Saturday, 31 December 2011

Deep Space Nine Series One

Emissary written by Michael Piller and directed by David Carson

Result: Exciting, unpredictable with a highly engaging new cast of characters and a welcome touch of dirt to the Star Trek universe, Emissary barely gets a step wrong. Visually the story is a feast for the eyes with some atmospheric new sets, exciting action sequences and a remains a masterpiece of editing for the astonishing sequences set inside the wormhole. I remember when I first watched Emissary and I was completely blown away by the scale of the story, the rawness of the emotion and the idiosyncratic look of the piece. I had never seen anything like it on television before and it felt like someone had taken all my complaints about Star Trek and ironed them out into a much darker, classier show. This show gets to have its cake (a fixed location with consequences) and eat it (exploration of a new quadrant) and once the Defiant is introduced it even has it's own unique ship. This is a show that isn’t afraid to pull a mirror on humanity’s weaknesses, that handles religion and space opera with equal aplomb and allows its characters to be both strong and unique but also deeply flawed. Emissary kick starts seven incredible years of mythos building and outstanding character drama: 10/10

Full Review Here:

Past Prologue written by Katharyn Powers and directed by Winrich Kolbe

Result: Highlighting Kira’s character proves that she is one to watch and considering the little screen time she has had the character is already developing significantly. Past Prologue is a strong episode on two counts, for introducing Garak and for exploring meatier themes than they would only occasionally dare to touch on TNG. Andrew Robinson is a delight as the Cardassian tailor, like no character we have ever seen before and it came as a surprise that it took an entire year before we saw such a successful character again. The uneasy alliance between the Bajorans and the Federation is encapsulated in Kira and Sisko and their tasty conflict makes for a refreshing change from the usual touchy feely relationships that the franchise is keen to promote. Whilst there are a fair few stumbles in the first season of DS9 this gripping little thriller shows no signs of a show in its infancy. Engaging political drama would turn out to be one of the series strengths: 8/10

Full Review Here:

A Man Alone written by Gerald Sanford & Michael Piller and directed by Paul Lynch

Result: A murder mystery without any mystery, A Man Alone is a tired episode three which only comes alive when focusing on the developing dynamics between the characters. Odo is so clearly the target of Ibudan’s murder and the effortless way hatred is stirred up against him forces the plot to ignore the idea that there could be any other suspects and the wrap up is as contrived as it comes with a twist that hasn’t even been hinted at. Fortunately there are an abundance of scenes that see character pairings come together (Jake & Nog, Sisko & Dax, Odo & Quark) and an enjoyable subplot that follows Keiko finding her place on the station that are agreeable to watch. DS9 has a higher hit rate than most in providing an enjoyable b plots when the main storyline fails to engage (especially in seasons two and three) but that still doesn’t excuse the bulk of the episode falling below par. You expect a few stumbles when a show begins and this one is average but not too offensive given the character treasure that can be unearthed: 5/10

Full Review Here:

Babel written by Michael McGreevey & Naren Shankar and directed by Paul Lynch

Result: Imagine if the crew had been wiped out by the aphasic virus? What an embarrassing way to end the series that would have been. Babel proves again that DS9 has better luck at dishing out these naff Star Trek premises because its core of characters is strong enough to provide some entertainment when the plot fails to do so. You’ve got Odo panicking when the Station is his responsibility, Quark causing a whole lot of trouble but redeeming himself by coming through when a crisis needs him to and Kira providing her own unique solution to curing the virus by infecting the man who created it. Now we’ve done the standard Trek virus and the murder mystery plots, can we get on with something more interesting? Disposable but fairly watchable especially in the thrilling final ten minutes: 5/10

Full Review Here:

Captive Pursuit written by Jill Sherman Donner & Michael Piller and directed by Corey Allen

Result: Something unknown, mysterious and exciting comes through the wormhole – this is more like it! Captive Pursuit is a fine piece of writing which offers an intriguing mystery and an exciting resolution with plenty opportunities for action and a touching spotlight on O’Brien. The first half of the episode slowly builds up the relationship between O’Brien and Tosk before the rest of his people arrive to hunt him down and the pyrotechnics begin. Corey Allen provides some fine action sequences that really have some punch and yet still keeps the focus on the central relationship. The story climaxes in a very sweet ending that sees O’Brien defy authority and help his friend to escape. I really love that the poignant conclusion works through nothing more than retrained performances and that Tosk manages to remain an alien character throughout (had this been TNG he would have been happily humanised by the conclusion). Well paced with some dynamic sequences and DS9’s own brand of exceptional character work, Captive Pursuit gets two thumbs up from me: 9/10

Full Review Here:

Q-Less written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe and directed by Paul Lynch

Result: It’s not in the league of best Q episodes (those honours go to Q Who, Deja Q, Tapestry and Death Wish) and it certainly isn’t amongst the worst (Hide & Q, Q-Pid, The Q and the Grey and Q2), Q-Less is a disposable but occasionally very funny and enjoyable episode. John de Lancie is a delight as ever and has a hoot and a half poking fun at all the foibles of the newly staffed station and it's nice to finally see Jennifer Hatrick in a halfway decent episode that doesn’t involve Sherwood Forest or ridiculously characterised Ferengi’s. What I really enjoy about this episode is how it reaffirms this show as being the black sheep of the family with characters allowed to be sleazy and sex obsessed and revel in naked avarice. Its so refreshing after all the pompous do gooders on TNG to see some real people propping up the 24th Century. The main plot echoes Encounter at Farpoint in all the worst ways and really should have been dropped in favour of more throwaway antics because the stress here is on continuing and improving TNG continuity which to it's credit it manages to do very well: 7/10

Full Review Here:

Dax written by D.C Fontana and directed by David Carson
Result: How wonderful to see the character dynamics on this show coming together so effectively and quickly and even if Dax didn’t have a rock solid plot at its heart (which it does) it would be bolstered by some fantastic individual moments. Kira is feisty and fun, Odo blackmails Quark, Sisko builds a firm friendship with Dax, Bashir shows some depth and Odo proves what he is made of plus you also get some fascinating insight into Trill society. Both Tandro and (the wonderful) Judge Renora stand out and despite very few scenes even Enina Tandro makes a great impression. The story has a real drive to it and paints a strong picture of Klystron society and the major players in its most dramatic days without ever actually showing us the events. With outstanding performances all round, superb dialogue and characterisation and an ending that hits all the right notes this is one of the strongest Trek courtroom episodes and another huge win for director David Carson: 9/10

Full Review Here:

The Passenger written by Morgan Grendel, Robert Hewitt Wolfe & Michael Piller and directed by Paul Lynch

Result: Such a ridiculously predictable episode I am surprised they bothered to dress it up as a mystery. The Passenger features the oddest performance ever seen in a Deep Space Nine episode in Siddig El Fadil’s take on Ray O’Vantika which is more likely to provoke laughter than chills. Paul Lynch tries to make this as dark as possible but the script is fighting him lacking the scares of a horror or the intensity of a good psychological thriller. Ruining things further is the inclusion of Primmon who annoys from the outset and is so ineffective he only hangs around for two episodes. Odd that the first Bashir episode should be such a flop because pretty much every other episode to highlight the character (Our Man Bashir, Dr Bashir, I Presume?, Inquisition, Inta Arma Silent Leges) would turn out to be absolute gems. Easily the weakest episode so far and exactly the sort of camp old nonsense that was dropped when the series found its stride: 4/10

Full Review Here:

Move Along Home written by Frederick Rappaport, Lisa Rich & Jeanne Carrigan-Fauci (three writers – really?) and directed by David Carson

Result: Move Along Home doesn’t quite come off but it exemplifies DS9’s willingness to experiment with some pretty quirky episodes. Visually the story is quite distinctive but none of the tests that the crew are put through would test a five year old so the risk that is suggested is never really felt. Once again the alien characters on this show impress with Odo and Quark providing some great moments and Avery Brooks continues to lighten up as Sisko. The last act descends into a mundanely shot trek through some standard cave sets but you have to admire the sheer cheek of the ‘its only a game’ punchline that proves that nobody was ever in any danger in the first place. It’s a really odd piece, sporadically very good, occasionally risible and incomparable with anything else this series has delivered. Again this is precisely the sort of thing they dropped when the series expanded its mythology: 6/10

Full Review Here:

The Nagus written by Ira Steven Behr and directed by David Livingston

Result: Proof if it was needed that episodes set solely on DS9 shit all over the bottle shows on TNG or Voyager, The Nagus is a delightfully funny and universe expanding piece that is bolstered by many superb performances. The chemistry between the Ferengi actors on Deep Space Nine is so delightful and I love spending time with them. Focussing an episode entirely on Ferengi culture might fill you with dread given how badly they have been treated in TNG but fear not since this is a gorgeously funny Godfather parody that introduces us to one of the greatest ever Star Trek characters – Wallace Shawn’s Grand Nagus Zek. He’s lecherous, greedy, slightly psychotic and utterly lovable. We’ve never seen anything like this before and it confirms that Deep Space Nine is forging its own unique path through the Star Trek universe: 9/10

Full Review Here:

Vortex written by Sam Rolfe and directed by Winrich Kolbe

Result: When it comes to atmosphere, DS9 is in a league of its own. Vortex has a gorgeous script with a humdinger of a line every few seconds and I have had to restrain myself from quoting half the episode. To have a Star Trek episode as unpredictable as this one is a very rare thing and the way it offers gasps of hope to Odo is almost cruel. It’s a blissfully executed piece which has been atmospherically lit to provide an evocative feast for the eyes and the director shows a flair for both action sequences and the tastier character driven moments of dialogue. The episode builds to the catch-your-breath moment when Odo is out cold and you are unsure whether Kroden will help him or use the chance to escape which in turn leads to a stirring decision by Odo to release them. A phaser fight, wonderful Odo and Quark scenes, a space battle, meaty ideas and a touching ending between Odo and his ‘cousin’ – Vortex practically is another awesome episode: 9/10

Full Review Here:

Battle Lines written by Hilary J. Bader, Richard Danus & Evan Carlos Somers and directed by Paul Lynch

Result: The death of a semi-regular character, graphic fight scenes, an impossible situation and the redemption of a violent terrorist, Battle Lines is a very strong episode that picks up many of the season's threads and does some impossibly cruel things with them. It’s the first of three extraordinary Kira episodes that see her character take an incredible journey through the first season (this, Progress and Duet) and Nana Visitor once again proves why she is such an incredible asset to this show. Once again the episode has the atmosphere to bolster the drama and this is by far one of the most impressive studio planetary surfaces. DS9 has delivered three knockouts in a row but this is still a Star Trek series - surely this cannot continue. The closing shot of the Kai listening to the sounds of battle getting closer is a wonderfully ambiguous note to leave her character on: 9/10
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The Storyteller written by Kurt Michael-Bensmiller & Ira Steven Behr and directed by David Livingston

Result: I really don’t understand why Voyager and TNG don’t highlight their subplots in the same way that DS9 does because it is the delightful Nog/Jake mischief that saves The Storyteller from being a dud. There is some fun watching the odd couple O’Brien and Bashir dancing around each other but the main plot of the episode belongs in a fairytale book and not a Star Trek episode. It's neither entirely comic or satisfyingly dramatic and falls between several stools and as the middle of three Bajoran episodes in a row it falls way short of the greatness of the two surrounding it. However with the negotiation subplot on the station this episode remains amiable enough and the Jake and Nog interaction continues to be one of this series’ most delightful surprises: 6/10

Full Review Here:

The Forsaken written by Don Carlos Dunaway & Michael Piller and directed by Les Landau

Result: Not content with having a gorgeous A story that sees Mrs Troi set her sights on Odo, The Forsaken also chooses to torture Bashir in an amusing B story and even feature a C story that uses technobabble in a really fun way. I’m not sure how they manage to pack it all in but none of these narratives feels undersold and they weave around each other effortlessly. Every scene is imbued with character that skips through everything from romantic comedy to intimate drama and the performances are sublime. Because it has so much going on it doesn’t quite have the focus of the best episodes of the season but it is still ridiculously entertaining and has some really moving scenes between Odo and Lwaxana. Both Vortex and The Forsaken offer tantalising glimpses into a softer Odo without diminishing the character in the slightest and have provided some of the most touching moments of the season: 8/10

Full Review Here:

Dramatis Personae written by Joe Menosky and directed by Cliff Bole

Result: Dramatis Personae is basically all the ill feeling amongst the crew of DS9 turned up the nth degree. To someone who watches the odd episode you might not even distinguish between their behaviour here (Kira beating up Quark and arguing with Sisko, O’Brien’s strong opinions about everything, Bashir playing the field) and the last time you watched but anyone who has watched the entire season will have seen subtle changes in their behaviour as the regulars have started to gel. This used to be my least favourite episode of the season because none of the characterisation on display is particularly subtle but the regulars certainly all give it their all and it results in an episode that is at least entertaining camp trash. If you ever wanted to see Kira flirt with Dax, Sisko kick the crap out of someone, Odo walk a fine line between two camps, O’Brien putting his tactical skills to good use and a cat and mouse hunt between the crew then this is the episode for you. Personally I prefer the more thoughtful brand of DS9 and this is nothing but a bad TNG episode played with a little more spice. This is the case for all the Joe Menosky inspired DS9 episodes…he is definitely pitching for the wrong show. It doesn’t surprise me at all that he found a home on Voyager: 5/10

Full Review Here:

Duet written by Peter Allan Fields and directed by James L. Conway

Result: The most effective psychological drama in Star Trek bar none. Haris Yulin, character actor extraordinaire takes on a truly challenging part that could so easily have been nothing but a ranting villain and he embodies the role with such realism and terror you forget all about the make up and simply concentrate on the riveting drama between him and Kira. The script is a beautifully crafted thing literally stuffed with memorable dialogue (I had to carefully cherry pick my favourites above but pretty much the entire script sparkles) and featuring a mystery that will leave you desperate to know the truth by the climax. Add to this precise and subtle direction that teases the drama from the situation more exceptional work done with Kira and a conclusion that rips out your heart and stamps on it repeatedly and you have a rare thing. An episode that fires on all cylinders all the time. Exceptional in every single way whilst hardly spending a penny: 10/10

Full Review Here:

In the Hands of the Prophets written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe and directed by David Livingston

Result: In the Hands of the Prophets starts out really well and just gets better and better and better. You have two equally interesting plots that run separately and blissfully come together in a powerful and dramatic climax. There is room for political manoeuvring, a murder mystery, character development, two outstanding action sequences and the introduction of two perfectly pitched and performed new guest characters in Winn and Bariel. It brings the season to a climactic end on a real high, showing the bold new direction that the show is beginning to take and leaves you with nothing but positive feelings about leaping into the second year. Star Trek has never been like this before and it is better than ever: 9/10

Thursday, 22 December 2011

An Earthly Child written by Marc Platt and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: Thirty years on from the Daleks' invasion of Earth, the scars still haven't healed. The survivors inhabit a world thrown back two hundred years, a world of crop shortages and civil unrest. A world where the brightest and best of its young people are drawn to the xenophobic Earth United group. A world sliding into a new Dark Age, believes Susan Campbell, widow of one of the heroes of the Occupation. A world in need of alien intervention. A world in need of hope. But as Susan takes drastic action to secure the planet's future, she's oblivious to the fact that her student son, Alex, ensnared by Earth United, is in need of alien intervention too. Or so Alex's great-grandfather thinks.

Breathless Romantic: I can see why Susan was brought back for more adventures with Paul McGann’s eighth Doctor because they have a very relaxed way together that is blissful to listen to. The Doctor is desperate to learn about his grandson and ask one of his tutors if he is popular and doing well. He tries to reach out to him without telling him precisely who he is but it just seems like an interfering old man. I love the way that the Doctor says the Susan was always rash (mirroring his behaviour towards her in The Sensorites) but this time she is talking a lot of good sense. These days he has a more youthful disposition and every time Susan calls him grandfather the centuries pile on. The Doctor came because he heard Susan’s distress call – proof that it was worth her sending it out. As well as an explorer, a traveller and the Doctor he has a personal interest in the planet Earth.

Simply Susan: I love the idea of visiting Susan thirty years after the Dalek invasion to see how she built a life for herself on Earth and whether the Doctor made the right decision for her. Susan’s radical ideals are to contact other worlds for help as the Earth seems to be sliding into depravity. She wants better for her son and isn’t afraid to say so. She is playing a very dangerous game by contacting another world without permission – if she can seek consent to get aid from an alien race then she might just pull this off but the story suggests that if the human race doesn’t want the help being offered it will be forced upon them. And that is the last thing they need. David and Alex used to call her Genghis Khan and she would get into a strop and say they had it all wrong! The Doctor describes Susan as wilful and somebody who needed to be rescued a lot! She refuses to call him ‘Doctor’ because she’s not like everybody else. She explains to Alex that the TARDIS is their home and when she expresses her shock at how gothic it is the Doctor says they all go through phases. She outgrew the Doctor, met David and settled down. Her family is part of Earth’s future and she can’t duck out in the middle of all the developments even if he can get her back before they left. Her hearts are on the Earth now and she has music to face after causing all this drama. Susan never thought she would see the Doctor again but is so happy that she had the opportunity.

Young Apprentice: Alex is uncomfortable that his mother is so embarrassing in public; he doesn’t understand why she can’t keep all her propaganda at home. He doesn’t know what his lineage is; Susan always thought he deserved a normal upbringing especially in the wake of the Dalek invasion and the xenophobia that would have struck him. He only has one heart on his father’s side. Now she wants him to enjoy a proper education on Gallifrey, the sort that she could never have although I have to wonder what the Doctor might think of that considering his love of the planet. I really like the way the Doctor shows Alex how wrong his leanings have been – to express xenophobic views is almost like self-hatred because he is an alien. He refuses to be packed off to college halfway across the galaxy – he belongs on the Earth and that is his choice to make. Reminds me of another precocious youth we met in a junkyard in 1963.

Standout Performance: This might be the best performance Carole Ann Ford has ever given in Doctor Who and with a substantial meaty role and some well-written speeches to give she really shows what she is made of. She is certainly a far cry from the whimpering non-entity that caused nothing but problems during the first season and a bit. Jake McGann is an odd one for sure because when he is called to speak naturally he aces the scenes but it is when he has to show some real emotion that he seems a little…bland. Its something that he works on because come Relative Dimensions he is much, much better but he doesn’t have the naturalism to pull of the argument scenes in this story.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘David would be shocked at what we’re doing! And the Daleks would be laughing…’
‘Eight? How did you manage that? That’s just throwing them away!’
‘A world in a traumatic shock. A cry for help. Its always the circling vultures who are the first to arrive.’
‘How blissful to slip the moorings and drift away’ – one of the most poetic attempts to describe suicide that I have ever heard.
‘I thought you’d wander out there forever’ ‘That’s where my hearts are…’

Great Ideas: Its almost astonishing that nobody has sought to reap the rewards of as post Dalek invasion setting because it is bleeding with possibilities after such a cataclysmic shift to the Earth. Marc Platt has created a suspicious, paranoid Earth with a populace that has had its wind knocked out of them and is waiting for the next invasion force to arrive. Everybody is angry with how they were treated and is making up for it by fighting whatever cause comes along because they need to feel strong again. He cleverly uses elements of The Dalek Invasion of Earth to prove how the invasion has integrated into normal vernacular – kids call each other ‘Robo Heads’ and there is mentions of the Slythers as though they are the Bogeymen. Landmarks were totally destroyed but the rebuilding of the planet has been impressive. The Moon colonists have been trapped on Earth’s satellite for thirty years sending out SOS signals in morse code. The human race has developed a fear of technology and the rise of Earth United, a xenophobic watch group, has seen the young corrupted into their bigoted ideals. Under the Occupation two thirds of the Earth’s people died, technology was thrown back 200 years and since then crops have failed and civil unrest is growing. It’s been ages since anybody did the job that they wanted to do. Both the Doctor and Susan remember the Earth’s future because they visited it – a thousand world Empire of trade and exploration across space. The Galdreezi are an intriguing vampiric species that exploit the resources of invaded worlds. They offer a gift of the moon colonists to make it appear as though they are benevolent and in return they ask for token gifts, cheap labour tantamount to the slave camps the Daleks were running. Workers servicing their military machines and as sitting targets for their enemies. As they are defeated by the Doctor the out him and Susan as the other aliens in their midst which opens a whole new can of worms – especially as Alex finds out where he really comes from.

Audio Landscape: Screaming students bellowing about higher grants, polite applause for Susan’s speech, doorbell, cameras snapping away, a mobile communicator crackling, a typewriter suggested how technology has taken a step backwards, phone ringing (again quite primitive sounding), a spaceship lowering into the atmosphere, police sirens, helicopter landing and fierce blades rotating, screaming gulls, waves lapping on the shore.

Musical Cues: The use of the original theme tune is a lovely touch. I used to think the original was the slowest and least interesting of the lot when I was younger especially compared to the exciting electric guitar version from the 80s! Another reasons why I was such an idiotic, precocious youth. Tastes change as you get older and usually for the better and now it is my favourite of all the themes (perhaps tied with the Tom Baker theme). Its atmospheric, mysterious and alien and all those things they were trying to promote about the show in the sixties. I could listen to it again and again as it is one of the most organic music experiences and it plays about with my spine wonderfully.

Isn't it Odd: The Doctor should never say lines like ‘I set your parents up’ because it sounds as though he has walked from the set of Hollyoaks! It’s almost as odd as the Doctor asking Susan how she managed to produce Alex! I thought I had strayed into the Sex Education Show for a moment!

Standout Scene: The reunion scene between the Doctor and Susan is delightfully done with Paul McGann underplaying and Carole Ann Ford overplaying – he’s testing the waters and she is simply enchanted to see him! It’s the one scene that Doctor Who fans have been waiting for for such a long time and McGann and Ford share some magical chemistry that marks this a special moment. I love the way she cannot stop hugging him.

Notes: This story completely contradicts the novel Legacy of the Daleks which oddly enough also seeks to reunite the eighth Doctor with Susan in a post Dalek Invasion Earth but the novel is a steaming pile of dung so I wont shed too many tears. This is the official continuity as far as I am concerned because it stars Carole Ann Ford and Paul McGann.

Result: A paranoid, xenophobic Earth is the setting for the long overdue reunion between the Doctor and Susan and the introduction of her son. In reality this is less of a story in its own right and more a prelude to the stories Relative Dimensions and the climactic two part finale in season four of the Eighth Doctor Adventures but there is so much of interest going on here that it is a little mean spirited to dismiss this as such. Marc Platt has long been one of my favourite Big Finish writers because he has a talent for whisking up an evocative location, interesting characters and extremely quotable dialogue and all three are in action here. I found the world building to be particularly impressive with lots of imaginative and realistic detail and was pleased that somebody had finally sought to play about with the Earth left battered after the Dalek invasion. Jake McGann needs a little more practice before he gets a hang of this audio lark (he is much better in his second appearance) but Alex is still an intriguing character in the possibilities he offers (the idea of him taking up the reins from the Doctor is explored in later adventures). But the real joy to be found is the chemistry between Paul McGann and Carole Ann Ford. It’s so good you might find yourself championing a trilogy or two with the Doctor and Susan travelling together again. Big Finish never cease to amaze me with the quality of the freebies they give away, An Earthly Child is a great deal better than some of the releases that you have to pay full whack for. Very enjoyable: 8/10

Monday, 19 December 2011

Plague of the Daleks written by Mark Morris and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: Stockbridge used to be such a lovely place. The loveliest village in all England, according to the guide books. But hardly anyone visits Stockbridge now: a few tourists, a couple of Trust guides, the odd beady-eyed raven. But something is coming to Stockbridge. Something which turns village cricketers into ravening zombies – a plague such as the Earth has never seen, falling through history from a time when humanity's greatest enemy was a race known as the Daleks. The Doctor and Nyssa visit Stockbridge for the final time, to confront the terrible secret buried at its heart. The storm clouds are gathering…

An English Gentleman: He solves a few mysteries and insults a few Daleks but ultimately this proves that Davison is only ever as good as the opportunities a script gives him. And in this case it is very little.

Alien Orphan: Nyssa thought churches were supposed to be joyous places full of worship and singing but perhaps that’s just how they are on Traken. In Doctor Who they seem to breed the most terrible things. She knows how much the Doctor loves Stockbridge but after their recent perilous adventures she cannot wait to get back to the TARDIS and get out of here. Nyssa knows what it is like to have somewhere that you love destroyed and so she can sympathise with his loss of Stockbridge.

Standout Performance: Richard Cordery seems to be the only guest star that is trying to offer something a little different and his wibbly wobbly exuberance as Professor Jabbery at least makes his scenes enjoyable to listen to. Much of the rest of the cast wander the story as though they are bored by the whole thing. Astonishingly both Liza Tarbuck and Keith Baron fail to make any kind of impact. Peter Davison’s monosyllabic Dalek impression in the final episode leaves a lot to be desired.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Don’t let their lack of numbers lull you into a false sense of security.’

Great Ideas: A pub that has been mysteriously evacuated in a hurry during Christmas, the food is rotten and mouldy and the landlady doesn’t seem to recognise that anything is wrong. Crows are massing for attack and you can walk from blistering winter in one room to calming spring in another. A woman from the 1960s, weather altering technology and spaceships – is this all just random weirdness or is there a mind behind all this? The Critical Age – by the 45th century solar flare activity was so extreme that over 95% of the Earth’s surface became uninhabitable. Turns out that there is a Stockbridge experience where you can enjoy the long lost delights of a beautiful English village. Both a viable historical resource and a beautiful place to visit. The villagers are nth generation clones and most of them can barely function as human beings anymore, life spans get shorted with each generation. All the birds and animals are Artifical Lifeforms. Episode two wanders into The Walking Dead territory with the clones wandering the rain lashed streets of Stockbridge murderously and I can almost imagine that being the starting point for the writer. The CES is the Central Environment Station is in the middle of Wells Wood. The Daleks have long been considered extinct by most civilised races. They have been waiting beneath Stockbridge in a state of suspended animation waiting to be revived, knowing that the Doctor keeps returning to Stockbridge and leaving a squad behind to deal with him. They have been there for over 17 centuries and three of the Daleks have survived. One thing about the Daleks is that they do seem to create weapons of devastating simplicity.

Audio Landscape: Nyssa lands with a bump, whistling wind, crackling pub fire, walking through the crunchy snow, crows cawing, birdsong, a cricket match with the ball hitting a bat and polite cheering and clapping, a spaceship screaming into the atmosphere, rain lashing down, zombies gurgling and groaning and banging on the doors, rain hitting a roof, the Dalek heartbeat, the Cushing movie control room hum, extermination blasts, alarm, rubble falling, explosions.

Musical Cues: Whilst apparently confused whether he is writing a Christmas special full of carols and festive tunes or to remain silent as the exposition approaches like a torrent, Steve Foxon finally settles down to right and out and out zombie feature in episode two.

Isn’t it Odd: The first episode reminded me very strongly of the incoherent awkwardness of Renaissance of the Daleks blended in with a stockpile of mysteries introduced in the same manner as The Eternal Summer (but not dealt with as skilfully). There was plenty of randomness thrown in but it didn’t feel as though it was being explained adequately as we moved on to yet more puzzles and the characters all seemed to take everything in their stride. You can be a little too relaxed in your storytelling if you’re not careful, assuming that the audience understands everything that you do. Stockbridge being turned into a heritage site was a clever idea but it is dealt with in a very undramatic fashion – the characters just wander about carefree and so the episode fails to build up any momentum. The Daleks don’t even turn up before the end of the first cliffhanger which is usually a given in a story where they feature in the title. The first cliffhanger is anomalous because we have no idea why the acid rain should be in effect where no outside influences have been suggested. It just feels like a random event there to provide a cliffhanger. It also has that peculiar Death to the Daleks episode three feel (you know, the designer flooring of death) where it just abruptly stops rather than leading to a satisfactory climax – it feels like sloppy direction which is unthinkable from Barnaby Edwards who usually crafts the cliffhangers with such care. The characters have a bad habit of describing the action as though this is an audio descriptive televised story for the blind (‘Look at the way he’s moving all strange and jerky like a sort of puppet!’) – it’s a sign of a freshman writing full length audios that dissipates over time. Certainly Morris’ House of the Blue Fire was far less guilty of the crime. How strange that we intercut between the streets packed with slavering zombies to the bitching blandness between the visitors to Stockbridge in the second episode – talk about undercutting the tension! The mention of Phillip dying at seven years from The Eternal Summer feels less clever than some of the other linking moments in this trilogy because it is a remarkable co-incidence that of all the graves he could have come across it was one from a character in the previous story? Mrs Linfoot really is the most butt crack itchingly infuriating character to have stepped from a Big Finish adventure since Caitriona from The Rapture or Monica Lewis from Land of the Dead! She is there for no other purpose but to get in the way and complain (‘Get those filthy tentacles away from me you purple freak!’), and no personality or function beyond the confines of what Plague of the Daleks demands of her. Richenda Carey’s performance isn’t the most subtle or naturalistic either (‘Get away you vile little creature!’) and by the end of episode two you will be so sick of hearing about ‘her Vincent’ you might just want her torn limb from limb by dribbling zombies to remove her from the story. When the Daleks do finally turn up it feels as though the story is adding another element to complicate things – it reminded me of their inclusion in Daleks in Manhattan when there was so many other elements vying for attention. When the Daleks appear it should always be an exciting moment and this is one of the rare times I sighed, perhaps from Dalek fatigue in Big Finish stories or perhaps because it was stacking up another disjointed plot element to be dealt with when so little of the story had been explained already. This story just cannot seem to settle down and decide what its tone should be – Professor Jabbery starts ranting at a Dales, refusing to be intimidated by its threats in a baffling scene that I am not sure is supposed to be funny or frightening but doesn’t achieve either. Halfway through the third episode and you could be forgiven for giving up on this story altogether – the Daleks are back and appear to be entirely unconnected from the main story and enjoying their own little scenes screeching away at each other. The climax of episode three features a couple of over excitable Daleks jabbering on about the Doctor becoming one them and reining supreme – its almost as if they are trying to live up to their own hype because we still don’t have a Scooby Doo why they are there! They say these things because it is what the audience expect them to say rather than because it makes any kind of dramatic sense. It would appear the only reason the Doctor meets up with them is because he wanders into their little nest! This is three of the most ineffective Daleks we have ever met – everybody seems to take the piss out them and their long forgotten Empire! They fail to do anything remotely terrifying and then everybody starts doing Dalek impressions like kids in a playground! Even this isn’t original – it was explored in a much funnier and scarier way in Evil of the Daleks. Daleks usually manage to avoid the Cybermen trap of appearing just because they are a popular monster – there is usually a new twist on the Daleks or their storyline is pushed in a new direction but in Plague it feels as though they have turned up because Big Finish thought it might sell a few more copies. There is no reason why this has to be a Dalek story and when that is the case they shouldn’t be used. Lysette and Issac are Dalek agents – just like Stein in Ressurection of the Daleks! The Doctor tries to battle with Issac psychologically to drive the Daleks out of his mind – just like Stein from Ressurection of the Daleks! The plot grinds to a halt whilst Issac tells a heartrending tale of his past…get a script editor in here now! Since the Doctor turns up an awful lot in London does that mean that there are Dalek squads waiting in select locations around the capital too? ‘Using your TARDIS we will travel back to the dawn of the Dalek Empire. With your knowledge the Daleks will conquer all of time and space!’ Yaaaaawn. Is that what we have waiting four episodes to discover? The conclusion features Lysette deactivating the bubble around Stockbridge and destroying the village to bring the Daleks down – what an unsatisfying end to a great location. It feels like the writer has written himself into a corner and because there is nothing especially intelligent to conclude he just destroys the place in a great big bally explosion! Its an unsatisfactory end to both the story and the trilogy. Ultimately none of the story ties together, it literally is just a number of random elements shoved together to hope if they blend well. They don’t.

Result: The Daleks are in this story why exactly? One of the most sloppily written Big Finish stories for an age, Plague of the Daleks will strain your patience until it is worn away and you are left with angry frown lines etched into your face. Episode one is an irritating composite of unanswered questions, episode two is a zombie tale interlaced with some surreal moments of melodrama, episode three introduces the Daleks but fails to integrate them into the plot and the last episode has to catch up and try and explain everything that has been introduced in the story so far and fails spectacularly to bring the story to satisfying close. If you listen to the interviews on the disc you realise that the writer and the script editor both came to this story with different ideas (Barnes: the heritage Stockbridge and the Daleks, Morris: the zombies turned by rain) and the resulting story feels like a discordant clash of concepts that don’t belong together. What this story needs is a script editor who can tie all the disparate strands together into a satisfyingly coherent whole but what we are left with is a slapdash first draft. Proof that even the best of directors can have their off days because Plague of the Daleks feels as though it has been assembled without much care almost as if Edwards knows he is onto a stinker. Even the performances lack the usual conviction of a solid Big Finish cast with Liza Tarbuck and Keith Baron failing to make any impression at all. Forgettable roles for both the Doctor and Nyssa means Davison and Sutton’s contributions are pretty workmanlike too which is unthinkable after the last two scripts afforded them such luxurious opportunities. I considered turning this story off at the end of episode three and coming back to it later but I knew that if I did that I would never listen to the end so I forced myself to endure the conclusion. That is never a good a sign: 2/10

Friday, 16 December 2011

The Eternal Summer written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: It's been a long, hot summer in Stockbridge. Longer than the villagers can remember. Summer's lease is never-ending – and all thanks to the Lord and Lady of the Manor! One man alone knows that something's wrong: Maxwell Edison, Stockbridge's unofficial ambassador to the Universe. Or 'flying saucer nut', as the locals have it. He'll need help proving it: from the local postmistress Miss Nyssa, perhaps; or the village Doctor, the fellow that's been living at the Green Dragon Inn these last 30 years. They'd better hope that autumn never comes to Stockbridge. When autumn comes, the world is doomed…

An English Gentleman: Like Black Orchid and The Awakening there is something very right about the fifth Doctor visiting a quaint picturesque old English village – he’s so quintessentially English himself he seems to fit Stockbridge like a glove. Whilst some might think of living the highlights of your life a joy the Doctor considers it an abomination. Wonderfully he describes the collective hypnotised villagers ‘stark raving bonkers’ which is a very funny description whoever it is being pointed at. The Doctor comes face to face with himself from the future scarred by the infinite ravages of time, decomposing and rotten, over a million years hence. The decrepit Doctor remembers that his real name wasn’t Doctor but cannot remember what it actually was. Deferring explanations is a habit he really must learn to stop. The Doctor calls the Lord and Lady a remote possibility of a future, a shadow place maintained by the nightmare of what is happening in Stockbridge. The Hyperspatial warp must have splintered off alternative selves and as they were sent into the future another Doctor and Nyssa were summoned into being in the past – that’s the technobabble explanation but there are still a possibility and that’s pretty chilling.

Alien Orphan: Nyssa takes on the surname of Jones which added to the Doctor’s alias makes them Smith and Jones! It has been so long for the older Nyssa that she doesn’t remember Tegan, Adric, the Master of the Cybermen. The time before the village is too distant now. Nyssa is frustrated at being treated like a simpleton and comments that she is more than capable of understanding anything that Lizzie might consider complicated! There is an astonishing sequence as we slip back through Nyssa’s memories of her entire Big Finish run and we realise just how far she has come in the audio adventures.

Village Geek: An expert in all thing abnormal, supernatural and extra terrestrial, basically if it is anything to do with the unknown he thinks he knows everything about it. He’s such a lovable character because everybody else in the village thinks he is a still a crackpot child looking for space monsters. He’s a bit shy and useless around girls and talks too much when it comes to thinking through problems because he is so excited to have the Doctor back in his life. Max is a helpful reminder that it is not just the bad stuff, they get to relive the good moments in their lives too. ‘Who would want to spend their life with an obese, ugly failiure like you?’ – how could you not love a man who is battered down with insults like that by the people who are supposed to love him. Max tries to do the thing where suggests something stupid which enables the clever guy to think up the solution – he’s such a sweetie. Its rather lovely that Lizzie and Max get along so well after everybody else is so mean to him and the offer to join the PIG is clearly the highlight of his life. The way she asks in him (in such a gloriously upper class way) if he wants to go for coffee and a bun together made my heart melt. Coffee and a bun sounds fantastic, indeed. He’s sick of working on the sidelines and leaps back into the danger that waits in Stockbridge to help his friends but gives Lizzie a snog before he goes. The force inside tries to assault him with all the insults and jeers he has had but he knows what happened the night that stars fell on Stockbridge and he refuses to give in to his own insecurities. He’s the one person who was never part of the village, the one person with a mind of his own and the only person who can fight against the power of Veridios. The real hero of the piece. Max died in a bike accident in the real time but pleasingly those events have been wiped out once he saves the day.

Standout Performance: Its not easy to suggest age through your voice alone without the back up of make up to pull the effect off but Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton do an outstanding job as the ravaged versions of the Doctor and Nyssa. With faltering croaky voices and an air of slowness about them they genuinely convince that they have aged 10,000 centuries. The scene where Sutton and Davison cackle orgasmically as feeding from the villagers memories is hauntingly done, they really are nothing like the originals.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘It reminds me of a town I once visited but that was entirely artificial, a space time trap brought into existence by a madman’ ‘What Milton Keynes?’
‘Its like that film Groundhog Day! I loved that film. I must have seen it a hundred times. Which is a bit ironic come to think about it.’
‘We have our whole lives over again every time that sun comes up. Every joy, every heartbreak, every love, every loss.’
‘What happens to all bubbles in the end? Pop!’
‘The Eternal Summer is ending. Autumn is approaching.’
‘Without the girl Nyssa my existence is founded upon a paradox! I am an edifice built upon shifting sands!’

Great Ideas: I love the way the story opens with the Doctor waking up at a Bed and Breakfast in Stockbridge and being told that he has been staying there for as long as the owners can remember, living under the alias of Dr Smith. What on Earth has happened? He tries to piece together the mystery of his situation – Harold and Alice remember the Doctor being there at their wedding anniversary 30 years ago which would make him 50 but nobody questions that he looks about two decades younger than that. Nyssa woke up in the same way with everybody in Stockbridge thinking she was the post mistress, as though someone has found roles for them and is trying to make them fit into the village. There’s a wonderful observation that this isn’t the 2000s but the 50s or 60s, the gag being that a country village is set in time whilst the rest of the world changes around it. The Doctor and Nyssa seem to be bleeding through time to various events in the past 60 years and the Doctor picks up the phone in a police telephone box and hears himself at the other end of the line. He then picks it up again and has the same conversation from the other side – immediately after! Harold and Alice get married and are buried on the same day. Something has happened in Stockbridge to link all these wibbly wobbly fabulously Morrisesque events! Max explains that the same day keeps occurring but with all the things that have happened in the last 60 years, all the births and deaths jumbled up. Always the same day of later summer, over and over. You can’t leave Stockbridge, every time you try you find yourself back by the village green and duck pond. It’s a very clever way of giving characters a life beyond the confines of this story by revealing all the most important events in their lives and by experiencing the moment Dudley proposed to Jane and she refused, falling to her death, Harold and Alice’s wedding, the death of their son and their gravestones we get a broad strokes painting of their whole lives. Brilliantly as we get used to how the story starts jumping about the characters start to acknowledge the scattered approached to the storytelling – Dudley stating as he pulls the Doctor a pint of ginger beer that losing Jane was the saddest day of his life, experienced just seconds before. Jane then reappears as we head into the past with the glorious line ‘I know, I know, I fell of the old bridge to my death but I’m alive again now.’ The Doctor starts to notice inconsistencies in the history of Stockbridge being relived, first Alice was at Harold’s funeral and then Harold is at Alice’s bedside as she slips away. It transpires that they like to take turns, him there at her death and then her there at his. He doesn’t understand if they have been living the same day over and over why they haven’t gotten used to it but he is reminded that these people are their family and friends – no matter how many times they die it will always affect them. The torture of losing their son so young over and over makes this one of the cruellest Doctor Who stories, fancy having to relive that moment every single day. Whenever the pain of remembering the past becomes too much the Lord and Lady of the manner help the village folk to take it away (although the Doctor wonders if that is just so they can experience it again afresh). The older Doctor and Nyssa are scared that their younger versions might leave and his future self might never have existed – that is why they wont let him leave Stockbridge. They have ruled of Stockbridge for so long but they stopped counting after the first 10,000 centuries. PIG – The Psychic Investigation Group are investigating the lost village of Stockbridge. Max never knew that they existed because they are top secret organisation (did I detect a little dig at UNIT there? And with so many paranormal organisations around during the 20th Century I’m surprised they didn’t trip on each others toes at every supernatural occurrence the Doctor was involved in!). They said that the village was destroyed by a V1 at the end of World War II but there is no evidence of that. People kept claiming they could see a village shrouded in mist, a ghost village. I really like how we get to see this phenomenon from both sides, initially Edison claiming that those on the outside are ghosts. The reason why the two sides can now see each other is because the time bubble is collapsing allowing both a glimpse and then to be able to pass from one side to the other. Tying into Castle of Fear, the older versions of the Doctor and Nyssa have built the manor house out of the ruins of the Rutan spaceship. The warp core didn’t ignite because the Doctor activated the failsafe, the engines were caught in a stasis field and the bubble engulfed the village and the past 60 years. If it explodes those 60 years of temporal energy will be released. The people of Stockbridge are held in the moment of their death, suspended in the moment. The older Doctor and Nyssa have been savouring the emotions and memories of the villagers like a fine wine. When the Doctor leaves the village for a few minutes to them he has been away for a hundred years. The villagers want their purgatory of immortality to be other because they have lived their lives a millions time over – death would be a welcome release. In a top grisly moment His Lordship eats the Lady Nyssa after she extracted our Nyssa’s memories. Veridios is a figure from human folklore suggesting rebirth – Wells Wood woke to an eternal summer and has taken control.

Audio Landscape: Morris is such a confident writer and Edwards a certain director that the opening episode is a brilliant scene setter pulling off the quaint English village better than any other story I can remember. I love the way that as the characters are introduced we quickly cut to a sudden moment of tension that would occur later in the tale to prove that things aren’t quite as picturesque as they might appear on the surface. There was a moment that really made me jump – the cut from the Doctor pronouncing Phillip dead to Harold’s funeral. Birdsong, ducks quacking, church singers, a bicycle bell, the Doctor falling into the duck pond much to the birds’ consternation, post office bell, wedding bells, the village school of fire, the fire alarm, crows in the sky, trampling through the woods, the river bubbling and flowing, pouring a nice frothy pint of ginger beer, smashing a window, the roof breaking and caving in, Alice’s last breath, a fountain, crackling fire, mobile ring tone, storm clouds breaking with thunder, the aperture tearing open, window smashing, rain lashing, the awful sucking noises as the rotten Nyssa extracts the life out of the villagers.

Musical Cues: Smooth tinklings on the piano in the early scenes introduce the story; it gives the tale a lightness of touch which is practically effervescent. Listen to the confident playing as Nyssa discovers the graves of everybody in the village.

Isn’t it Odd: Its heartbreaking that Max and Lizzie never got to share a coffee and a bun together, the only unhappy part of the conclusion.

Standout Scene: Just as I was starting to tire of Nyssa’s continued absence from the story along comes the end of episode two which somehow after two episodes of temporal high jinks pulling the rug from under me managed to completely floor me. The Doctor and Nyssa are revealed as the Lord and Lady of the Manor, thousands of years old and faces as grey as dust. The Doctor is horrified to take a glance into his own future… Morris is so good at using the concept of time to shock and this cliffhanger is exquisitely timed to give the second half of the story a brand new direction.

Notes: ‘He stumbled into the TARDIS once the night that stars fell on Stockbridge’ You couldn’t possibly have a Stockbridge trilogy of adventures without featuring Maxwell Edison, the lovable UFO spotter that helped the Doctor during his comic strip adventures and here he is right in the heart of the stories. Rather wonderfully the stories brings to life several moments from the comic strips that will no doubt have the fans frothing at the mouth! Its lovely to see the strips being acknowledged and realised in such a generous way and Mark Williams plays an adorable Max Edison (‘I thought it looked a bit Venusian’).

Result: Spellbinding, a story that continually evolves as it continues but feels skilfully structured throughout, juggles all manner of clever plot devices but ties everything together satisfactorily at the end. Scripts of this quality don’t come along every day and we’re fortunate that Barnaby Edwards was the director chosen to bring it to life because it has the same glorious mixture of genuine sentiment and splintered plot games that made his earlier masterpiece, The Chimes of Midnight, such a success. Edwards puts the puzzle together with real dexterity, capitalising on the choking moments of emotion whilst ensuring the mystery keeps you guessing and excited. There is an energy to the piece that is easy to be swept up in and the atmospherics of an English village make this adventure easy to conjure before your eyes. My favourite scenes where with the rancid old Doctor and Nyssa as they greedily fed on the villagers pain and love – it was such a gloriously macabre spin on the characters we know I was lapping it up. Jonathan Morris deserves a huge round of applause for continually coming up with the goods for Big Finish – his work has been of such a consistent high standard I fail to understand why the new series hasn’t snapped him up. I’ve always been fond of conundrum tales like this and enjoy working at solving a complicated plot and when it reaps rewards as much as The Eternal Summer I couldn’t be happier. A top notch fifth Doctor release of the type that is quite a rarity these days – this really was a phenomenal year of Big Finish adventures: 9/10

Monday, 12 December 2011

Castle of Fear written by Alan Barnes and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: 1199: Returning from the Crusade, Hubert, the new Earl of Mummerset, comes to take possession of Stockbridge Castle, his ancestral home. The only trouble is, in his absence, demons took possession of his Castle... 1899: The Stockbridge mummers’ play takes a wholly unexpected turn, when the Dragon slays St George. These events are not unconnected, the Doctor and Nyssa discover. There's an alien presence squatting in Stockbridge Castle, and it's their job to expose it. If Turkish knights, killer boars and a gang of rogue paladins don't stop them first…

An English Gentleman:There is a Doctor near at hand, ready to make the champion stand. Not another poultry mime but an Earl of Space and a Lord of Time!’ ‘What if I promise to doom myself just as soon as I’m out of the pit?’ the Doctor says, getting into the Monty Python spirit of the story. He wants to be saved from certain death so he can go and save certain death, naturally! I love the way Maud digs at the Doctor’s feeble strength by calling him Sir Runt! The Doctor has puns coming out of his backside as he faces up to the Rutan on the rack and when he meets up with Nyssa again he compliments her on her resourcefulness. What sort of knight wears a wegetable upon his breast? One inspired by JNT of course. I was astonished listening to the Doctor and Nyssa pooling their information when they meet up, finishing each other’s sentences so smoothly in an extremely fluidic exchange. They compliment each other beautifully and later when the Doctor believes Nyssa to be dead he drops his guard for a moment and says that he was fond of her – very fond in fact. If there was ever a moment where the Doctor had come close to admitting romantic feelings for one of his companions this must surely qualify.

Alien Orphan: I love Nyssa being able to travel alone with the Doctor and completely agree with Peter Davison that she compliments his Doctor better than his other companions. When written well Nyssa can be very surprising character and Sarah Sutton a surprising actress and plonking somebody as regal as Nyssa in the middle of a Pythonesque farce might seem like a contradiction in itself. However it works a treat because Nyssa gets to be a fabulous bossy boots when it comes to dealing with the inept Hubert, Earl of Dorkdom and unexpectedly she really gets into the spirit of the adventure and proves a warm presence. By the end of this story it has surely been the kindest adventure yet to her character as she has a hand in all the best moments.

When the Doctor suggested spending Christmas in Stockbridge, Nyssa was desperate to escape the confines of the 20th Century that they always seem to find themselves in. However 1899 proves too primitive for her with all its debauchery and jeering but even she can’t resist pointing out her Doctor when they call out for a medical man to join in the theatrical madness. In fact once they start participating she rather gets into it, pointing the Doctor towards his lines and improvising some herself! I love the way she calls herself the Lady Nyssa of Traken and she is smart enough to take her shoes off when she realises that is why the boar are pursuing them. A quick thinker, she can immediately see that the enemy are using electricity to bring down the knights in their suits of armour and orders their retreat. Then she marches into action with a plan to short-circuit the drone army! No wonder she was so trigger happy in Arc of Infinity, she’s had plenty of practice developing a fighting spirit with Big Finish. Come episode three she is ordering Roland to strip before her, the dirty mare! She laughs when he attempts to frighten her by waving his sword around and all he is wearing is long johns! She’s such a clever one that she double crosses the Rutans by tricking the Doctor into thinking she has given them everything they wanted…and then reveals that she did give them everything they wanted – unlimited power! Power without limit. How destructive does that sound?

Standout Performance: You know you are going to be in for a good time when Joe Thomas turns up on the cast list and his turn as Hubert, Earl of Mummerset is a delight to listen to for exactly the same reason Simon is such a treat in The Inbetweeners – he’s not afraid to throw away any sense of image and play an absolute prat! ‘Oh you fibber!’ He turns out to be a right big girls blouse and reminds me an awful lot of Captain Emanuel Swan from Dr Who and the Pirates thanks to his upper class twittitude and he is just as fun to listen to (also the director Barnaby Edwards played swan which creates a nice symmetry). Susan Brown also deserves kudos for really throwing herself into Maud the Withered (not the strumpet!) and having great fun with her horrifically over the top accent. John Sessions gets his tongue around a particularly quotable cod French twang as Roland of Berkhampsire! I really don’t have anything bad to say about any of the performances though, as usual Big Finish has assembled a top-drawer cast.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘This is stretching the point too far, don’t you think?’ – the Doctor on the rack!
‘I suppose middle age counts as a good innings in the Middle Ages’ – I love a bad pun, me and it reminds me of The Time Warrior which this story alludes to.
‘Its not too late to consider a collectivist alternative!’ – all the confab about serfs only being serfs when they have someone to serve is very funny! ‘We aint peasants! We’re serfs!’
‘Nyssa don’t patronise them’ says the Doctor as she gives them some peasantry explanation as to why the demons are leaving. He then continues with a full on Star Trek Voyager technobabble description of his own and naturally they comprehend the former.
‘And what if we aren’t lucky?’ ‘I recommend you don’t start any long sentences!’

Great Ideas: Somewhere along the line a ‘Doctor’ has visited Stockbridge with the ability to bring the dead back to life and his skills have passed into folklore and are being worked into the local mummery. An event involving the Doctor, a green dragon and a Turkish knight! The plot hiccups back 500 odd years to the 12th Century to explain how this peculiar myth began. Nyssa steps in shite and the Doctor in a boar trap – I didn’t think this was particularly sophisticated comedy until Barnes dovetailed the two to make a great boar hunting action sequence. The tone of the piece is distinctly Pythonesque and the Doctor confirms its influences when he runs away from a fight suggesting he is ‘off to find the Holy Grail!’ A great hellish fireball came shooting over the battlements and that night the old Earl was found dead in his bathtub. There was the sound of lightning and demons about their terrible, infernal business. It’s only in hindsight that the appearance of the Rutan is well sign posted with the Earl mentioning a mist thickening and the mention of the fish stock dying the night it landed – both elements used to great effect in Horror of Fang Rock. The mist has been concocted to lower the local temperature. The Doctor guesses incorrectly that the Rutans are here on the trail of a Sontaran that has landed in the 12th century – Linx from The Time Warrior when it was the other way around. Linx was following the Rutans that were plotting here, looking to find a way to clone themselves the way their enemies do. The process has eluded them in the past but if they clone themselves whilst in human form they will end up with armies of obedient canon fodder ideally suited to hand to hand combat to throw at the enemy. The reveal that Roland of Brittany is in fact a mercenary with a bad accent is beautifully done and I was cracking up as the Earl’s scoffing retorts. The Earl returned home to claim his Kingdom in the first episode and had to suffer the indignity of proving who he says he is to a rowdy rabble in the first episode and its that Barnes being a clever sod again, setting us up for a twist in the third episode where he reveals that he isn’t who he claims to be. He’s little more than an Apprentices apothecary caught up in a messy tale of death, imprisonment and making the best of a bad situation. Is anybody who they seem to be? After illusions to The Time Warrior and Horror of Fang Rock it is natural to automatically assume this is another lone scout and the reveal of a second Rutan is another clever twist. Barnes seems to be really getting off on subverting Who clichés – the two Rutans seem absolutely delighted that their plan seems to be working at the climax almost as though they expected to be foiled. The dragon turns out to be the Rutan spacecraft aflame as it leaves the area and Nyssa quotes the play as the ‘demon’ is vanquished to ensure that the tradition is in place for when they hear it in 600 years time. George becomes St George who slayed the dragon and the rest you know as mythology.

Audio Landscape: I have heard complaints that the electronic monotone of the Rutan sounds an awful lot like the Daleks from the Hartnell era and there is some truth in that statement – only so much as the Rutan from Horror of Fang Rock also sounded and awful lot like the Daleks from the Hartnell era. It’s a harsh, memorable shriek and I rather enjoyed it for all its lack of subtlety. Rowdy theatrical crowd, birdsong, a horse whinnying, a cock crowing, Nyssa steps in horse muck, wild boar on a hunt, trees swaying, knights stomping along on horseback, the Doctor falling down the steps in true comedy fashion, a crackling torch, bubbling wine, Maud electrocuted, the fabulous Rutan transformation noise, sparking (the equivalent of foaming at the mouth!), ashes inside armour, Roland kicking in the water and drowning, the Rutan ship ascending.

Musical Cues: If I weren’t in a good enough Christmas cheer already the opening theme of Castle of Fear made me jollier than Santa Claus noshing on a mice pie in the warm glow of a Christmas tree. Fox and Yason are some of my favourite Big Finish composers (along with Jamie Robertson, Alistair Lock & Russell Stone) and they understand the tone that Barnes’ insane script is aiming for and play plenty of heroic, jolly music to give the tale a shot of magic. Listen to the superb music as Nyssa tries to figure out how events will unfold using the plot of the play in episode three, it really is fantastic.

Isn’t it Odd: For all the uproarious performances and solid production the first episode is an absolute mess being far too confined, failing to move the plot on in any great hurry and lacking any tension whatsoever. Bawdiness is fun but it need to be attached to a dramatic story in order to work, the first episode of Castle of Fear feels like a Saturday night down the local after a few too many drinks and makes about as much sense. It strays quite close to Unbound: Exile for me tastes and that is an experiment that should never be repeated. Nyssa tries to inject a little drama into the situation by reacting in horror to Osbert jumping off the battlements but the comedy music robs it of any drama. It didn’t help that the script seemed to repeating the same information again and again without telling us why it is relevant or come to think of it explaining what is actually going on. The answers come and the repeated information is of course vital to the story but for that initial thirty minutes you could be forgiven for thinking you were in for a long ride. Alan Barnes has a bit of problem with his opening instalments when he is writing comedy episodes. Heroes of Sontar suffered the same fate. Androidisation? Even by my standards (it has been noted that I make up my own words whilst writing these reviews) that is a duff science fiction term! Nyssa loses her wits for a moment and fails to spot that Osbert is clearly a Rutan in disguise.

Standout Scene: I really enjoyed how Barnes tried to convince the audience that the demon of Stockbridge was a Sontaran by mimicking dialogue from the Sontaran experiment before turning 180 degrees and revealing that it is a Rutan. Mind you a clever Doctor Who fan would have guessed by all the clues littered about in the first two episodes. It’s still a great cliffhanger though, given some climactic pizzazz by the director. The last episode is one of those rare Doctor Who stories where everything slides into place satisfactorily and watching this jigsaw be completed is a joy.

Notes: Having a trilogy set around the village of Stockbridge is a novel idea and a wonderful gift for the fans of the comic strips. It took me a long time to be convinced to give the comic strip a try in Doctor Who magazine because that medium has never appealed to me before and I have to admit I greedily gobbled up 12 or so graphic novels full of new stories. There was a whole new era for the sixth Doctor, a great new companion for the tenth and the eighth Doctor had a massive lease of life in the comics that was denied to him on screen it was a delight to be able to see visuals of him in action. The fifth Doctor Stockbridge adventures were exquisite to read and the return to the village every couple of regenerations is a lovely touch of linking continuity – it’s a bit like UNIT turning up in the TV series, you know it wont be too long before we end up in Stockbridge again. Its an intriguing approach to a trilogy to have it based around a location because one of the joys of this format is in linking adventures but showing how diverse Doctor Who can be. Can they tell three stories of varying tones all set in one village? Only time will tell…

Result: Castle of Fear is massively enjoyable but I beg of you not to give up on this story on the evidence of the first episode because it is a plotless half an hour of inexplicable mummery and setting up clues and the plot doesn't kick in until the second episode has begun and then story gets better and better and better. Big Finish have this uncanny ability of adding detail to televised stories without touching the continuity established on screen and this 12th century escapade offers a great explanation for why Linx was trapped on medieval Britain in The Time Warrior. I really appreciate the continuing use of Nyssa in the audios because they are giving more weight to Peter Davison’s assertion that she would have been an ideal solo companion for his Doctor and Sarah Sutton is blazes with vim and vigour throughout. Davison is no slouch either, clearly delighted to be back in cahoots with his favourite. I love the idea of a Rutan story where all of the characters aren’t who they claim to be but aren’t the Rutan either, it’s a deceptive concept that gives the third episode a real boost (everybody is putting on a duff accents because the characters are putting on a duff accents!). The comic tone of the piece is so unlike anything we have had from the main range for a while it has to be commended and once I had cleared the hurdle of the introductory episode I had a oodles of fun as the story uncoiled and all the characters dropped their masks. There are some great gags in there and the performances are all sublime and I desperately want to mark this story higher. A terrifically energetic start to the Stockbridge trilogy and like authentic mid eighties Who ends on an explosive cliffhanger: 8/10

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Hexagora written by Paul Finch (from a story by Peter Ling & Hazel Adair) and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: When a newspaper reporter goes missing, the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa uncover a case of alien abduction. The trail leads them to the planet Luparis, and a city that appears to be a replica of Tudor London. What are the monsters that lurk in the shadows? And what is the terrible secret at the heart of Luparis? To save a world, the Doctor must try to defeat the evil plans of Queen Zafira. And one of her plans is to marry him…

An English Gentleman: The Empress suggests that the Doctor has the bearing of a warrior and he is certainly chivalrous enough to step and prevent Tegan from being accosted by horny peasants! There is a slight but mildly amusing subplot where the Doctor inadvertently gets engaged to the Queen at her bidding but its all a bit reminiscent of The Aztecs and Davison’s mild mannered reaction is nowhere near as funny as Hartnell’s spluttering. He seems unusually naïve too, being led into a trap like a mouse sniffing cheese on a trap. The marriage between the first Doctor and Cameca was an accident and he grew to have a deep affection for her so it was an easy relationship to invest in. The marriage between the fifth Doctor and Zathira is one of scientific necessity where neither party particularly wants to go through with the act and there is little chemistry between the characters. It doesn’t quite have the same ring to unfortunately so the climactic wedding feels like just another plot point rather than the dramatic highlight it should have been. And boy doesn’t Peter Davison sound embarrassed during the sequence where he objects to the wedding?

Alien Orphan: Nyssa is still dreaming about the Elite and while the Doctor wishes he could help her more she understands that they all have to find a way to deal with bad experiences and she has to handle it on her own. That’s one of the reasons I love Nyssa so much, she’s just so damn practical and refuses to assign blame. Traken is said to have been destroyed in a cosmic disaster. The gag about Tegan being deliberately ignored in favour of Nyssa is even funnier because it is usually the reverse – it is nice to see somebody with Nyssa’s noble bearing being given some attention. She fights for herself and her friends but Jezevar sees much more than a homeless traveller in her, someone who should be the ruler of a mighty monarchy. She doesn’t believe that any monarch should rule in complete isolation and one should always be open to advice. Oddly this subplot about Nyssa taking the throne completely disappears by the end of episode two and she’s…you’ve guessed it…a bloody bystander again! This time to make way for Tegan flirting with a bloody bug!

Mouth of Legs: There is a vein of good humour with regards to mocking Tegan in this story that I heartily approve of but what I don’t like is the sense of Janet Fielding phoning in her performance and reacting to everything with a shrill tone. After the business on Florana (are we ever going to get to visit that most elusive of planets?) the Doctor decided they all needed a rest and has brought Tegan back to her hometown of Brisbane to visit her family. Just when they all thought they were going to get a nice relaxing holiday Tegan comes panicking back to the villa afraid for her friend Mike who has gone missing. What with her aunt, cousin and grandfather making an appearance on screen and now her hometown and friends visited does this mean Tegan is the most fleshed out companion of the classic series? I love her assertion that she knew Mike must have been abducted by aliens! Just a year or so back the very idea would have made her boggle! ‘That’s all I get?’ Tegan cries when the Empress pays compliments to the Doctor and Nyssa and looks at her and says ‘no doubt you are hungry.’ Tegan asks why she is always wearing heels at the most inappropriate of times and you have to wonder if this was inserted at Janet Fielding’s request. Mike and Tegan were taught physics and chemistry by Miss Anderson and they both her inspirational. At fifteen she broke her toe during track and field and he carried her school bags home for her. Nyssa understands that Tegan often lets her emotions get the better of her and apologises for her when she is resting – I wonder if she does that wherever they visit? Can you honestly imagine Tegan saying the line ‘If you wont help me then just don’t hinder me!’ Turns out Mike was always in love with Tegan and he knows she always felt the same but it’s a shame they had to wait until he was a chittering insect to reveal these feelings! Their parting doesn’t have the ring of empathy it is hoping for because the two actors have no chemistry – in fact they sound a little bored at this point.

Standout Performance: Being a massive fan of The Two Doctors, of Servelan and of Jackie Pearce in general (‘daaaaah-ling!’) I was delighted to see she would be taking part in this story – rather wonderfully this would have been about the right time she would have taken part in a Davison story too with Blakes’ 7 just coming to an end a year or so earlier. Even her role isn’t particularly well written but she is pretty much acting royalty and can rise beyond a duff script to bring something to the story. She was given a much better role to play in The Fearmonger.

Great Ideas: Why does the planet Luparis resemble Tudor London complete with an iced over river Thames with people skating on it? And why does Tegan’s friend Mike think he is a member of the City Watch? Segara Nine was a Paradise, uninhabited and fruitful with warm winds rippling across endless fertile meadows. It flourished as an ideal environment for their next generation. There was an insectoid race, the Hexagora from the mountain ranges, that they had to conquer in order to colonise. Only fragments of their original technology remains. The Hexagora are itinerant, travelling the cosmos under the power of the Queen. When they visit other planets they have the power to move amongst the natives unnoticed and it was during the 16th Century when they moved amongst the human race on Earth. They had only been on Luparis a short time when the climate began to change and their natural instinct was to move on but it takes time for Hexagoran young to reach full maturity and they had several generations that could never survive another migration through space. Hexion is the raw stuff of their original world, it usually provides sustenance but in times of war, famine and plague they use it to drain the mind essences of Hexagoran husks into their genetic pool. The Hexagorans then kidnapped people from Earth and brought them to Luparis and siphoned off their memories into their genetic pool. Hybrids make better hosts for the Hexagora than humans and could stave of the cold of the coming Ice Age on Luparis.

Audio Landscape: Something tearing through the atmosphere, insectoid mandibles, horse clip clopping on the cobbles, a punch up, birdsong, bubbling vats, crackling fire, swords clashing.

Musical Cues: I’m not sure if I could call it stylish by any means but the electronic period music for the initial Luparis scenes is gloriously reminiscent of music during the Davison era, in particular the cod medieval score in The Kings’ Demons. It begs the question of how far you should go in order to make these Lost Stories authentic – do you deliberately write duff music because it fits in with the era? There’s an odd sting that sounds eerily like the opening bars to the Emmerdale theme tune.

Isn’t it Odd: You know when you try and convince people that televised Doctor Who is the most wonderful thing ever and they dismiss it as being an alien invasion every week and then when they get around to watching an episode it seems to confirmed their fears? Well this story opens in a fashion that I imagine people would groan when I tell them that audio Doctor Who is the best thing – I could imagine them thinking it would be people talking to themselves, not bothering to describe what is going on and a load of inexplicable sound effects. A lot like the first scene of this story, in fact. It was a space eddy, a diminishing ion stream like a vapour trail from a space craft is what the Doctor follows to try and find Tegan’s friend Mike – not the most interesting of storytelling devices to move the plot on I have to say. It does worry me that in the first episode there is nothing that feels particularly fresh or original (beyond the concept of a period atmosphere on an alien planet) – in particular the characterisation and the dialogue feel very passé and ‘that’ll do.’ Coming after The Elite with its razor sharp script and production this was always going to be a problem. I’m not sure why transferring this tale of courtly romances and overthrowing the monarchy was brought to an alien planet because it could happily have played out on Earth. It all gets a bit embarrassing when the Doctor has to cross swords over a woman he doesn’t even want to marry and fight Zellenger, a man of the most melodramatic declarations in Doctor Who history. ‘Tegan do you know this insect?’ might be a strong contender for the most unintentionally funny line ever. Info dumps are the worst kind of writing and there is a great splurge of exposition in episode three that feels like it is trying to explain everything without the audience having to work any of it out for themselves. Go and read the Great Ideas section of this review and see if you agree with me that the explanations offered justify the idea of Tudor England on an alien world and Tegan’s friend randomly turning up as an insect. I really don’t think it does, it’s a tale of hackneyed ideas and lame co-incidences and the ailing explanations only really serve to reveal that the writers thought it would be a neat idea and then had to try and work some reasoning around it. There’s nothing especially surprising going on – the Queen is a ruthless leader, one of her subjects is unsure of her plan and reveals all to the Doctor, he acts as though it is the most monstrous thing he has ever heard, Tegan gets in a tizzy and Nyssa tries to calm everyone down. I could write this story in my sleep. Say what you will about season 20 (and I have said much over the years) there was nothing this predictable about it. Only Doctor Who could try and get away with a buzzing with a cod Australian accent is in love with the companion – it’s so awkward to listen to I think I actually winced. The climax is oddly placed because the Doctor could have made his suggestion that the Hexagora stop breeding with humans at some point during episode three – it appears that he waited for the moment of the wedding just for dramatic effect and because the story length demanded it.

Result: A weak story with little to recommend it beyond the glorious Jacqueline Pearce returning for another appearance in Doctor Who. Beyond that Hexagora is dreadfully dull and fighting against the unconventional storytelling of season 20 manages to be one of the most predictable, archetypal Doctor Who audios complete with a colonised race under threat, human being kidnapped by aliens and Tegan’s personal life suffering another blow. Beyond the conventional storytelling and unconvincing dialogue there is a real issue with pacing too with the music trying to suggest (in a very cod synthesised way) moments of tranquillity with the odd meaningless flash of jeopardy thrown in to try and keep things interesting. The characters fail to come to life and speak the most godawful melodrama and the regulars fulfil their functions but never stretch beyond them (the Doctor is passive, Tegan gets grumpy and Nyssa is trying to keep the peace). Its not the worst Lost Story that has been released (nothing could quite sink lower than the McCoy tetrology) and there is a basic competence to everything that unfolds in this story but it never rises to a level that I would even call average. Its one of those Doctor Who stories that is just sort of there, doing what’s been done before but not as well and we should be thankful that the TV series dodged the bullet with this one: 4/10

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Architects of History written by Steve Lyons and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: The year is 2044. Earth is enjoying a Golden Age of peace, prosperity and technological advancement… but somebody is plotting to destroy all that. The Selachians, shark-like alien monsters, launch a crippling attack on Earth’s Moonbase, using deadly weapons from the future. Help is at hand. A police telephone box appears in a Moonbase hangar. A time-travelling hero has returned in the hour of Earth’s greatest need. Now, Elizabeth Klein must fight to save not only the Galactic Reich but Time itself from the mysterious prisoner who has orchestrated these fateful events... the Doctor.

The Real McCoy: This trilogy has enjoyed revealing the potential of the seventh Doctor in different shades and The Architects of History is no different. A Thousand Tiny Wings saw him at his improvisational and sparring best, Survival of the Fittest focussed on a more cuddly, charming Time Lord that was trying his best for a dying alien civilisation and now in History he is back to being the master manipulator again, sitting in a dark cell pulling strings and bringing down a perverted timeline. After the Mousetrap/Daleks/Scutari trilogy and now the Klein trilogy Big Finish have revolutionised McCoy’s Doctor on audio to the point where he is potentially the most exciting incarnation to listen to because of the possibilities. Even better this prominent material has enticed some of the best ever performances out of Sylvester McCoy and I am including his television performances in that. There has been a consistency and dramatic strength to his performances in his last two trilogies that has put a lot of his earlier Big Finish performances to shame. Just listen to how commanding he is when he drops his bombshell at the end of episode two. There is none of that angst and melodrama that sunk stories like The Rapture – McCoy is completely focussed, word perfect and powerful. Exciting times for fans of the seventh Doctor.

As far as the Doctor is concerned he and Klein only met in this timeline a while back whilst he was held prisoner in this cell, he doesn’t remember travelling with her in the TARDIS because that timeline no longer exists. Its odd but I find that a more frightening prospect than many others – the Doctor has always been in control of the TARDIS and responsible for any shifts in the timeline and for somebody to alter his timeline against his will feels…wrong. The Doctor sees the Selachians as a disagreeable race but also as a product of an abused history. He doesn’t see a great deal of difference in them and the Nazi’s and ponders whether he should bother interfering because one race of ruffians will just take over from another. He’s a Time Lord with seven lifetimes worth of exposure to the vortex, she might have rewritten those timelines and placed him in a universe he doesn’t recognise but she cannot take his mind. The Doctor remembers his own past and then history reshaping over and over again. This is one time that the Doctor has to face up to a manipulating presence that even he would have trouble facing…himself! He has no idea what his own consciousness might have been about before he arrived and replaced his but it looks like he has had a hand in Selachian development. I cannot believe how frightening the Doctor is when he takes control of the situation, he really seems to fit into the role of a aggressive, snarling dictator. He visits Klein in what used to be his cell to remind her of the water dripping torture she tried to put him through, that every drop was a second ticking away imprisoned. The Doctor knew all along that no matter how many trips in the TARDIS she took, how many changes she made, she would never get back the timeline she lost. There are simply too many variables when it comes to changing time. You can take away his past but you can never changer who he is and I don’t think we have ever seen a greater affirmation of what the Doctor is all about when he tells Klein despite the odds, despite the role this timeline wants him to take he will still save as many lives as he can on both sides of this conflict. Very often when they have clashed he hasn’t been able to argue with Klein’s logic but that doesn’t mean that he has to like it.

It turns out that Rachel is an old companion of the Doctor that should exist in this timeline. The Doctor she knew always had a plan but he didn’t always tell what it was. He’s beaten Selachians, Sontarans, Autons and Daleks but this time even he said the stakes were the highest they have ever been and took her back to Earth to her old life. But he also fixes it so a few days later she gets her call up papers and a week after that she is working in the Moonbase. Its almost as if he knew he wouldn’t be around anymore and his alternative self would need her help and he put her exactly where she was needed, leaving her with a list of instructions. This is clever, mind bending stuff. In a story that refuses to conform to any stereotypes Rachel dies in the destruction of the Moonbase and the Doctor doesn’t even realise she was an old companion of his so he doesn’t know she exists to save her. She dies wondering if she has ever lived. That’s pretty tragic.

(Not So)Reformed Nazi: Since stealing the TARDIS Klein has managed to not only go back and restore her timeline but ensure that the Reich succeed at every turn and is calling herself Oberst Klein, Head of temporal affairs for the Galactic Reich! Only Klein and Richter remember how the timeline should have played out and she is starting to think that that might be a problem. Klein has rewritten history again and again until she likes what she reads. She considers the TARDIS her property now. Even she isn’t sure what is real and what is not anymore, whether she left a lover called Faber in 1965 or if that had never happened at all. It has been worrying Klein that at some point she might accidentally write herself out of the timeline and so others are being trained up to continue her work. The story is even brave enough to have a cliffhanger where Klein’s life is in danger as the TARDIS threatens to tear itself apart – considering she is the central protagonist at the beginning of this story it seems only fair that the jeopardy angle is reserved for her! Its almost with her teeth clenched that she has to ask the Doctor for his help in fixing the broken TARDIS but her desperation to have the one item that always gives her the advantage clearly overrides any sense of pride she might have. The Doctor seems to enjoy the moment Klein realises that there is no going back on the events that are taking place, that she will have to live with the consequences of her actions. Only Klein would consider boiling the Selachians in their water filled armour to be an acceptable strike against the enemy. When the Doctor turns facist Klein declares that they are a lot more alike than they seem which he refutes strongly. When she rewrote history she made herself a Lord of Time, everybody was afraid of her and she didn’t expect to feel so relieved once it was over. She’s almost sanguine about the thought of being executed. When you think that Klein might have turned a corner she tries to have Rachel murdered by the Selachians to get her out of her hair! She realises with some clarity that this was only ever going to end one way – the Doctor’s way. Executing Klein would never have been enough, she was always going to have to be taken out of existence because she is an anomaly, a refugee from a world that never should have been. Thanks to the Doctor Elisabeth Klein is born in England to German parents, raised in a time of war, gifted with an enquiring mind and prestigious intellect but also a need for order. And she is working for UNIT. Who ever saw that coming?

Standout Performance: I’m still astonished at how good McCoy is in this story. All of his detractors (which includes me) needs to listen to this story to see how good he can be. On the downside I wasn’t convinced by Lenora Crichlow who was mostly fine when she was spouting exposition but lack conviction when it came to the more emotional material.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I have become the architect of a better world! A golden age!’
‘This man could save our lives but he chooses not to. Its against his principles! Well good for you, Doctor. Now at least you can die with a smug look on your face.
‘I’m the Doctor. That’s what I do.’
‘You can’t punish a whole race for something we’ll never do!’
‘Push that button. End my life.’

Great Ideas: The Galactic Reich has ships powered by Dalek propulsion units – imagine the two great racial cleansers working together to exterminate the universe. Their ships have the finest technology of three galaxies incorporated. It’s a great scene setting set piece that shows you how much Klein has raped the timeline and twisted it to her design and she keeps returning to one particular moment where she has the Doctor trapped. The Reich cannot lose because as soon as they realise that there is a revolution they have all the time in the world to go back and wipe it out. In 2044 a unified Nazi government has ended famine and disease, averted wars before they could even begin, repelled invaders from a score of worlds – it’s a track record that is very impressive and sees a thriving world but there is only one problem. This world is hiding under the shadow of a swastika and free will is no longer an option. Knowing the future is a fascinating idea and encapsulated in a scene where Richter confronts the staff of the Moonbase knowing that there is a traitor on board because he has already seen the future where it plays out. The way he plays with them, teases them, threatens them…it is a teasingly sadistic way of exploiting foreknowledge to get your kicks. Klein using the TARDIS as a Nazi device causes another intriguing deviation from the norm, rather than being a simple conveyance for the Doctor it is now a weapon and one that is being targeted by the insurgents. In the other timeline the Selachians were the scourge of the galaxy and it took Klein many months to stop them from conquering this one. In 2044 they hadn’t even built their armoured suits that allow them off planet let alone developed space travel and Klein sees the Doctor’s hand in their rapid evolution of technology. Fantastic world bending imagery as the interior of the TARDIS becomes…just a box. The exterior dimensions of the TARDIS have been torn away from the interior. Sam transpires to be a spy from the future working for the Selachians and when he sleeps it uploads his memory to their flagship. The perfect spy. The story veers close to admitting that if Klein had never come to Colditz castle then the Nazi’s may have won the second world war which is a pretty bold statement to make. Very Steve Lyons. Then he sports the terrific notion that at the flick of a switch either the Doctor’s or Klein’s timeline will spring back into existence and either one would be preferable to the one they have experienced in this story. I thought the story might end on that indecision but we get a definitive answer.

Audio Landscape: Footsteps, squeaky prison door, dripping water, marching boots, bleeping deep space radar, the TARDIS having a choking fit whilst it refuses to take off, the cloister bell, setting a fire extinguisher on the flaming TARDIS, the bubbling water tanks of the Selachians and their gorgeous amphibian voices (how was that achieved?), gun shots, explosions, a Selachian drowning on his own tank, breaking through the Earth’s defences and bombarding the Earth.

Musical Cues: Listen to the score at the very beginning of the story which is full of bombast and striking the right note of furious fascism right into the heart of the listener. Jamie Robertson is back and I couldn’t be happier. I really like the approach of playing out a space battle sequence through some powerful performances describing the action and the dynamic music guiding us to all the right feelings of excitement. It’s a very different approach to the usual deluge of sound effects.

Isn’t it Odd: My only real trouble with this story was that I found the Doctor/Klein material so stirring that when the story concentrated on the guest cast I found my attention waning because I wanted to get back to where all the intelligent discussion was. But this only lasted for the first two episodes because this material suddenly gained sharp focus when Rachel admits she is working for the Doctor and it takes on a whole new emphasis. Perhaps Sam being a spy for the Selachians as well as Rachel being one for the Doctor was one twist too many. His ‘I have to sleep now’ is appalling clichéd for a death scene and I expect better of Lyons unless he was going for the clichéd wartime melodrama approach.

Standout Scene: The end of episode is an absolute stunner. The first two episodes have been toying with the idea of the Doctor being helpless against the Reich and then he has been slowly taking control of the situation. But he proves an imposing figure as he boldly declares ‘I gave your rulers the means to reach this Moonbase a hundred years in your past and I told them how to conquer it. I planned this invasion right down to the last detail. And that leader is why I am now taking command!’ It is one of those jaw droppingly magnificent cliffhangers that turns up once in a while that leaves you begging to listen to the next episode.

Notes: Its nice to see some continuity being shared between the novels and Big Finish. The Selachians featured in a number of Steve Lyons Past Doctor Adventures less successfully in The Murder Game (a light entertaining novel that turns into a disaster movie halfway through) and more prominently in The Final Sanction (where they were the central protagonists of a really nasty war which was pleasingly told from many points of view to give a fair and unbiased snapshot of the conflict). They are pleasingly brought to life here with very little subtlety, an aggressive, nonnegotiable armed force that considers everybody that isn’t a Selachian to be plankton beneath their feet! Its quite nice to have a stomping, violent, thoughtless alien race in Big Finish for a change because they do like humanising their monsters and giving them some depth. These guys are just nasty and there’s nothing wrong with that every now and again. Besides this is written by Steve Lyons so if there were any accusations of dumbing down the race this is their creators approach to writing for them on audio. Because this is an alternative Earth the Selachians get to be the biggest badasses the Earth has faced as they blast the planet to pieces with their battle fleet in reparation for the Doctor’s betrayal. Not many Doctor Who villains can said to have destroyed the entire human race. Many have tried but none have succeeded. ‘The only blood that will spilt today is warm blood.’

Result: There are a wealth of goodies to discover in The Architects of History and it is something of a miracle that after the quality of the previous adventures in this trilogy that this concluding blockbuster doesn’t disappoint. Steve Lyons has always been a dependable Big Finish writer (The Fires of Vulcan and The Son of the Dragon are two of my favourites) and his obsession with temporal shenanigans dovetails into this arc to create a fascinating ‘what if’ tale and then play with the audiences expectations with some surprising results. Klein manipulates herself into a position of power and learns to the true dangers of playing about with time. An alternative Doctor manages to pull strings within this timeline without even existing to see if it pans out as he planned. An enemy from the books makes a bold appearance in the audios and achieves where so many other Doctor Who monsters have failed, to destroy the Earth. We meet an ex companion of a non existent Doctor. Our seventh Doctor gets to bark orders like a mad Nazi commander. There is just so much to enjoy in this adventure which is also bursting at the seams with action and excitement to balance the intelligent dialogue. Considering where this adventures leaves Klein I sincerely hope that they pick up her character in the upcoming UNIT box set the seventh Doctor is going to have because there is clearly a whole new spin on the character to enjoy. I found this a very satisfying audio and when my head wasn’t spinning with the heady ideas I was engrossed in the action and spurred on by great cliffhangers. This is another accomplished audio from a fantastic year – let John Ainsworth script edit again because he clearly has the knack for it: 9/10