nick: Well, it’s daft question to ask me, isn’t it? I mean, I did it. I’m not going to say it was all rubbish… Well, I suppose I would if I thought I’d messed it up. But with the inestimable help of Alan Barnes… I mean, we worked so hard on those scripts. We were so precise about exactly what we wanted to do. And that relationship between Colin’s Doctor and Charley was so fascinating and had reached such a complex pitch that it was a real dream to write. Well, sometimes a nightmare… oh, I don’t know… sort of like exquisite torture. I loved and hated it while I was doing it. But ultimately, I loved it. I admit the sin of pride. I’m very proud of those stories because they have such a definite purpose and both paint very vivid world pictures and contain such raw emotion.
And I like the fact that we found a way of fooling the Doctor’s memory without it making him seem weak. He makes the choice not to mess up his memory timeline.

Tell us something about your love affair with the Daleks? Was it tremendously exciting to be able to bring the metal meanies to life in Dalek Empire?
Nick: The Daleks really struck and chord with me when I was a kid. There was something about them that made me buzz with excitement. The enemies you loved to hate. But they were kind of cool, like the Thunderbirds craft, you know? I think I liked the machinery of the Daleks. Little boys are fascinated with technology and military hardware… at least they were when I was a kid. And the Daleks fit into that category. Fighting machines.
And then, when I got older and wanted to tell stories in things I wrote, I found out that they were one of the most powerful elements to use in a plot. They were the baddest baddies in the entire universe. You could have characters mention them and literally sweat and shake with fear. And then they arrived and blew everything up while squawking madly. Brilliant. They’re great for stories, like some kind technological, mechanistic fairy tale villain. A hobgoblin with a laser beam.

Which do you think holds up as the best overall series?
Nick: I can’t really judge which is the best series of Dalek Empire, because I feel they all offer something different. I suppose I think the third series went off the rails a bit. But I’m very pleased with how it came out. I think the most disciplined, finely honed scripts were for Dalek Empire: The Fearless, the final one. And it was a real privilege to work with Maureen O’Brien – another fabulous actress who I’d like to have in everything I work on – and my mate Noel Clarke, who gave a really beautiful performance. Noel really throws himself into stuff. And he’s been a great friend to me. I mean, aside from anything else like being a great laugh and generally a good guy, he’s put me in two movies. Genius!

Is it true that Russell T Davies asked for scenes in the new series to crackle like those between Susan Mendez and the Dalek Supreme?
Nick: Yes, that is true. He phoned me up and said that to me the night before I did those scenes in the cell with Chris and Billie.

Given that you wrote, directed and scored the four extremely popular series do these stand up as your proudest achievement with Big Finish?
Nick: Some days I think so. But I love my work. I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to be doing this. So I am constantly guilty of the sin of pride on lots of stuff I do for Big Finish. But, yeah, I’m very proud of the fictional universe I created for Dalek Empire. John Ainsworth helped me a lot with that too. And I was also helped by great actors, especially Sarah Mowat as Susan Mendes.

Was it much more difficult to achieve the same results with the Cyberman series?
Nick: It was more of a challenge. The Cybermen were, in many ways, just an attempt by the Doctor Who production team to ‘find another Dalek’, and I think they do suffer from that sometimes… a lack of uniqueness. But I had my love affair with the Cybermen when I was a kid too. As many people say, they are very creepy. It’s a pity that all that marching in the new series kind of messed that up. But Graeme Harper had it fixed in his head that the Cybermen marched when his hero and mentor Douglas Camfield directed them. But I didn’t see any marching in The Invasion, did you? But I found my way in to the Cyberman series for Big Finish by being inspired by two odd things. First off, Shakespeare’s Macbeth. And also, The Shield. You can work the Macbeth one out very easily for yourself. But The Shield aspect was to do with having an antihero in a very central role. Somehow, all that stuff about loyalty and betrayal was a really good juxtaposition with the emotionless Cybermen. And making the androids extremely emotional seemed to work very well too.

Acting wise can you tell us something about the atmosphere on set throughout the last five years on the TV series? Were there any particularly fraught days or is the Doctor Who production a fairly smooth process?
Nick: The atmosphere on set is professional and busy. I was insanely excited when I first did it, and Chris was so impressive, as was Billie. It felt more relaxed with David, because I knew him, so I’d pop over to his caravan for coffee and stuff like that. There are always fraught days. Quite often you overrun. I remember that block with Graeme Harper directing the Cyberman story and the Dalek-Cyberman season finale being the most fraught. There was a lot of what looked like ‘bish-bash-bosh’ shooting stuff in a real hurry during that. But Doctor Who is an ambitious show. They were always pushing the envelope with what they could achieve. In the first season, things had got so behind with the season finale that Joe Ahearne set up two units shooting almost simultaneously in the same studio to get back on schedule. By sheer force of will he managed to get everything done when it felt as though it might all fall apart. But, you know, work always expands slightly beyond the time available in which to do it.
I think Daleks in Manhattan was the most calm, fraught-free shoot I’ve had on Doctor Who. James Strong somehow has the ability to be very creative but also keep to schedule!

Do you have a favourite voice, Dalek, Cyberman or Judoon that you perform?
Nick: Oooh, the Daleks, of course. Iconic. Angry. Cunning. Great fun to do. Good for getting out all your negative emotions. Quite fun to do the Judoon, though, because no electronic trickery is required.

How did your brief role in Torchwood Children of Earth’s most gripping instalment come about?
Nick: Russell T Davies suggested that the casting people saw me for the part. So I went along and was interviewed and did a couple of scenes and they gave me the part. Nice. They’d seen a few other actors for it, but luckily thought I was the best.

And was that you in the garden centre in the League of Gentlemen?
Nick: It certainly was. And did you notice, my name tag read ‘Gary Russell’? Mark Gatiss thought that was very funny. I’ve played Gary Russell on screen!

What exciting things can we expect from Big Finish in the future? And what projects do you personally have up your sleeve?
Nick: I’m particularly excited by the subscriber-only special, The Four Doctors. We’ve just completed that. It’s available free to anyone whose subscription goes through December 2010. Or it’s available as a subscriber freebie that anyone can choose if they subscribe. I’m also loving Relative Dimensions, the latest Xmas Special for the Eighth Doctor. And then in February, there’s Lucie Miller and To The Death… the final stories of the Eighth Doctor standalone season. I’m pretty proud of those two.
As for me, personally, I’m reading a couple of talking books for Audiogo, and I’ve got some more theatre work in Nottingham in February, when I star as Inspector Pratt in Murdered to Death, at the Theatre Royal Nottingham. No other plans except Big Finish after that, but my agent and I are always on the look-out for new opportunities!

Nick, thank you again for you time.
Nick: A pleasure.

Caerdroia written by Lloyd Rose and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: Self-exiled to a new universe, separated from his TARDIS, opposed and manipulated by the Divergence and their agent the Kro'ka, the Doctor has been struggling to work out the nature of the cosmic game in which he's an unwilling pawn. Now, at last, he has a chance to find the answer ¤ and regain the TARDIS! Threatened and desperate, the Kro'ka abandons his behind-the-scenes machinations to confront the Doctor directly. But will both of them lose their way in the maze of the strange world in which they find themselves? A world in which a clock may have a cuckoo but no hands, a labyrinth imprisoning a paradox, and a Garden of Curiosities reveals something the Doctor has never seen before. As the Doctor faces these challenges, Charley and C'rizz provide valuable help. But with the TARDIS itself at stake, the Doctor reaches deep inside himself to find some surprising new allies...

Breathless Romantic (x3): Listen up folks because I’ve got something to say. Lloyd Rose is the best writer for the eighth Doctor whatever medium she is writing for him in, bar none. Her two EDAs, City of the Dead and Camera Obscura feature some of the most magnificent and striking characterisation of the eighth Doctor and they almost shocked the other writers at the time until raising their game to keep up. Caerdroia isn’t quite as good as those two novels (as an audio it doesn’t quite have the same thematic depth as a book) but it is easily the best writing Paul McGann has been given yet and she gets the audio eighth Doctor spot on, allowing him to be angry, romantic, threatening, intelligent, gentle and prickly – his dialogue throughout is great fun and full of menace and laughs. As such Paul McGann gives his best performance yet, a real slap in the face after some of his more tired recent efforts and he really seems to enjoy the chance to be a bit more dramatic and silly, thoughtful and hilarious and its all wonderfully addictive. If this were the eighth Doctor(s) we had week in, week out I certainly would not be complaining. Splitting his character into three distinct personalities allows the writer to really have fun exploring the different aspects of his psyche and remind us just how many layers this particular incarnation has. I was rather sad when they all jumped back into one body.

As long as the Doctor sleeps they can’t be moved through the Interzones. He’s stronger than when he arrived on this world and is full of secrets about this universe now. He’s so cheeky to the Kro’ka (‘You will beg for mercy, Doctor!’ ‘Promises, promises!’) and seems to have a great deal of fun turning the tables at last and winding him up. His mind is such a big place and so old. He’s never cruel. He finds his consciousness can take over when his companions are in danger and turn vicious. Torture for the Doctor is to be trapped within a universe that doesn’t acknowledge time. He can’t remember any recent examples of his theories being wrong. When the Doctor is split into three we have Brains, Brain Damage and Manners! I love the childish and carefree Doctor, it’s the cuddlier side of his that we haven’t seen for a long time. The angry, bitter Doctor is something pretty scary, unhindered by the others. It is so rare for the Doctor to see something new (even in a brand new universe?). He loves purple marlots and sunflowers. Thank goodness the cheerful Doctor is mixed in with the others otherwise he would be unbearable (by his own admission). He has a ball of string in his tiny pockets the size of a beach ball! I loved listening to the three Doctor’s working out the mystery of Caerdroia together bringing their own distinct opinions to the problem in a quick succession. The dreamy, abstract Doctor is a healthy reminder that some of the Doctor’s goofiest incarnations have been his slyest. Spontaneity is his strong point. He may talk like a fool but he knows what he is talking foolishly about. Of all the dangers he has faced, the Doctor never expected to have died of borderm (I loved that observation). He has courage and integrity and fights evil fiercely and yet is capable of great mercy, he is truly heroic. The nasty Doctor needs the compassionate and childish ones to keep an eye on him, to stop him from going too far. He invades the Kro’ka’s mind (which he thinks is a dump) and bullied him, really gets off on hurting him. ‘I’m home!’ he screams when he gets the TARDIS back and it is such a relief to see him so happy again. C’rizz wonders if he is still the Tiggerish Doctor but Charley points out this is all of him, he has just never seen the Doctor happy before.

Edwardian Adventuress: Such a difference between this and how India Fisher played Charley in The Last – I can never tell from one story to the next if her characterisation and performance will work or not but this is the best we have seen from Charley since Neverland. Once again she is very cute and great fun to be around. Can’t Lloyd Rose write every story? She really seems to get off on poking fun at the Kro’ka. Charley cannot bear to watch the Doctor suffer. She gets lumbered with the impatient, spiteful Doctor and she finds it hard to believe that he is part of her Doctor (just as he finds it hard to believe that he usually puts up with somebody as stupid as her!). They fight like a married couple and yet obviously care for each other; it’s a really fun dynamic and exactly the sort of thing that was desperately missing last season. She declares that she has never let the Doctor down and he knows it but seems to have forgotten her selfish act of jumping into the Divergent Universe after him because she thought she was dumped. Fisher really sells the dangerous moments in the story, a far cry from her indifference in The Last,
go listen to her panic and hysteria when she is almost crushed inside the workings of the cuckoo clock. She tries to annoy the Doctor because it makes for a bit of life. She was wondering when the monster would show up. C’rizz asks if she and the Doctor are in love. Charley is hilarious when she (‘woo!’) tries to get noticed (‘I’m from another universe!’). She admits she is more adventurous than C’rizz and sounds very excited about showing him around the TARDIS.

Chameleonic Rogue: He also seems to have great fun with Charley at the Kro’ka’s expense! The cows really like him much to his chargin. He really misses his home but somebody has to look out for the Doctor and Charley. Love is always dangerous he tells Charley, just look at him and L’da. He is surprised that more people aren’t staring at him. In Caerdroia C’rizz is likable, funny and intelligent – can’t Lloyd Rose write all the stories? He doesn’t like heights and charley thinks he would look great with a marble effect skin. His ears are extremely sensitive.

Standout Performance: This is a showcase for the regulars, almost as if Gary Russell has heard all the criticism about the three main performers and wanted to give them a chance to charm the audience. To his credit, it is a total success. And I really didn’t think that would be possible.

Twists: The Doctor scoffs at the Mind Blast Device and yet it really appears to cause him some pain which it turns out he was faking all along! The Interzone has numerous portals and is a clearing station to the many Divergent Worlds (hang on…I thought the zones were all on one planet – Bortroysoe?). Their Divergent Head Office is called Caerdroia, a castle that is everywhere. Time spillage is coming from the portal that the Divergents are hiding behind. More Welsh people turn up inside this universe. There is a huge clock, which is an illusion to linear time. The Department of Communications Enabling Devices can issue pencils, the Department of Necessities for Daily Routine can loan you someone else’s pencil and the Department of Rhetorical and Genuine Questions will answer any queries you might have! This is bureaucracy epitomised! They are being run like rats through a maze and all the doors led back to the same place. Does the Kro’ka serve the Divergents willingly? Is he cut off from his past, longing for his home? They are taking images from their minds and constructing them but the details are slightly askew, the cuckoo clock with no hands. The maze, administration building and castle are everywhere – the fortress of turning paths. The Divergents want the Doctor’s memories removed, stored and examined for the secrets of the TARDIS. The TARDIS is the prize at the centre of the labyrinth and she is trying to tell the Doctor how to get there. Rassilon is angry that the Kro’ka has broken their contract. The Doctor, Charley and C’rizz cannot travel in time but they can travel in space and there is a whole new universe to explore!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I thought we were taller!’
‘I’d very much like to know what’s going to eat us!’
‘Lets skip the melodrama and get to the point.’
‘Stop being fiendish and get on with it.’
‘We had a contract. You broke it. I’m afraid I am going to have to break you.’

Audio Landscape: There is an onslaught of church bells shredding through the Doctor’s mind, the Doctor manages to appear in different parts of his mind, the fizzing Interzone energies, the taunting Kro’ka, birdsong and cows mooing with bells tinkling, snapping wood, cuckoo, a babbling brook, the growling Oberlad, the clicking, grinding gears and cogs inside the clock, the deafening chiming, wind running through the labyrinth, market town with people chatting and horses screaming, the awesome ‘contact’ sound and of course the delicious TARDIS console hum which is a real sound for sore ears!

Musical Cues: Bloody marvellous, the music is spunky, modern, really fun and adds a lot of depth to the already thoughtful dialogue. Fantastically eclectic and atmospheric.

Isn’t it Odd: What an awful, cheap and nasty looking cover. I wish I had the maze alternative, which was much nicer. The rules in the Divergent Universe seem to be changing with each story.

Standout Moment: Any scene with the Kro’ka. Its lovely to see Stephen Perring getting a larger role and he really seems to enjoy playing the Kro’ka on the run for a change, scared and anxious.
He is by far the best thing to have come out of this arc and its nice to see his silky menace swapped for quiet desperation.

Result: Okay I’ve said it three times already but…can’t Lloyd Rose writer every story? Or at least characterise them? It is shocking to think that a story in which McGann, Fisher and Westmaas carry 90% of the material set inside the Divergent Universe could be this amusing. Where Caerdroia lacks a plot it grabs your attention with plenty of thoughtful dialogue, fun characterisation, wonderfully surreal moments and a general sense of things pushing on in the right direction. The triplet Doctors with their distinct personalities are inspired and provide the story with its best laughs and most considerate moments. The production itself feels fresh, bouncy and despite an inordinate amount of running around in circles never seems to stand still or stagnate. The return of the TARDIS is by far the most exciting moment yet in this arc, if depriving the Doctor of his ship turned him into something wicked and flat then returning his one true love sees his character finally come back to life. All in all a very promising shove towards this arcs conclusion and a fascinating story in its own right: 8/10

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