Sunday, 30 January 2011

LIVE 34 written by James Parsons & Andrew Stirling-Brown and directed by Gary Russell

We interrupt today’s Big Finish update to bring you an exciting new review of LIVE 34 written by James Parsons & Andrew Stirling-Brown and directed by Gary Russell. Over to Joe Ford and his on the spot reactions immediately after listening…’

What’s it about:
"You're listening to LIVE 34."
"LIVE 34 ¤ news on the hour every hour ¤ LIVE 34 ¤ broadcasting to Colony 34 all day every day ¤ LIVE 34 ¤ constantly updated every minute of every hour ¤ LIVE 34 ¤ sport, weather, business, local news, inter-planetary affairs ¤ LIVE 34 ¤ live, independent, accurate, comprehensive ¤ LIVE 34 ¤ all news, all day, every day ¤ LIVE 34."
"Reports are coming in of an explosion."
"On the line now is the leader of the FDP."
"The President is about to begin his address."
"We can see bodies in the wreckage."

The real McCoy: I’m happy to report that the real Sylvester McCoy is back with us, the one who gave us dark, compelling performances in Ghost Light and Master as opposed to the gibbering idiot who phoned in an embarrassing performance in Unregenerate(!). Can you imagine a better front man for an insurrectionist movement than the Doctor, and particularly the ‘bring down the government in an evening’ seventh Doctor. The Doctor condemns blowing things up as an answer and tries to gain access to the rubble of one of the horrific terrorist attacks to help save victims. He always manages to get to the heart of the problem, criticising the news for their ridiculous conspiracy theories. The Doctor makes alarming accusations against the government and I found McCoy especially good in these scenes where he had to be firm and authorative. ‘How am I supposed to answer your questions f you don’t stop talking?’ he asks. When trying to explain the truth about the fuel crisis he gets an egg and a punch in the face! His slogan is very Second World War – Resident Doctor Needs You! You don’t miss the Doctor once he is declared dead because the story is so gripping without him but he truly makes an impact when he returns to confront Jaeger. His ‘Death to this! Death to that!’ hysterics are surprisingly well judged; the Doctor takes on politics (‘Oh do shut up!’) whilst McCoy learns to act angry (I wasn’t sure which to punch the air more about!). ‘You are your government are an abhorrence! You sicken me!’ A fantastic showing for the seventh Doctor and long past time.

Oh Wicked: It feels like ages since I last heard Ace and even longer since I enjoyed her this much. LIVE 34 manages to find wonderful things for all of the regulars to do in their separate radio broadcasts, the Doctor as a political leader, Hex as a trained paramedic and Ace as a terrorist organiser. She has always been extremely vocal about the oppression of freedom (but its usually in the form of trite ‘I hate Nazi’s dialogue) and this time she has a genuinely horrific regime to fight. Does the ‘Rebel Queen’ have an agenda or do her and her followers simply enjoy killing? Is Ace a subject of vilification or the invention of a few over excited editors (that really made me laugh considering Ace’s initial remit of bombs and good looks!). The press have come up with this rubbishy, pretentious name for her. Ace has had several names but this is the one she has decided she likes best, it’s her name (hurrah – finally dumping the McShane bollocks!). Ace came to the colony for relaxation and has a mum and brother. Although she had been hoping for a tan Ace hadn’t seen snow is ages and ran and ran when they left the TARDIS as the kid in her leapt free. Admits that she may have been a little too enthusiastic with the explosives. Its such a shame that Ace’s horrendous 80’s slang couldn’t have been bleeped in the same way her political comments are here! Ace is going to put a stop to injustice or die trying. She has been taught to always have a plan B. She has courage and a steadfastness of beliefs, bearing, leadership and a purpose. Jaeger declares Ace is nothing more than a grubby little criminal and after her arrest they forced her under drugs to beg for forgiveness for her crimes. She tries to speak up against Jaeger and he publicly beats her and almost has her executed. Wowza.

Sexy Scouser: My one complaint about LIVE 34 is that this is another experimental story for Hex; one which leaves his character absent for the first two broadcasts. It would be much better to allow us to get to know this new character rather than constantly sidelining him in unusually untried story styles. I think this might have been the reason it took quite a while for people to warm to Hex (in comparison to Evelyn who most people fell in love with right away), that and his second story was Dreamtime. Chips and gravy are a delicacy where he comes from. He’s smart enough to investigate but to not want to make already nervous security forces more so! Hex treats every call out as an emergency, even the ones that are more like community service. Some people do die but that is just part of the job and as long as he can say he did everything he could that’s the most important thing. His Gran made him want to be a paramedic (or rather a nurse), she told him to go and find a job they’ll always be a demand for. His Dad worked at the docks and had to accept redundancy and so when Hex left school he looked around at the options and figured medicine was a safe bet. He is very charming and gentle with patients; he has a superb bedside manner. ‘That’s why he sent me here! So everyone could hear the truth!’ I love how it is Hex who gets to expose the government at the end, he’s an everyman and people can relate to him.

Standout Performance: Sylvester McCoy deserves kudos for so violently trading against this system and not fudging it. Andrew Collins gives a wonderfully natural performance, he sounds like a genuine news reporter, dispassionate and to the point and I love how his role twists in the last broadcast as he becomes a puppet for the government.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Beneath the surface this is a sad and dangerous place where people disappear, rumour has replaced fact and the government can pretty much do whatever it likes in the name of security.’
‘If they are genuine then 34 is home to the worst corruption, fraud, oppression and murder imaginable.’
‘It may disturb you, it will certainly shock you but it is what happened…’
People were used as fuel. Burnt. Every single one of them so you could have toast for breakfast!’

Great Ideas: An explosion has rocked the colony’s first city on the fifth anniversary of the postponement of the vote. All unsanctioned gatherings are prohibited and only approved political parties are permitted. The formation of the freedom and democracy party despite being condemned is gaining popular support by organising rallies and distributing literature. The desire to seek out the truth regardless of whether that truth is comfortable or convenient is what good journalism is all about otherwise it stops being news and becomes propaganda. How do you check your facts when the government has a monopoly on information? They are using immigrants as a scapegoat to deflect attention from the real problems. There is a petition to force an election, to give the people a say. Famine, disease, overcrowding, murder…these are all the things that aren’t reported. The meat wagons are vans that collect the bodies. The Cesspit officially does not exist since there is no poverty on 34. Earth was abandoned centuries ago. Corpses are being planted in the empty buildings Ace’s movement is destroying. There is a secret programmed of culling, the meat wagons not just picking up dead people and a very real reason why the population is decreasing. If you speak out against the government you will be tortured and your children murdered. There are 400 complaints about the documentary report on the Rebel Queen saying it was biased, inaccurate and unnecessary alarmist reporting…the journalist reporting ‘commits suicide’. BREAKING NEWS (I loved these constant innovations keeping the story interesting and urgent) – the Rebel Queen has been arrested! Hex and Charlotte discover skeletons underneath a patient’s house, a mass grave of burnt bodies. After that report LIVE 34 is taken off the air for a day and a half. The Doctor’s death is reported. I love it when it is stated that the government is taking charge of LIVE 34 but returns to Jaeger’s landslide political victory with plenty of propaganda (‘the people are singing, dancing!’). Charlotte takes on Drew (‘How on Earth did you ever make it in journalism? One sign of pressure and you gave in like a wet paper hat! There’s a revolution going on! Keep up!’). A handsome middle-aged man was elected Premier of colony 34 who was popular and incorrupt. However he contracted a disease and decided on corrective surgery to remove his scars but the deformity only got worse with every operation. He couldn’t risk being seen publicly so they drafted somebody from the security services that with a little surgery could be made to look like the incapacitated Premier at his height. Jaeger had two priorities, to stay in power and make sure the lights stayed on. For the former he engineered a state of emergency, bombs, rumours and postponing elections. For the latter they emptied graves and converted the bodies into fuel but the demand became too great and the disappearances began, political prisoners shipped off never to be heard of again. The final scene is gloriously open ended, with the truth of government exposed and the Doctor leaving as the crowd erupts into violence and chaos. Who knows how this colony reacted to all the lies.

Audio Landscape: I refuse to believe it is a co-incidence but with Gary Russell taking a break for a couple of stories sees him returning to the main range with probably his best ever direction of a Doctor Who audio. LIVE 34 is a difficult story to bring to life and keep entertaining and gripping but with a range of clever sound effects, radio narrative devices and narration Russell provides a truly immersive experience. Static, radio tuning, sirens, flames, a press hearing with chatter and camera snapping, explosions, rubble collapsing, car engines, dogs barking, dripping water, Ace’s awesome bleeped speech, riots and violence, hammering rain on both a plastic tent and Hex’s ambulance, adjusting Hex’s microphone, a hail of bullets, Hex almost crashing the ambulance, thunder, a doorbell, violent crowds at the close of the story.

Musical cues: The LIVE 34 jingle says everything you need to know about this tyrannical regime. The lack of music, both the theme tune and incidental music, really marks this out as something different and realistic.

Isn’t it Odd: That Gary Russell, the Alfred Hitchcock cameo of Big Finish Productions, turns up as a police broadcast. That’s some camp oppression!

Standout Scene: The Doctor revealing what has happened to the ‘disappeared’ colonists is revolting.

Result: Phenomenally good, the boldest departure from the norm since The Natural History of Fear and just as gripping. There is a real urgency to the live broadcasts with on the spot terrorist attacks, disturbing discoveries and political depositions and as someone who rarely listens to the news this really captured my imagination. Censorship, propaganda, terrorism and politics all come under the microscope in an intelligent, hard-hitting way. The regulars all get the chance to shine and the guests cast is the best assembled for quite some time. You wouldn’t want every story to be like this but it makes for a chilling, inspired one off: 10/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @

Another Big Finish Update

The Wormery: Shamelessly camp, glorious and fabulous (as Iris might put it!), this story elegantly holds a mirror up to Trial of a Timelord and features reams of wonderful lines and outrageously good performances. One of the best scores too: 10/10

Scherzo: Fascinating and unsettling but also embarrassing and melodramatic. A story, which is half unusual and clever ideas and half farcical soap operatics. A terrific audio experience that loses points because of its characters: 7/10

The Creed of the Kromon: Dull, with little spectacle, imagination or sparkle plus introducing the dullest companion since Dodo. Dreary, talky and benumbing, the most moribund period of the eighth Doctor’s life: 2/10

The Natural History of Fear: A superb Jim Mortimore script that forgets about the dullness of the arc going on around it and rocks on with a blistering examination of identity and Orwellian themes: 10/10

The Twilight Kingdom: Hopelessly predictable and clichéd, this is truly the nadir of Big Finish’s output. The regulars are working against the story and the series and need some serious alterations: 2/10

The Axis of Insanity: A strong, immersive production let down by a rubbish villain, Axis is a fun and frothy piece that has some fun with Erimem: 7/10

Arrangements for War: Romance and warfare combine to make a gripping, heartfelt adventure that sees both the sixth Doctor and Evelyn at their best. There is enough action and romance here to satisfy both camps: 9/10

The Harvest: Bring the tired seventh Doctor and Ace bang up to date and introducing the gorgeous Philip Olivier, The Harvest manages to juggle character drama and science fiction ideas with considerable aplomb: 8/10

The Roof of the World: An exercise in prevarication and running on the spot with one fantastic episode (two). This is a disposable and light load of atmospheric nothing: 5/10

Medicinal Purposes: Underrated, with a cast to die for and lots of gorgeous period atmosphere. Rupert Ross approaches history in a very unusual direction and I would love to hear Colin Baker and Leslie Philips locks horns again: 8/10

Faith Stealer: Extended therapy for the worst regulars the range has. As a discourse on religion it has some wonderfully dry and insane concepts and interesting things to say about the hypocrisy of alternative faiths. It won’t change your world but its very nice: 8/10

The Last: A risky, dramatic script is given a typical Gary Russell polish but unfortunately is weighed down slightly by two inappropriately light performances by McGann and Fisher. Excelsior rocks: 8/10

Caerdroia: Promising, beautifully characterised and great fun. The triplet Doctors with their distinct personalities are inspired and provide the story with its best laughs and most considerate moments: 8/10

The Next Life: Reasonably entertaining but ultimately unfulfilling, it works because the regulars are given a good once over but as an arc of a drearily long and dull arc it lacks even basically competent answers. It makes you wonder why they bothered: 7/10

The Juggernauts: Great development of Mel and Terry Molloy charms as Davros. I love the Mechanoids so it is wonderful to hear their gentle voices again and the truth of what is inside them might just make you nauseous: 8/10

The Game: For a six parter The Game is fast paced, exciting and thoughtful. It also has an unforgettable central performance from William Russell: 8/10

Dreamtime: Suddenly Big Finish takes a dive in quality, Dreamtime has no memorable characters (including the regulars), no plot, no humour…it drifts off into metaphor and loses itself up its own arse: 1/10

Catch-1782: Perfectly pleasant but ultimately pointless, this is a quick step into the world of Jane Austen without any of the humour or quirky characters that would have made it work: 5.5/10

Three’s a Crowd: Another dreary, boring, completely forgettable experience taking place on the dullest colony imagine and full of empty characters (and one unbelievably stupid one): 3/10

Unregenerate: Better, albeit far from perfect. A strong first episode devolves into lots of running around and discussing (but not exploring) some clever ideas. Another great showing for Mel but McCoy gives his worst performance of all time: 6/10

The Council of Nicaea: Dramatic, boldly characterised and simply told, this is the best release in ages simply because it focuses on one story and explores it with plenty of depth and courage: 9/10

Terror Firma:
101 brilliant ideas drowning in an undisciplined narrative, I found this a work of twisted genius only let down by not following through on its intriguing characterisation: 8/10

Thicker than Water: Hankies at the ready as Evelyn leaves the Doctor. Who cares about the subplot when such a monumental event is taking place: 8/10

Friday, 28 January 2011

Thicker than Water written by Paul Sutton and directed by Ed Salt

What’s it about: Three years after Világ was all but laid waste by the Killorans, the Doctor is back alongside a different companion. And a lot has changed. Now elected Principle Triumvir, head of a tripartite government, Rossiter is working to secure a peaceful future for the planet by researching the technology the Killorans left behind. But he has to contend with opposition from his daughter, Sofia, who heads a public campaign demanding the destruction of all alien artefacts. Politics has caused a rift between father and daughter, and as if that weren't enough, Sofia doesn't approve of her new step-mother either. Emotions soon boil over into violence, a violence that seems to have gripped the entire city. Friendships bind people close, but they say that blood is...

Softer Six: Here’s a chance to really see the best of the sixth Doctor, through the yes of two of his greatest Big Finish companions, Evelyn and Mel. Its rather wonderful how fondly they talk about him and it was here that I really came to understood just how much repair work Big Finish has done to his character, giving him a wonderful life that takes place after his TV stories. Liking his character is a given now (which it wasn’t for some on the telly) and he gets to have event stories that are based on the heartbreak of losing his companions ala The Green Death. The final scenes of Thicker than Water that see the Doctor partying and saying goodbye to Evelyn are some of the best moments of any Doctor. Mel wants to talk to him about his attitude and thinks he needs to learn to tone it down a bit in company. He has always walked a tightrope between genial and brash (although he sees it as the mecuriality of genius!). Hardly the model of tolerance. I adored his quick mention of his behaviour after he regenerated and how Mel should be grateful that she met him after the steadying hand of Evelyn Smythe had woven its spell on him. When Evelyn returns to the TARDIS after seeing Rossiter again and says that she wants to leave the Doctor’s bluster might just bring you to tears. He is hiding a whole world of pain. When Mel leaves the Doctor says he might organise a parade! The Doctor knew they were getting married but after the way he behaved when Evelyn left him he didn’t think he would be missed. When he learns how devastated she was that he didn’t attend he berates himself for being so childish. At the close of this story he admits that he still misses her and rather wonderfully they get one more dance together. Its all due credit to Paul Sutton, Colin Baker and Maggie Stables that this soap opera storyline is as sensitive and touching as it is. It could have so easily have been farcically melodramatic but we are so invested in these characters and their relationship now it really and it brings this chapter of their lives together with warmth and friendship.

Learned Lecturer: If you have fallen in love with the sixth Doctor and Evelyn pairing (which anybody who’s anybody will have) then this is the story that will break your heart, splitting the pair of them up and giving Evelyn (apparently) her last appearance in the series. Before you go on a drinking bender to drown your sorrows it please me to tell you that not only would there be another story that takes place after Thicker than Water that chronicles her life after this story but we would also be lucky enough to have lots more adventures with her and Sixie that take place before this story to come too. Ingeniously it means the Evelyn adventures can run and run with the firm knowledge that her story has a definitive end. As soon as I heard the name Evelyn Rossiter I knew I would need the hankies before it was over. Evelyn is criticised as being more used to the past than the present as she debates the use of alien technology. Recently she has become crabby and intolerant and aggressive, plus she is suffering terrible headaches. The Doctor told man that she ran off with a fancy man. Sofia thinks she is so sanctimonious she must glow in the dark. When the Doctor returned Evelyn to Vilag she was worried Rossiter wouldn’t even remember her and it was always in the back of her mind that she would want to stay with him. I loved her decision to not take anything from the TARDIS because she wants a completely fresh start. Now Evelyn has political enemies because she is strongly in favour of studying Killoran technology openly, to learn about their old enemy. The Doctor taught her to always act as if she owns the place. When talking with Mel she says she travelled with the Doctor for a long time but not too long. They had some disagr
eements but they soon got over them and had a lot of fun together. Nowadays she is so hot bloodied and doesn’t know why she gets so angry. She never told the Doctor about her heart and doesn’t regret leaving him – she is very happy with Rossiter. Who wouldn’t miss him though? He’s the Doctor! It’s been many a year since Evelyn blushed at anything! When she got married she wanted the Doctor to give her away, he had been everything to her, friend, father, life itself. When the seventh Doctor comes to visit her she can see it is the Doctor because of his eyes. He shows her a photo of Hex (and calls him brave, loyal and terribly bright) and has wanted to come and tell her that they are travelling together ever since he met him – the Doctor hopes it can repay some of the hurt he caused her by not turning up at her wedding. If Sofia ever needs a mother’s advice she will try her best. At the end of this story, Evelyn has no more headaches, has retired from politics and a man on her arm, she couldn’t be better! Rossiter suggests that they renew their vows with the Doctor in attendance and it means such a lot to her that he can give her away this time. Evelyn tells the Doctor he has been such a great friend, she met him at a time when her life was going nowhere and he gave it back to her. She feels very close to him and wants to tell him that she loves him very much. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go and blub like a big baby whose had all his sweets taken away. What a beautiful examination of both Evelyn and her relationship of the Doctor. We couldn’t have asked for a finer departure story.

Generous Ginge: What’s amazing is the wonderful chemistry between Mel and Evelyn that develops very quickly and their few scenes together show that they would have made a fine pair had they chosen to travel together with the Doctor. Mel really wants to meet this miracle worker Evelyn Smythe who managed to tame the beast that is the Doctor! She is described as the latest model he is dragging around the universe! Mel has never been in love but there’s plenty of time for it. She tentatively asks Evelyn is she wishes the Doctor has come back for her. You wouldn’t believe the pain poor Mel suffers in this story…first she is punched by Dr Lawrence, then she is slapped by Sofia and finally she is pushed down a lift shaft by Dr Szarbo! The Doctor manages to catch her and thanks her for not being nearer his body weight! Evelyn gives Mel her chocolate cake recipe (I wonder is she is making it for porky Glitz?).

The Other Rossiters: It is a measure of both Gabriel Woolf’s performance and the characterisation that Rossiter steals Evelyn away from the Doctor and it is impossible to bear him any malice. He’s just such a nice guy you can see exactly why Evelyn has fallen for him. When Evelyn stepped back into Rossiter’s life 2 years ago he was the happiest man in the world, especially when she chose to stay. It is very natural for a daughter to hate her mother in law. Given her predilection for extreme mood swings Rossiter is in fear of becoming a domestic violence statistic! He pushed his daughter away and forced Evelyn into a role she is not enjoying. Rossiter couldn’t bear to be married to a sarcastic woman! Lawrence, the poor little rich boy turned out t not be Sofia’s type. It shames Rossiter to think that anybody on this planet could ever torture the Killoran’s.

Standout Performance: Both Colin Baker and Maggie Stables work wonders with this material and their last scene together is a real tearjerker.

Great Ideas: Since the Killoran invasion there have been two choices, to study the alien technology or ignore it. The opinion of the public majority is the latter. Evelyn and Mel are kidnapped by Lawrence the lovesick puppy! It appears for a while that Sofia has been authorising unethical experiments and torturing Killorans in a secret underground zoo. Turns out it is Szarbo the xenophobe who is behind it all, experimenting on Killoran genetics and injecting patients with their accelerat
ed regenerative powers, including Evelyn. There’s a wonderful race against time conclusion to stop Sofia from operating on Evelyn who has been polluted with aggressive Killoran DNA. Lawrence was murdered because he drew attention to the experiments.

Audio Landscape: Microphone, screaming moorland winds, classic music, drilling, banging, the fantastic dissolve from the TARDIS leaving Evelyn and return with Mel, birdsong, gunshots, gas, helicopter blades, an ambulance, sirens, guns cocked and fired, moaning experimental patients, Mel’s everlasting scream down the lift shaft, heart monitor, party scenes…just like Arrangements of War, Thicker than Water has been put together with real care to make it sounds as authentic as possible.

Musical Cues: There is a soft piano score as Evelyn leaves the Doctor. The music is quite dynamic in places, bringing more drama to the story.

Isn’t it Odd: Who gives a ¤¤¤¤ about the plot when Evelyn is leaving the Doctor?

Standout Moment: Evelyn telling the Doctor she loves him. It’s beautifully tender.

Result: Hankies at the ready as we say goodbye to Evelyn in a story that cleverly leaps ahead a few years after she left the Doctor and we get involved in her new life on Vilag. It’s a stunning examination of the strongest Doctor/companion duo Big Finish have to offer and by the end you realise it makes perfect sense for them to part company and on such good terms. There is a plot in there somewhere about torture and genetic manipulation which offers a few exciting moments but I was far more concerned with the character drama to give it much thought. Newcomer Ed Salt’s direction is urgent and softens the soap opera elements to make them something very sensitive and touching. A fantastic departure story for my favourite companion with a final scene will break your heart and make you grin from ear to ear: 8/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @

Terror Firma written by Joe Lidster and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: "Welcome back, Doctor..." Centuries ago on the war-torn planet Skaro, a great scientist created the most evil creatures the Universe would ever know… Daleks. It was at their genesis that the scientist, Davros, first met and was defeated by the Doctor. Over the years and throughout space, they fought, a fight that ended with the Doctor’s destruction of Skaro and the Daleks. Except… Davros survived. Alone. In the dark. With only thoughts of revenge keeping him alive. The Doctor is back. Davros is waiting. Their destiny is now.

Breathless Romantic: Welcome to the madness that is Terror Firma where Joe Lidster discovers everything that has been missing from the eighth Doctor’s life and squeezes it into one story! Don’t get me wrong it is wonderful to have him back in his home universe and the first episode sees him more chilled out than we have had him in ages. My one complaint is that it tries to do too much with his character within 100 minutes; joy, anger, anguish, shock, depression, joy again…it’s a whirlwind trip around the schizophrenic eighth Doctor. I loved how he totally ignored Davros and started chatting away about where to take C’rizz, he’s having a great time winding up Davros! Doesn’t he ever find it boring being so predictable? Why doesn’t he show fear in the face of Davros? He admits he wasn’t quite himself in the Divergent Universe where they had no concept of time; being back home means he can be a Time Lord again. He’s a busy man, a universe to explore, old friends to look up. In many ways he is ashamed of his own people, half of them are crazy and corrupted and the other half are duller than you can imagine and he fears one day he might grow old and return to Gallifrey to gather dust. When pushed he admits he had the right to destroy Skaro and the Daleks because he has seen first hand what they are capable of. In a heart in the mouth moment the Doctor tells Davros he is going to kill him after discovering what has happened to the Earth. He states Agatha Christie travelled with him but it sounds like one of his embellishments. His friends are what’s important to him, they make him what he is. In a shock revelation we learn of the Doctor’s companions before Charley and just what a sticky end they came to because of travelling with him. What’s unusual is how much more comfortable the Doctor seems with the brother and sister team of Gemma and Samson rather than his current companions. That might be something worth rectifying in the next few stories – I certainly think the Divergent Universe might have been more bearable if we had had Gemma and Samson as our guides. They mockingly call him dad but he would rather be the cool Uncle. He spends most of episodes three and four drowning in the guilt of what has happened to the Earth and my only thought was please let’s not go down this route again. Davros has humiliated him, taken everything that is good about him and twisted it to his own ends and yet the Doctor still chooses life.

Edwardian Adventuress: There are some very harsh criticisms of Charley in this story from both of her companions and it is almost as though the producer has read all the complaints about the degeneration of the character and is determined to address and deal with them. C’rizz tells her to stop putting on her cheerful Charley act when she is hurting and the Doctor in a moment that made me want to kiss him (and possibly slip him the tongue) says ‘don’t tell me you forgive me. Don’t tell me I shouldn’t feel bad. Don’t tell me that you love me. Don’t say anything.’ Bravo! She admits that she is out of shape and possibly the unluckiest girl alive (what and see what happens when you swap Doctors then Ms Pollard!). She rails against the unfairness of the universe where she can be spat back into it only to discover a world conquered by Daleks! I loved her shocked reaction to discovering there is a tunnel that connects England and France, sometimes we forget she is from the past and it is nice to have a reminder. Charley looks the kind of girl who knows how to enjoy life. Oddly she squeals like a little piggy when she rejoins the Doctor! Charley hates seeing the Doctor this vulnerable and is disappointed in him for that (for which Samson gives her a big cuddle).

Chameleonic Rogue: What an odd character C’rizz is. On the one hand I want to applaud Gary Russell for trying to do something a bit different with a companion and having a clearly unstable, mildly psychotic alien travelling in the TARDIS. On the other hand it doesn’t really work because whilst C’rizz was revealed to have murdered far more people than we figured in this story and ends on him chatting away with the souls of his victims, subsequent stories ignore this fact completely because they have other stories to tell. It’s a bit like the Turlough syndrome, he’s bad but only when there’s time to fit it in. And whilst Conrad Westmaas is a good actor he has been saddled with a colourless character without much humour or likeability. At this stage
I would probably say that C’rizz has more mileage than Charley but it is something of a revelation to see two stand in companions that turn up for one story making more of an impact than he has in over two seasons. He wants to be there for Charley but can only do so if she lets him. First L’da, then his father, now Charley (or so he thinks…), people that he meets tend to be exterminated (yeah because you kill them you nonce!). Is C’rizz a murderer with no reason? He slaughtered the being they meet in the tunnel with little provocation and tells Gemma ‘am I going to have to save you too?’ The Daleks creed is ‘extermination will end their pain and suffering’ which reveals that C’rizz is more akin to the Daleks than humans. I loved the scene where he railed against being sick of being told what his destiny is and he will be who he wants to be whilst kicking two tons of ¤¤¤¤ of a Dalek! He is trapped inside the Emperor casing and is assaulted by Dalek voices, does this enhance his madness? All the voices of the people he killed talk to him, so many voices…in this universe they forget the dead but he keeps their memory alive. In an inspired final twist we hear Gemma’s voice inside his head, revealing that he has murdered her too and he tells her that one day he will save the Doctor and Charley as well…

Gemma and Samson: What an brilliant idea this was, truly one of the great shock moments in Big Finish when we realise that Gemma and Samson were former travelling companions of the Doctor. Not only that but Joe Lidster takes the time to show us how they met and have snippets of their adventures together as well (I hate to be coy but once again this looks a lot more fun than the Divergent Universe stories!). You know what mum always said, nothing ventured, nothing gained. They met when Samson was at work in the library and Gemma wants to follow this hot hippy who came in asking about a mystery novel. They went to Porteus, Mergatroid, the ice caves of Shabadabadon, the court of Queen Elizabeth, Prehistoric Earth, Studio 54 and met aliens and were caught up in the maddest of adventures (‘The guitars are coming to life!’). They have knocking back the beers for Skipper’s (the Doctor) birthday and Samson the lightweight has a terrible hangover. The Doctor stupidly sent them off on their own to explore a derelict spaceship whilst he snuggled down to read their birthday present, a first edition of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Davros kidnaps them, implants them and turns them into slaves. Davros sent Samson home but linked his mind to the TARDIS so he could watch the Doctor’s adventures hence and Gemma went travelling but found only death in every continent for Davros’ virus. Davros took them from him because he had the Daleks taken from him. Samson is fine at the end of this adventure, back home with his mum but as far as they are concerned Gemma died a long time ago and the Doctor asks C’rizz to keep it a secret that she has only just died. Little does the Doctor know it was by C’rizz’s hands…?

Insane Genius: I loved the early exchange of: ‘How does one address the Emperor?’ ‘Politely!’ Davros is undergoing a Jekyll and Hyde style nervous breakdown where he breaks out into arguments with himself – one voice as Davros, piteous and begging and one voice as a Dalek, condemning and unrepentant. He keeps ranting on about the end of Remembrance of the Daleks, screaming ‘escape pod leaving mother ship!’ He’s losing himself to a Dalek personality. Davros is shocked that the Doctor would have pity for him. He has decided to plant himself into a new body, for too long he has clutched onto the remnants of his physical form as if it is what makes him what he is. He spent years with just his thoughts and decided to learn from the Doctor. Thinking back he remembered his conversation with the fourth Doctor in Genesis of the Daleks about a virus that could wipe out all living things and he decided to create such a virus and unleash it on the Doctor’s favourite planet. Davros quotes ‘while there’s life, there’s hope’ but he is alive and he has no hope. He hates the Doctor, his very existence is like salt on his wounds and so he took the Doctor’s friends and destroyed them. When he was blown away from the Dalek mothership at the end of Remembrance he was rescued by the Nekistani and as a special thank you he slaughtered them horribly – and it is on their ship that Gemma and Samson discover
him. He wanted to break the Doctor, to take everything he held precious and smash it in front of his eyes. He always knew the Daleks would come for him; he kept himself weak whilst making the Daleks too powerful and single-minded. For once we really get to see how deep his loathing of the Doctor goes and it’s frightening to witness.

Standout Performance: For making me shiver with fear when he started laughing manically in the first scene, Terry Molloy.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We need you to find Davros!’ – which isn’t a great line in itself but its rather wonderful coming from Davros himself!
‘France was one of the first countries to fall. Quelle surprise.’
‘Welcome home, Doctor. Welcome to the home of 8 billion Daleks!’ – the Earth!
‘I remember!’

Great Ideas: An eighth Doctor adventure that features the TARDIS and our universe – that’s a great idea! The new Dalek home world is the Earth. Episodes one and two both start with flashbacks of Gemma and Samson leaving the Doctor and exploring the ship, which perfectly pre-empt that excellent second cliffhanger. It was clever to pair up Charley with Samson and C’rizz with Gemma to make a comparison. The whole world is covered in a metal shield except Folkestone, which is where the Dalek underground base is. Viruses are all the rage these days so this one was just ignored but it got bigger and more deadly…Davros offered his help to America and suddenly it went silent. He turned the mutated humans into Daleks and used them to subjugate the world. Whilst we know that Gemma and Samson travelled with the Doctor before Charley the revelation that their abduction takes place immediately prior to Storm Warning was a great shock and allows to look at that story in a new light (its very clever how they took the dialogue from the pre credits and weaved into this story). Harriet is revealed to be a resistance leader – who ever saw that coming? The French resistance are Daleks who want to overthrow Davros and put C’rizz on the throne!

Audio Landscape: A top dramatic production with some very impressive sound effects. Davros’ laughing bleeds unforgettably into the music, Daleks scream insanely, the Cushing Dalek control room is heard again, extermination blasts, explosions, a horrid ring tone, rain slashing down, heavy breathing, a bubbling laboratory, thunder, a montage of old clips which is hypnotic and disorienting, the tinkling ice caves of Shabadabadon, the Doctor reading Christie by the fire, a heartbeat, seagulls, busy bees…

Musical Cues: The jazz score during the part scenes is very nice.

Isn’t it Odd: The party scenes in the first episode are extremely odd, they cut into the real drama taking place between Davros and the Doctor with alarming frequency. Juliet Deakins’ uber camp Harriet hardly convinces as a military genius. Unusually for Doctor Who the first episode is probably the weakest, a confusing and schizophrenic opening, which saves all its revelations for later. Gary Russell’s continuity obsessed fingers are all over this story (you can read in the sleeve that he was originally down to write the story and handed a ton of notes to Joe Lidster to fulfil). He desperately wants to explain what happened before Storm Warning and what happened after Remembrance of the Daleks, plugging every single gap in continuity until it is one drab cohesive whole with no mysteries left unexplained and no ambiguity. How does the Doctor go from feeling the weight of 8 billions human lives as his responsibility to larking about in Blackpool with Charley within ten minutes of running time? It seems that all the horror is just…forgotten.

Result: Less of a well structured, coherent story and more of a collection of fantastic ideas, Terror Firma is a cluttered, brilliant, insane mess. It’s the polar opposite of The Council of Nicaea, which told a simple story well; Joe Lidster’s drama is undisciplined throughout but raging with dark imagination. The revelation about Gemma and Samson is one of the ultimate Big Finish surprises and beats at the heart of this story but it’s not quite strong enough to ignore the unfinished, schizophrenic characterisation of both the Doctor and Davros. They both have terrific, thoughtful moments and their relationship is given a thorough once over (with some nice innovations) but the story just sort of fizzles out, forgetting the Doctor’s guilt or that he wants to kill Davros and forgetting that Davros did all of this to hurt him. Add points for bringing all these points up but minus more for failing to bring them to any kind of conclusion. There are lots of crazy and wonderful ideas whizzing about and you will be entertained throughout but I definitely feel Terror Firma needed one more revision to tighten up its narrative. Flawed but fascinating: 8/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Big Finish Survey

Hi guys,

I have nabbed these catagories from my friend Matthew McCoy's thread on Gallifrey Base but i would lve to find out more about what the readers of this site like. Once I will run this survery for 2 months - ending on 27th March and will post the results on 1st April. I have added a feedback section at the bottom because I would love to know what you guys think of the site.

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The Council of Nicaea written by Caroline Symcox and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: The year is 325AD. In the city of Nicaea, the first great Church council, called by the Roman Emperor Constantine, is due to begin. Here theology, philosophy and politics will be brought together for millennia to come. The Doctor, Peri and Erimem are there simply to watch events unfold. Gaps remain in the history books, and the Doctor has come to satisfy his curiosity. But none of them are ready for what greets them in Nicaea. Intrigue within the Imperial Palace has become violence on the streets. Mobs roam the alleyways and blood is spilt in the name of faith. Even in the face of murder and injustice though, the time travellers must force themselves to stay aloof. This is history, after all. Yet what is history to one person is the future to another. Is it possible for history to be rewritten? And if it can, can the Doctor afford to let it?

Fair Fellow: I take it all back. When I complained about the lack of dynamism between the Doctor, Peri and Erimem in Three’s a Crowd I did not expect these fireworks! This is high drama of the finest kind and once again courtesy of the Hartnell historical genre, hard questions causing a rift spectacular rift between the Doctor and Erimem. The Doctor as ever is firm that history must be allowed to run its course and has never been confronted with such a violent counter argument to this doctrine. He tells her that history is tough and most of the changes that they make are swallowed up in the vastness of the whole but some events shape history to such an extent that they cannot be changed. When Erimem turns her back on him, determined to make a difference he warns her that if she stays he will leave without her. You can hear he is almost frightened by her confidence in what she can achieve and orders her in the TARDIS. After she stands up in the Council and defends Arius the Doctor is almost hysterical with anger at that she has behaved so irresponsibly. You have to wonder for a while if things can ever be the same again between them. On a lighter note the Doctor comments that he and Peri have slept in stranger places (dirty get). He wangles himself a position on the council and working for Emperor Constantine. He has always been interested in the reign of the first Emperor to embrace Christianity and has studied it thoroughly but never visited before. He’s a time traveller, fast bowler and biblical scholar! Hilariously he gives a Euro to a stallholder in exchange for information! Peter Davison gives a typically stellar performance but this time he goes the extra mile, seeming to appreciate the dramatic material he has been given.

Busty Babe: You would think with all the sparks flying between her two friends that there wouldn’t be any time to explore Peri but you would be wrong. She steps from the TARDIS a right stroppy mare, even the Doctor comments does she have to be so pessimistic all the time? I loved Peri’s reaction to the reason they are fighting: ‘That’s it?’ and she laughs hysterically, genuinely astonished that they could get so violent over such a little detail as how Jesus Christ came to be. The way she dismisses their cause makes her sound almost religiously intolerant. Her mom was a Baptist and she was forced to go to church. It’s a very uncomfortable position for Peri trying to keep the peace between her friends and at times she sounds like a frustrated little girl screaming at her parents to stop sniping at each other! She tells the Doctor that if he thinks it is important to stop Erimem she believes him. Peri puts herself forward to try and explain the situation to her friend who throws everything she says back at her. Rightly this makes Peri furious telling Erimem she has always cared for her and she’s only trying to look after her now. Erimem calls her a puppet of the Doctors! When Peri is locked up in Constantine’s prison she knows the Doctor wont abandon her. The Empress plies Peri with wine to get her to talk but all she reveals is that she isn’t religious and she doesn’t think it is fair to be punished for speaking your mind. Peri wants to know what happened to the Empress who looked after her despite her ulterior motives and is appalled to discover she was steamed to death by her husband a year after they left.

Dusky Babe: Wow, Erimem has never made her presence more dramatically felt! When I first heard this story I was extremely impressed by her willingness to follow her beliefs and not simply tail after the Doctor like an obedient pet but on this listen I found her violent opinions almost too stubborn. It feels as though she has had these feelings for the Doctor and Peri bubbling under the surface for a while and the events have caused them to erupt. There are only a few moments though where this was a problem and on the whole this strengthens her character considerably, making her a force to reckon with! The warmth of the air, the smells…Nicaea reminds Erimem of Egypt. You would have to be blind to not see that Erimem was Egyptian. In her time the people obeyed, they did not debate politics and Erimem thinks it is foolish to involve the people but not to listen to them as it encourages dissent. Arius’ words reach her, she has seen too much oppression, too many tyrants and hypocrites manipulating people and she wants to make sure they get a fair hearing. Erimem furiously argues with the Doctor, demanding that he gives Arius a voice on the council. She asks a very pertinent question, ‘What is history? This is my future!’ and wonders why she shouldn’t be able to change it. In a punch the air moment she stands up to the council (and the Emperor) and criticises them fo
r judging a man without allowing him to speak. She proves to be a fantastic leader pulling together a force to discuss, not oppose the Emperor. When the guards burst in she thinks that Peri has deliberately led them to her. When Erimem confronts Constantine she calls him the worst kind of leader, speaking of forgiveness and reconciliation but acting with assassination and tyranny. Despite her good intentions it is Erimem’s vigilante act that causes things to be bloody. She is clever enough to deny Julius information about their supporters and their meeting place but doesn’t spot that he was after the information for her enemies. She will not betray her beliefs and feels she owes it to the people that have given their support to continue even after she has reconciled with the Doctor and Peri. She apologies for her actions and admits she had thought they had turned against her, clouding her judgement. At the end she is still not satisfied because she isn’t sure if Arius will get a fair hearing but is relieved to hear from the Doctor that he was welcomed back into the Empire. If she was in Constantine’s place she could have done a much better job but then she remembers there is more to leadership than ideals. This is fantastic development for Erimem, a really interesting examination into her moral code and willingness to stand up for people.

Standout Performance: I occasionally heard Mr Collins from David Bamber but he gives such an impressive, powerful performance it’s the silliest of observations. I have never heard Peter Davison and Caroline Morris so psyched up by their material.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘That it is religion does not stop it from being a tyranny!’
‘It is what the Church needs. She cannot be always fighting! Ripped apart by squabbles within! She must be strong! Unified! One Church!’ – a very worthy lesson, especially today.

Great Ideas: In this period theology is something of a spectator sport, everyone down to the common man understands the theological debates of the day and has strong opinions. The argument at the moment is tearing the church apart, about the nature of Our Lord. Christ came to exist as an act of creation on Gods part says Arius, but the opposition claims that takes away the divinity of Christ. Constantine is trying to remain neutral but he will send in his army to pacify them if he must. This is Christianity and politics coming together for the first time. Peri inadvertently leads the Emperors men to Erimem forcing her to go on the run. Legionnaires are found dead and Erimem is leading a march to confront the Emperor to force him to listen to Arius. The Army is in place and it is all set for a bloodbath. Fortunately Erimem was wrong about the Emperor and he gives Arius’ cause a fair chance to be heard.

Audio Landscape: Crickets, a marching mob, bubbling fountains at the palace, legionnaires breaking down the door, smashing glass, a marketplace, groans and screams in the dungeon, treating a bloodied wound, the Army facing Arius’ crowd.

Musical Cues: I didn’t realise Russell Stone provided a score this late in the run. I like his gentle use of strings and the dramatic piano sting when Erimem is in trouble.

Standout Moment: The argument between the Doctor and Erimem at the end of part one is unforgettable.

Result: A powerful story that draws its drama from the characters by asking some powerful questions about religion and beliefs. The script is the most thoughtful and exciting we have had in an age and there isn’t a monster or corridor chase in sight. I have always loved the pure historicals and Caroline Symcox paints a gripping picture of Nicaea and gives an opinion to everybody from the lowest trader to the Emperor. It’s a superb story for the regulars as well, the Doctor fights to try and keep history on track and Erimem follows her heart despite who she might upset whilst Peri is desperately trying to keep them all together. Caroline Morris gives a dominant performance making Erimem’s righteousness a convincing condemnation of the Doctor being Time’s bitch. A welcome reminder of what Big Finish can achieve at its finest, ditching science fiction for gripping historical drama: 9/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Unregenerate! Written by David A. McIntee and directed by John Ainsworth (can it be true? Not Gary Russell?)

What’s it about: In a run-down asylum, screams echo in the halls as mysterious creatures roam, terrorizing the staff. Patients complain of betrayal rather than illness, and no-one is quite what they seem. Mel knows that the Doctor is the best person to find the answers – but she is stranded on Earth, and the TARDIS has returned without him... Why does a medical facility need to be under armed guard? What procedures are the staff carrying out, and to what purpose? What is the price that must be paid for making an agreement with those who run the asylum? As the answers begin to be uncovered, the Doctor finds that the past may yet come back to haunt him...

The Real McCoy: Unregenerate might be the very reason that the 7th Doctor gets a bad reputation in the audios which is only just being rectified. He spends the first three episodes of this story raving like a complete loony (how on Earth would we be able to tell the difference?). He’s gabbling cod mental dialogue like ‘came and went! Gathering knowledge! Explored! Exploring is gooood! Bibblebobbleboo!’ McCoy dribbles out his dialogue like thick snot and it is uncomfortably embarrassing to endure. ‘Wherever you lay my hat! This is my hat! There! I’ve laid it!’ The list of crimes against his name are endless; terrorist, overthrowing legitimate governments, genocide, theft, assault, kidnapping – its enough to make underworld scum envious! He has recently regenerated and there is mention of the events of Time and the Rani. He’s not a medical man, really. ‘Is that meeee? Am I inside out? Or am I the apple?’ The Doctor and impossibility go together like cats and creosote. He is much more fun as the Doctor we know and love, I really enjoyed his ‘ha ha fooled you!’ hologram in the TARDIS! Come episode two McCoy’s gibbering was giving me a headache and his screaming fit (‘FRREEEEEE MEEEEEEEEE!’) is probably (The Rapture withstanding) the worst we have ever heard McCoy act. This is a note to future writes of Sylvester McCoy stories…do not give him the chance to overact under any circumstances. ‘Oh to feel the hard radiation! The solar winds brushing across me!’ he croons like some science fiction porn star. The idea of the seventh Doctor going mad because of his regeneration is intriguing but impossible considering all that was tied up in Time and the Rani. He’s disappointed that Klyst hasn’t heard of him because he has certainly heard of her. Considers himself from lots of places but originally Gallifrey. ‘Those were living beings!’ gurns McCoy and this is him acting normally…I can’t tell any difference between this and the gimp Doctor! The Doctor suddenly goes off on a rant about how Klyst could get more subjects, stealing them and breeding them, when she has not suggested either – has he really lost his mind? If he genuinely went loopy because he was fiddling about with some circuitry then he has really lost his touch!

Generous Ginge: Mel on the other hand is a different kettle of fish. Its such a shame that her last handful of stories haven’t been great because Bonnie Langford has really got the hang of the character and should be able to impress in stories of the calibre of The Fires of Vulcan and The One Doctor again. Mel is disgusted that the future news contains nothing but footballers haircuts and who won Big Brother! Her relationship with the taxi driver is an unusual one but it works a treat, she doesn’t even learn what his name is and he comes to protect her from harm at every corner. She feeds him lies that he sees right through and she manages to persuade him that she travels around in time and space in a police box just by her honesty. He is an ex bouncer that did debt collecting on the side, this is what Pex should have been in Paradise Towers. Mel bribes him to hang with her. Mel had read the entire Sherlock Holmes canon by the age of nine. Listening to her explore the hospital and comparing it to her pantomime exploration of Paradise Towers shows you how much Langford has grown as an actress. She doesn’t believe in ghosts. She points out that the Time Lords shouldn’t be interfering, that was why they put the Doctor on trial in the first place. Mel is getting the hang of the galactic saviour bit.

Standout Performance: After William Russell and Deborah Watling we have another old companion joining in the audio fun, this time its Jennie Linden from the original Peter Cushing movie. Not quite as good as Russell but miles better than Watling, she plays Klyst with the real degree of gravitas.

Great Ideas: The TARDIS materialises to pick up Mel without the Doctor the helm, what is going on? The first episode introduces an intriguing bargain; Louis appears and promises that he can make Johannes’ life a good one if he agrees to come with him t
he day before he dies. He agrees and we cut to the future when Louis has come to collect him, telling him he has had 50 years to prepare for this moment. Mel and the cabbie investigate the Klyst Institute only to discover it doesn’t have a door, just a fake moulded into the wall. The whole building is a hollow fake. The Felegran are a compound species, six beings that can exist as one. The Institute is in space, floating on an asteroid. They have been implanting complex artificial intelligences into people, overwriting the original host. As far as time is concerned all these people have died. The Doctor got involved by overhearing the deal between Louis and Felegran and followed him when he was taken. Louie turns out to be a Time Lord. The sentience grafted onto the Doctor was spread amongst him and Shohkra and so it didn’t override their minds. It was struggling for control of his body, which kept his mind tied up in knots. I loved the scenes of Johannes talking to the TARDIS; it felt very much like the more exciting ideas that were bandied about during the Time War arc of the EDAs. Planting TARDIS minds into people, the Time Lords experimenting on lesser species is like torturing infants. Only a third of the people asked accept the bargain. The High Council foresee a time when the space time continuum is packed to bursting point with time travel developed by less responsible races. They are creating time sensitives so that if these races ever becomes a threat they find their time travel ability gone. Creating a race of puppet pilots whose strings can be cut as and when the Time Lords choose. The Doctor’s TARDIS has lots of new ideas she can teach the pilots that she has picked up from the Doctor. They bond the sentience to the Institute and Yohannes and Klyst are a new race of pilots who go on the run from the Time Lords.

Audio Landscape: Showing that Gary Russell must have been suffering from audio fatigue, episode one of Unregenerate! is the most atmospheric piece we have heard for a while with some very realistic soundscapes (from cafes to mental asylums) with the radio broadcasts cleverly suggesting the different years the scenes are set in and bridging the scenes. Terrifying screams of madness, a trolley squeaking, birdsong, groovy music, a growling taxi engine, rattling in the walls, doorbell, doors bolting during the lockdown, crickets singing at night, the creepiest echoing footsteps, the overlapping voices of Shohkra (you can hear McCoy in there), pressure blowing from the airlock, alarms, regeneration…John Ainsworth always gives 100% in his direction and this story is no different.

Isn’t it Odd: McIntee deliberately complicates an already complicated story by constructing a non-linear narrative that begins halfway through the story and flashbacks to how they got there in episode three. Whilst it does all come together satisfactorily I have to question the logic of compiling confusion on a story laden with technobabble and scientific ideas. It’s a real shame that after episode one’s down to earth atmosphere that we head into space for the usual sort of running about. Rigan is the worst guest character of the last handful of stories and that includes both Auntie and Baiame (both of which were dreadful). She gets ridiculous dialogue like ‘we’ve searched every crevice!’ and ‘shoot to maim!’, she is irritatingly trigger happy and shoots her friend dead and then she tries to commit mutiny because ‘you don’t have good management skills!’ Worst of all were her unconvincing bullying techniques: ‘You’re a brave little girl, aren’t you?’ Finally she declares that she wants to execute everybody! I don’t know where this character is coming from but she ends up all over the pace and Gail Clayton’s performance doesn’t help matters at all. Oddly at the conclusion Klyst decides to throw away all her research and become a TARDIS herself with very little persuasion – it’s like the Master’s turnaround in Terror of the Autons! I would mention McCoy but I’m starting to sound like a broken record.

Result: Unregenerate! is cluttered full of far too many ideas, all of which are pretty good but are competing for attention in a confused narrative. A shame because episode one is the finest we have had for a while, its well paced, intriguing and once again features a Melanie Bush that kicks ass. As soon as we head off to the Institute things derail, the plot comes in massive gulps of information intersped with lots of running around pointlessly. Sylvester McCoy gives the worst performance of any Doctor in this story and I defy anybody to try and defend his gonzo characterisation. The idea of planting TARDISes into people is great but it’s a shame we have to wait so long to get to it leaving little time to explore the idea. Extra points for the coolest cabbie in town: 6/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @

The Veiled Leopard written by Iain McLaughlin & Claire Bartlett and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: Four time travellers. Two missions. Who would you put your money on, Peri and Erimem or Ace and Hex?

American Attitude: This is the Peri I know and love; the good time gal who gets a kick out of her adventures not the bull-in-a-china-shop psychotherapist that we got in Three’s a crowd. Once again Peri is the seasoned traveller and she is mentoring Erimem, a nice parallel with Ace watching over Hex’s first mission. Peri is dressed up as an Egyptian and she is lucky to have the genuine article doing her make up. She says the Doctor is a good man but so English. Time travel for Peri is all about seeing history first hand, meeting people, smelling the air…and great parties! The Bond movies were a favourite with her and her real dad. We hear a little about Peri’s childhood, pushing a guy on Candy Tyler because he kept pestering her at the prom!

Dusky Babe: Peri asks if they teach boob jokes at Pharaoh finishing school? To pose as an Egyptian she would have to cut her hair off and she really enjoys having hair now. Finds high heels to be torture devices. It’s her first taste of champagne and the sensation of bubbles going up her nose makes her giggle. Walker is dressed up as her father and finds the idea offensive. Erimem recognises hunters scanning the room. If the guards at her palace had fallen asleep she would have had them executed! It is an insult to her father to let Walker keep the diamond.

Oh Wicked: The Doctor put her in charge so they’re doing it her way. Sophie Aldred feigns an appalling Scottish accent but mocks up a fair posh one. If this wasn’t 1966 she would show Walker how feisty she is. Where would she stash a mini transmat in her dress? I love Ace’s casual dialogue: ‘We’ve got the bloke wot tried to nick it!’

Sexy Scouse: My interest was piqued as soon as I saw Philip Olivier on the cover in a tuxedo, I shouldn’t let such frivolities turn my head but there it is. Is this the only time Hex feigns the stereotypical Scouse ‘Alrite! Alrite! Caaalm down! Caaalm down?’ It occurred to me at the beginning of the second episode that this was the first time we’ve heard Hex have some fun. He spent much of The Harvest stumbling over corpses of his friends and saying ‘oh my God’ and he got lost in the numinous nonsense that was Dreamtime. Putting Ace and Hex into the role of jewel thieves allows them to have some fun together and Aldred and Olivier share wonderful chemistry when they are allowed to let their hair down. With Live 34 and Night Thoughts coming up I think it might be a little while before I get hear them having a laff again. Hex asks if he can to Carry On crumpet jokes. He’s such a lad, faking a football commentary on his intercom (imagine that gorgeous voice commentating a match). Hex thinks Ace looks really nice in a dress (the flirt) but dressing up in a tux really is fancy dress for him. ‘Give me a break, I’m new at this!’ he says of Ace’s constant criticisms of his performance. He finds it a little overwhelming that the future of an entire civilisation is resting on him. Unfortunately Hex cannot pull off the English gentleman very convincingly! His Dad almost got the heave for falling asleep on the job once. I love his hand slapping attempts to hide; Olivier displays a surprising flair for comedy.

Great Ideas: What a great period to visit, Monte Carlo, 1966, all glitz and glamour! The idea of the fifth and seventh Doctors sending their companions to perform contradictory acts (obviously the seventh Doctor knows about his earlier incarnations acts but then he always was a devious little imp) is really fun and puts a new spin on t
he anniversary multi Doctor cliché…multi companions! The Veiled Leopard is bigger the Colanor and the Star of India. The diamond used to belong to Erimem’s father; he took the stone, a wife and 1000 slaves from the king he defeated. It became known as the veiled leopard because of the flex in it, it was so pure it started to glow. When he died Erimem chose the diamond to accompany her father to the grave, which must have been defiled. There is a jewel thief that leaves a calling card with the head of the Roman God Janus, which turns out to be Lilly. She is some kind of Robin Hood, someone who is fighting back against low lives such as Walker, since she really is as wealthy as they say she has the items sold that she steals and distributes the money for those who need it. Playing the same events again from Ace and Hex’s point of view is lovely, giving a whole new spin on the story. The diamond isn’t a diamond, 10,000 years ago a planet went supernova or something equally as spectacular and they didn’t want their world to die out so they encoded everything in a crystal, all the genetic information about themselves. Half the races in the universe wanted the technology so the Doctor brought the diamond to Earth in the safe keeping of Egyptian royals. Turns out that Walker was behind the scam to steal the diamond all along, an insurance scam to make a fortune!

Audio Landscape: Dog barking, roulette wheel, casino ambience of chatter and tinkling glasses and people winning, falling down the laundry chute, dripping clothes.

Musical Cues: There is a cheesy French accordion score in the first episode that wasn’t really my cup of tea, I much preferred the piano version of the second episode which I felt captured the heist angle more effectively.

Result: A great idea for a freebie, having Peri and Erimem make ensure a diamond isn’t stolen by Ace and Hex, which bounces along with some style but annoyingly fails to bring the two sets of companions together at the end. The setting is nicely captured and allows us to see all four companions letting their hair down and there are plenty of twists and turns that you expect from this kind of heist tale. I found that the explanation of what the veiled leopard really was quite intriguing but it’s a shame we never found out anything more about this civilisation, again the sudden ending denying us any closure. An amusing caper with a few niggles: 7/10 

 Artwork by Simon Hodges @

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Three’s a Crowd written by Colin Brake and directed by Gary Russell (sweet bejesus…give someone else a go!)

What’s it about: On an almost lifeless planet in a remote star system, Earth Colony Phoenix is struggling to survive. The colonists, utterly dependent on transmat technology and unable to leave the security of their Habitat Domes, have developed severe agoraphobia... not to mention an inability to deal with visitors... The TARDIS crew arrive on an apparently abandoned space station in orbit above the planet and soon discover that they and the remaining colonists are in the gravest danger. To survive, the Doctor, Peri and Erimen must uncover the colony’s darkest secrets before it is too late. Something inhuman is stalking the Colony… and it’s hungry!

Fair Fellow: Like the rest of the production the characterisation of the fifth Doctor is unmemorable. He doesn’t do anything; he wanders about for three episodes not connecting with the plot in anyway before wrapping everything up and leaving. Given Colin Brake’s low key handling of the 8th Doctor and Fitz in Escape Velocity and the second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe in The Colony of Lies I have come to the conclusion that writing Doctor Who just isn’t his thing. He fills his characters with mundane dialogue that lacks wit and intelligence (wait until we get to Peri!). The Doctor thinks the more the merrier, he’s very happy with this crew (although with Tegan it might have been too much of a good thing). He’s offended by the suggestion that he always lands the TARDIS on Earth. Has some experience with advanced computers. Rarely has he seen an operation that disgusts him as much as this. Brake even has him say ‘Brave heart, Erimem.’ Stop reminding us of Tegan! Oddly at the story’s conclusion he tries to convince Erimem to stay and help found the new colony. Twos company but three’s a crew (even Davison sounds embarrassed saying that).

American Attitude: Brake seems to be under the impression that all American’s are intolerant, stupid bullies. I am so glad that Peri is not a counsellor because she is shockingly insensitive throughout. My advice to any budding psychiatrists out there is that you don’t say the following things to an agoraphobic:
· ‘What you need is to get out of here and get a life!’
· ‘Get a grip!’
· ‘It’s like walking with my granny!’
· ‘Go straight up and you’ll hit that space station of yours!’
· ‘Its just moving air, don’t panic!’
Her brilliant advice to Erimem who is having doubts about travelling in the TARDIS: ‘Go with the flow!’ Her description of the Kellian: ‘It looks to me like some kind of uniformed reptile!’ Peri has been teaching Erimem to ice skate on the frozen swimming pool in the TARDIS. Already she has seen such fantastic things, things that she will remember her entire lifetime. Her brilliant advice to the Doctor is: ‘We can’t keep losing Erimem everywhere we go!’ And her overall advice to an agoraphobic is to go outside because ‘you shouldn’t knock it until you’ve tried it!’ Nice one, Peri.

Dusky Babe: Some attempts to follow on from the dramatic events of The Roof of the World but lacking any kind of delicacy or exploration. Erimem is still upset about the revelations about her father but she mentions it once at the beginning of the story and then it is forgotten about. She’s also uncertain about her future aboard the TARDIS and I find it hard to believe that the events of this story convince her so excitedly that she is desperate to see and learn on further travels!

Great Ideas (sometimes my section titles trip me up…lets just call it Ideas for this story): On phoenix colony, social time is a privilege and you have to choose your social partners very closely, once a month. They are happy in their personal spaces cut off from the rest of the world.
Three people make a crowded room! You have to achieve a certain physical fitness to make the journey home (why? That is never explained). This is a dead end world in a cul de sac star cluster (why did they choose here to colonise then?). The terraforming process has been delayed (but is magically finished by the end of the story!). The Kellian Royal Guard have turned the colony into a farm, sleeping colonists sent straight from the freezer for them to eat!

Audio Landscape: Birdsong, ducks quacking, motion sensor alarms, teleporting, blaster fire, eggs hatching, feeding on corpses, blowing up the ship. A distinct lack of set pieces to allow for any impressive sound effects, this is about as vanilla as it gets.

Musical Cues: The music is barely audible and lacks menace and excitement so its pretty much perfect for this story.

Isn’t it Odd: Oh dear oh dear oh dear… The opening scenes mimic the static soap opera TARDIS scenes that slackened the pace of practically every story and makes this story pretty much crawl backwards before it has even begun. Erimem’s hurt isn’t explored in any great depth, its just brought up and ignored for the rest of the story. Lorak’s ‘rehearsal’ dialogue before calling Belip was hopelessly fake and signpost that I was in for a cheesy ride! The first episode is completely devoid of events, they land in the dome and Peri and Erimem are so daft that the latter gets trapped inside a transmat booth and the former beams her away! Underwhelming describes the first cliffhanger - ‘I think your friend might already be dead!’ – supposition hardly builds excitement. A colony of people trapped in their bedrooms? Could you think of a duller location for this to take place in (aside from the weird dream spaces of Dreamtime)? I was very surprised to find that Auntie wasn’t an automaton because Deborah Watling stresses her dialogue like a mechanical version of Ross from Friends! ‘Such activity would result in bruising, Ms Peri’ – is Butler the original Kryten from Red Dwarf? His dialogue is so insipid! Whilst I have criticised Peri’s counselling capability you can understand her frustration, there have been very few character as wet as Belip. She’s an internet geek who is all talk online but freaks out if she steps at all out of her comfort zone. She spends so much time hyperventilating and having panic attacks that you simply want to slap her about the face with a wet haddock to stop her blubbering and remove her from the action! The colony leaders managed to hide the doors in everybody’s rooms by…putting rugs up on the walls over them! What? Nobody thought to have a look? If he is that starving why doesn’t the Kellian General simply shoot the Doctor and eat him rather than discussing his own weaknesses? In episode three the Kellian threat is revealed and there is still no danger! Auntie proves to be one of the most misguided and intellectually challenged characters ever to appear in a Doctor Who story. So the terraforming operation isn’t quite ready and she has a bunch of lizards on her doorstep so what does she do? She starts beaming over the colonists for them to snack on…just to distract them whilst the planet gets itself together! What the hell would she do to cause a distraction? Set off a nuclear bomb? When the Kellian then tell her ‘Don’t worry Auntie. We’ll beam your best and the brightest down…’ she doesn’t think hmm, perhaps not, after all they are munching away on three course colonists already…perhaps they’ll just use this as an excuse to fill up their larder! Stupid, stupid woman! ‘I wanted to be certain they would die!’ she growls when she realises she has been duped. She should have been killed with them for being such a dope. I realised at the conclusion that if this story picked up its pace it could have happily have told this plot in the first episode. At the close of the story suddenly the planet is ready to be populated and the colonists are all over their agoraphobia. What a load of sweaty bollocks!

Result: Not so much slow paced as no paced, Three’s a Crowd is the epitome of dullness. It features a colourless location, characters who are either as irritating as pubic lice or unbelievably thick, banal dialogue and a lifeless narrative. Some people might rate it because Deborah Watling guest stars but she gives a mechanical performance and is playing a wretched character, it is simply another disappointment. No more stories from Colin Brake please, he cannot structure a story and his scripting is so plain there’s nary a good line for anybody. We’ve seen Davison, Bryant and Morris produce wonders together (The Church and the Crown) but this and Nekromenteia is making me wonder if they have already outlived their value: 3/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

The Ratings War written by Steve Lyons and directed by directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: The Doctor takes on his old foe…Beep the Meep!

Softer Six: In an interview I posted on my Doctor Who novel blog Steve Lyons commented that he liked the sixth Doctor but didn’t think he was always handled properly on TV. Clearly he knows exactly what he wants to do with the character with this quirky piece because he makes him one step ahead at all times, blisteringly prescient with his criticisms of reality TV and outfoxing the Most High in the funniest of ways! Its another grand showing for Colin Baker who throws himself into the silliness with real gusto. The Doctor has been trying to see Mr Lowell for over a week to complain about the appalling downturn of his programmes! I could have kissed him when he started listing the shows he despises that have been clogging up the schedules; reality TV shows, documentary dramas, quiz shows for the intellectually challenged and soap operas! Beep says he has huge flesh hands and that he is a ridiculous sack of flesh! Unfortunately he cannot do the logical thing and stop Beep because he cannot bear to see animals suffer. The Doctor admits he has rarely heard anything as ghastly as the Beep the Meep song! I love how much of a devious bugger he is here, having already foiled Beeps plan before the story began and just keeping him talking until it’s too late! His line ‘that sweet little creature is a sadistic maniac!’ made me choke on my sandwich! Beep has had just about all he can take of the Doctor’s sickening altruism. He is the ultimate celebrity! The Doctor finds television limiting in its current state, he needs to be free to express himself, he needs a medium that allows him to be…louder!

Beep the Meep: ‘I will singe the repulsive skin from your face! No amount of Grundian blood dogs will be enough! I will run a spike through your tongue! I will tear off your ears and make you eat them! I will make your drink your own blood! I will chew on your dull grey brains! I will devastate this miserable world! Blood will run through your streets! I will poke out your dog’s eyes and rip of your cute rabbits head! Your little guinea pigs will taste so good when they’re revoltingly mashed into tiny pies! Your eyes will make a wonderful eggnog! I will scoop out the jubbly bits! Your heads will be evaporated and inverted! I will turn you inside out! I will make you blue and green and yellow and paint you with all forms of tasty morsels for sharks to eat! I will feed your cute animals to you most unpleasant animals! I will tie you to bears! I will suck out your brains and spray them over the air! Drown in water until you are utterly dead! All of you will feed my army of ants! Insects will take over this world, not you, you furry fleshy horrible blubbery nasty things with your disgusting faces and your horrible little eyebrows!’ Oh isn’t he just the cutest thing!

Standout Performance: The presenter is every Davina McColl, Dermot O’Leary and Bruce Forsyth rolled into one irritating lump of exuberance! However the most memorable performance goes to Toby Longworth who turns out a fabulous Beep the Meep, both weally cute and mentally vicious! He deserves a rematch for sure.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Television is useful when it’s used to inform, to educate, to entertain!’
‘You are the stars of most of our shows and you don’t cost us a bean!’
‘You see Doctor, I could never control you, that’s why I had to cancel you!’
‘You’ll be hearing more from me! I assure you!’

Great Ideas: Firstly can I just say what a fantastic idea these DWM Big Finish freebies are? It’s a thank you for your loyalty to both the magazine and the audios in a time when it is rare to get something for nothing. The fact that The Ratings War is such a delight only multiplies my good feeling towards these companies. The television event of the decade, the choice between Todd and Lucy to see who will get their own
docudrama! Argh! The latest revolting exploits on TV have been a blue hippopotamus reading the news, the exploits of the reality TV shows dominating the news and an upper age limit of 24 years for the soap opera staff! The latest horrors have been ‘Young Cops in Hospital’, ‘Whacky Domestic Mishaps’ and ‘Look! Cute animals!’ (isn’t that Saturday night on ITV?). Behind all this is the most psychotic, sadistic war criminal – Beep the Meep! I love Beep’s cute grovelling; he really goes for the icklewickle sweetness that I cannot resist! He has been exerting his evil influence for over six months, his form triggering every form of sentimentality. The Doctor states there is only so much bland, soulless entertainment the human race can stomach before they switch over but looking at last years highest rated shows I don’t think we have quite reached that level yet! Animals in Distress – is this the first time the Doctor has been held to ransom over animal torture? Beep plans to infuse the broadcast of ‘Beep and Friends’ with subliminal imagery, instantly transforming the largest recorded audience into his killing machines! Meep managed to escape from the film by appealing to the sweetness of a young lady who he then caused her brain tissue to seep from her nostrils because the impudent little wench dared to call the Most High a Snuggly Wuggly Woo! I love it when Beep turns up at the climatic moment when we are going to find out whether Lucy or Todd has won and he guns them both down – if The X Factor finales were that good I might even tune in!

You will never hear anything as irritatingly wonderful as the Beep the Meep song but I warn you…it will be in your head for days. You have been warned…

‘Oh we dance and we pray with joy we gush,
As our dreadful song turns your brain to mush,
Join the fun and you’ll see, soon you’ll agree you are Beeps friend after all!
Ask your neighbour round for a bite and a drink,
Then nibble off his face ‘til he’s raw and pink,
Enjoy his surprise as your suck out his eyes, you are Beeps friend smash them all!
Put your dog in a blender and close the lid,
Cut the fur from your hamster to feed your kid,
Slice the fur from your cat, deep-fry him in some fat, you are Beeps friend kill them all!
Grill them all! Grill them all! Kill them all! Kill them all! Killllll Themmm Alllllll!
La la la la la la la la la, La la la la la la la la la la la, La la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la laaaaaaaaa

Let the streets run red spread our message of pain,
When they beg f or their lives use the pliers again,
No need to ask why, do it for the Most High, you are Beeps friend Conquer Alllllll!’

Audio Landscape: Lots of crowd scenes and cheering, Beeps hypno voice, dogs barking and cats meowing, blaster fire, smashing equipment…

Musical Cues: Fairytale tinkling as Beep uses his hypno voice. I love the dramatic choral music that suggest something much more serious is happening!

Standout Moment: The Doctor’s reaction to the song. Genius.

Result: Wonderful, a snapshot of the sixth Doctor’s colourful adventures in the comic strip with the mediums best villain. Whilst you are laughing your pants off at this fantastic satire it is also saying some very important points about the state of television at the moment. Colin Baker and Toby Longworth both shine and the Beep the Meep song is the most horrific and wonderful thing you will ever here in your lifetime. A gem of a freebie, and well worth seeking out: 8/10 

Artwork by Simon Hodges @