Monday, 28 February 2011

The Necropolis Express written by Mark Morris and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: Strange things are happening in the pauper’s graveyard at Charnel’s End. There are hideous creatures in the undergrowth, a mysterious light emanating from the church, and something deadly beneath the ground itself. Someone from Litefoot’s past has come back to haunt him, and things may never be the same again…

Theatrical Fellow: Never let it be said that Henry Gordon Jago will abandon a friend in need – he cautiously follows his dear friend Professor Litefoot on the ghoulish Necropolis Express. He’s really not sure about travelling with a cart of cadavers and finds the idea of looking inside at the coffins contents against the law of God. He is the past master at letting his imagination run away with him and swears that he can hear the contents of the coffin stirring and making noises! Jago is such a brilliant old coward; he tries several attempts to get out of their midnight sojourn. Describes himself as a Theatrical Impresario…and that’s about all really. Tact has never been his strong point: ‘This broth looks as inviting as pond water!’ Admits he is not built for all this skulking. Jago finds even torturing the dead to be inhuman and he apologies as he electrocutes one of them! He will have no part in Crowe’s madcap scheme no matter how he dresses it up to be humane.

Posh Professor: Finds Jago’s appearance heartening in the cold weather. His mission is clear, they need to find Ellie and if she has turned they will have to put her out of her misery. He doubts that an infirmed old man will be a match for them. Poor Trevor Baxter often has to play the straight man whilst Chris Benjamin runs away with all the best lines so it is great to see somebody from Litefoot’s past turn up and give him some interesting character background. He was sure that Mr Maud was a fraud from the start and is appalled when his old friend Sabilius Crowe. Turns out he was disgusted by his friends betrayal of science. He tries desperately to appeal to Ellie’s better nature as she begins to savage Crowe.

Standout Performance: Vernon Dobcheft takes what could have been a one-note role; a nutty professor dabbling in some unearthly experiments and makes it far more sinister and interesting. It helps that the character has a connection to Litefoot but Crowe has a purring charm that beautifully matches his psychotic intensity.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Its only a locomotive for all its macabre connotations…’
‘For all I know the bally lot of them are about to leap from their boxes and set about us!’

Great Ideas: Gabriel Sanders murdered Ellie in cold blood and she is to make her final journey to the pauper’s graveyard at midnight by the Necropolis Express. Only those who are completely exsanguinated that don’t rise again, those who still have blood in their veins are filled with the virus and become like Sanders. Jago & Litefoot have to inspect every coffin in order to find Ellie – ugh! They are back amongst the graveyards (like The Bellova Doll) and discover that the corpses of penniless paupers are buries on top of each other. There are hot spots on the ground, machinery humming and lightning reaching up to the sky. Jago is attacked by a hideous, ravaging, dead old woman. Crowe is stacking bodies like firewood and wheeling them away. There is a laboratory under the graveyard that is as well equipped as the Royal Society where they discover bodies in vats of preserving liquid. Crowe disgraced himself and their profession and was struck off the medical register for his macabre experiments on the cadavers of the dead. He wants to find a way of reversing death; an army of tireless, fearless corpses that would see Great Britain rule the world. An invincible Empire. His re-animator scheme has been funded by Gabriel Sanders in a sideline to his evil schemes, to bring more people back from the dead. Sanders is still alive. If the deceased can undergo the re-animation process soon enough after death before the brain atrophies, then their bodies and mind can be fully restored and all trace of illness and disease vanished. Ellie is re-animated as a vicious, undead beast! Crowe tries to shoot her dead but she rises again and savages him. Ellie can hear the blood rushing in her friends and her hunger is like an itch you can’t scratch. They need to help her in whatever way they can and decide that her nighttime job at the tavern is perfectly discreet for a vampire. Sanders visits her at the bar and reveals his face, it is burnt beyond disfigurement and he is seeking revenge on those who caused it…

Audio Landscape: Train whistle, horses, luggage trolley, crows, the vibration beneath their feet in the graveyard, snarling, growling creatures, crackling fire, breaking into the coffins, a creaky old wheelbarrow, electricity crackling, rats, bubbling vats, the horrific screaming experiment, a slavering dead army, gunshots, the mass of undead soldiers tearing Crowe apart.

Musical Cues: Another very good score, I especially loved the music as they pursue Mr Maud and the exhilarating crescendo when Ellie comes to life.

Standout Scene: Ellie’s resurrection is absolutely gripping and Crowe being torn apart by his undead army is an unforgettable ending. The chilling last scene suggest very dark things to come…

Result: I have been waiting an age to hear a Mark Morris audio (I haven’t reached his Dalek story yet) and he doesn’t disappoint, this is as macabre and ghoulish as I was expecting and then some! It starts with a very simple premise of seeing Ellie to her grave and weaves through some very funny scenes of Jago trying to keep brave in a ghastly graveyard, the return of an old friend of Litefoot’s, an awesome horrific reveal of an old character and the revelation that Sanders has his hands in far more than we were led to believe. The dialogue is as rich as a fine claret, Lisa Bowerman really aces the Victorian atmosphere and scares and the performances are top notch. I hate that these seasons are only 4 stories long as I really enjoy them and feel that they are over far too quickly but if less running time means this level of quality goes into what we do have then so much the better. Top notch: 9/10

Buy the second season box set from Big Finish here:

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Litefoot & Sanders written by Justin Richards and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: Women are being killed on the streets of London, and the evidence points to it being the work of a vicious vampire. This should be a case for Jago and Litefoot but – to the astonishment of Jago – the esteemed investigators of infernal incidents have gone their separate ways. It’s now a case for Litefoot and Sanders – but Jago isn’t going to go away quietly…

Theatrical Fellow: Oh Henry Gordon Jago you wonderful old blackguard how I’ve missed you these past few months. I popped this story onto my MP3 player and within five minutes I was laughing furiously at his bull in a china shop approach, sparkling alliteration and marvellous metaphors! Christopher Benjamin is one of the countries best character actors and it is wonderful to see him shine in his own series. Long may it continue! According to Jago, Litefoot and he solve more crimes than all the inspectors of Scotland Yard put together, although he doesn’t like to boast. He sometimes wonders why a man of Litefoot’s calibre chose to waste his friendship on a duffer like him. Ellie suggests he could make a corpse laugh! He never considers it a wasted journey when visiting a good friend. All bluster and gunpowder but underneath he’s as soft as summer butter (what a lovely description of the man). Jago is mortified that Litefoot is keeping secrets from him and his undercover work leaves a lot to be desired (‘Vampires! Oh corks!’). Henry Gordon Jago is renowned for his cucumber calm and constant composure (hahaha!). His outrageous drunken disguise had me in fits (‘Ooh begorah!’). Financially inconvenienced at the moment. He recognises how out of character Litefoot has been and suggests it is all a ploy and that his word didn’t hurt him at all when we know this isn’t the case. An incompetent amateur bumbler! He wishes the vampire would stop looking at him like a piece of Sunday beef! Litefoot tells Sanders that Jago is not a buffoon but he does have a habit blundering into the truth. Sanders is defeated because he underestimated the courage, guile and ingenuity of Henry Gordon Jago!

Posh Professor: Litefoot is extremely sharp with Jago but it is desperately sweet how he is trying to protect his friend. He is quite shaken at their argument and heads to the pub to calm himself down. Is he burning the candle at both extremities? He is a surreptitious sleuth investigating bloodless bodies with the sinister Sanders. Litefoot tells Jago in a tense moment that his investigations are the dilettante investigations of an amateur and that he has tolerated his vain delusions for too long. Litefoot knew Sanders was the killer all along and wanted to draw him into the open, making him feel as though he was needed. He fears Jago’s death more than his own and Sanders envies their friendship. Their laughter as they escape the burning building is a wonderful affirmation of their camaraderie. Litefoot admits he has missed Jago throughout this investigation.

Standout Performance: David Collings is brilliantly menacing as Sanders. The scene where he attacks Mags (‘I just wanted to see if you flinch when I go to strike you!’) positively terrified me!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Surely a surreptitious squint beneath the shroud wont hurt…?’
‘I’m very thirsty. You wouldn’t deny me a drink, would you Mr J?’
‘We have to find him before the vile vampire bares his nefarious fangs!’
‘Lets hope for all our sakes that Ellie is dead…’

Great Ideas: A clandestine cadaver is found drained of blood. There is a vampire abroad in London Town, the pea souper atmosphere hiding the sun and a perfectly breeding ground for the fiend. I loved the scenes with Mags the poor blind girl and how Jago recognises her con straight away. Sanders reveals himself as the vampire and he takes Mags’ life. There are hints of what is to come, of Sanders’ endless work, experiments and his hunt. Jago lights up white spirit to dispatch his old friend turned bloodsucker. Insects are drawn to Sanders because he brings death and they are attracted to death. Litefoot sets up a trap to ensnare Sanders but Jago blunders in and ruins everything. Transpires Sanders knew about the trap and Jago had an ace up his sleeve, Sergeant Quick and the constabulary setting fire to the building. Litefoot reveals a concealed window and they make their escape. The news of Ellie’s death is very shocking.

Audio Landscape: Back to Victorian London where it can be said the sound effects really conjure up a sinister atmosphere. Horse and cart clip clopping on the cobbles, a snarling, laughing murderer, lively tavern scenes, a squeaky door with Jago’s muffled voice inside, flies buzzing, insects crawling, clinking coins, a newspaper vendor, Mags’ scream, police whistle, Jago staking Mags and setting her aflame, sloshing riverside water, gorgeous crackling flames.

Musical Cues: Very nice indeed. What I love about this the music in this series is that it doesn’t smother the drama and only turns up when the situation needs some extra atmosphere. The score as Sanders attacks Mags is brilliantly dramatic and the fiery conclusion has some delicious music.

Standout Scene: ‘I think I’ll have that drink after all…’ says Sanders to Ellie in one of the most chilling double meanings I have heard in a long while. Plus Jago & Litefoot’s fiery argument as he turns his friend out in favour of Sanders is devastating.

Result: From the terrifying opening scene to the devastating final twist, the opener for season two of Jago & Litefoot matches the superb quality of the first year. The performances of Benjamin, Baxter and Collings are sublime and Justin Richards’ flair with luminescent loquacious language makes this an enchanting experience. Like The Bloodless Soldier this is a quiet opener but it is bursting with wonderful character moments and real menace and atmosphere. Big Finish have struck gold with this series: 9/10

Buy the season two boxset from Big Finish here:

The Vengeance of Morbius written and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: The richest man in the galaxy has just bought a backwards planet with no obvious mineral wealth in the outer reaches of the universe. An obscure mystical sect has been revived after centuries of neglect. A new race of aliens are hunting for prey. Why? As the Doctor and Lucie attempt to discover the answer, it becomes clear that someone is attempting to resurrect the past - and they need a Time Lord to help them achieve it.

Breathless Romantic: He talks of other times, other places suggesting to Lucie that he has had a long a fruitful life before he met her. The Doctor decides to stuff dignity and goes ape shit in his prison cell – a level of anger he rarely boils to. It is one of those rare occasions that he feels warrants crossing his own time line. Morbius takes one look at him declares he is still playing the fools. The Doctor takes the piss out of Morbius with his usual aplomb, barely looking up as he tries to threaten them and saying ‘Sorry we were doing a jigsaw…’ Suggests Morbius isn’t quite all there and that Zarodnax has surrounded him with ‘yes’ men. His death at the end of this story sees him plummet over a cliff, Sherlock Holmes style and this occasion is part of the vital time event that made the repairing of time possible. Always inspiring loyalty, he was a good man. If they really cared the Time Lords could bring him back.

Luscious Lucie: I loved the interview extra on this story that sees Sheridan Smith talking so enthusiastically about performing in these Big Finish plays. I loved her reaction to hearing the description of Charley: ‘Posh totty…and then the northern scum comes in!’ Like a new listener, Lucie is confused by all the continuity thrown at her in the first scene (Morbius, Solon, Karn, etc). As ever her levels of diplomacy are razor sharp, Lucie screams ‘lets us out of here you scraggy weirdoes!’ at the Sisterhood! If she has to die Lucie is glad it is with the one man she cares about the most – wow see how far they have come since Blood of the Daleks! She wants the Doctor to hug her when they are about to die. ‘You are your killing!’ Lucie says to Herspira, pointing out her flaws, ‘ease up will you?’ The Doctor advises that she give herself a wide berth as they cross their own timelines, it’s the advice he gives anyone who could possibly meet her! Lucie suggests that she might have been born in a service station in Blackpool. She is sarcastic when she is out of sorts and tells Time Lords ‘come on Buly, close down your transacorooonies!’ She seems almost gleeful at the thought of breaking a few laws of time: ‘We go right back to before all this happens and nobble Zarodnax!’ She made quite an impression on Rostro and he uses her name as a strength. She says her true timeline is with the Doctor and she bursts into tears when he plummets to his death. The Time Lords offer to wipe her mind to make the pain go away (‘Don’t you bleedin’ dare!’). The Doctor was her mate and he saved the universe, they had the time of their lives and did great stuff together. She will never forget him.

Standout Performance: Sheridan Smith once again steals the show, especially her tragic reaction to the Doctor’s death.

Great Ideas: Zarodnax drove the Sisterhood from Karn, bombarding them from space and tearing the planet apart. He wanted to mine the planet for industrial purposes when secretly he was looking for a remnant of the brain of Morbius. He has a Morbius fixation, has bought every artefact and is dangerously obsessed. Haspira infiltrated the cult and discovered Zarodnax’s plan to revive the villainous despot. The Sisters sent the brain of Morbius to its death and now Zarodnax is looking for a Time Lord to inhabit Morbius’ consciousness. When the Sisterhood warned the Time Lords of what was coming they recalled all TARDISes and quarantined Gallifrey, the Time Scoop capturing all Time Lords out on missions. Locating a fragment of Morbius’ brain and mixing it up with Straxus’ DNA, essentials of the dictator are in the fragment. Primitive interplanetary missile bounce from the Time Lord transduction barriers. Morbius drains the Eye of Harmony of energy and leaves the Time Lords without time travel and rips the heart of the Doctor’s TARDIS. Morbius is forced to continually feed from Straxus when he gets weary. Whole star systems have surrendered to the might of Morbius’ fleet. If they can get the Stellar Manipulator back the Time Lords can go back and stop Morbius. He brought back the statue of Liberty from the Earth after crushing them. The Doctor and Morbius both fall to their deaths.

Audio Landscape: Bells and chimes, the Time Ring, Zarodnax’s laboratory equipment, the Gallifreyan background hum, missiles hitting the transduction barriers, water dripping in the cell, a very grumpy TARDIS, rain falling, sirens, Lucie’s doorbell.

Musical Cues: Extremely effective and befitting a far more dramatic story.

Isn’t it Odd: What is up with the fluting, camp Zarodnax? What a pointless, ill conceived, strangely acted villain, nowhere near the style and psychosis of Solon. There is so much slow build up to Morbius’ return which doesn’t happen until halfway through this episode – his resurrection should have been the cliffhanger to the last episode leaving enough to time to properly explore his threatening nature and army building and conquering. Instead the story has to skip forward ten years as soon as he is revived to a point where we are exposed to his weaknesses straight away and thus he never feels like a threat. Certainly not the all conquering, Time Lord hiding, universal destruction threat that everybody is talk about. We never get to hear any action so it’s very hard to connect with this risk. The Headhunter holding a gun on Lucie at the end of the story is another moment of false tension designed to ensnare people to come back next time, it feels pretty cheap, not springing from this story but just a random moment at the end of the story.

Standout Scene: I really enjoyed the Dispersal Chamber scenes, which sees the Doctor and Lucie panicking at their impending deaths and then the Doctor all smug that he has managed to get them out of it, then realise that they are still in danger…and then just at the moment they think it is all over it was all a bluff!

Result: Lacking the imagination, confidence and style of The Brain of Morbius, Vengeance is a flat rehash of classic elements that adds nothing new to the mix and this two part season finale proves to be the first real misstep of the range. Two thirds of the story is all build up leaving the last 20 minutes to deal with Morbius’ resurrection and since we never get to see any of his devastation it feels like this is one villain who is all talk and trading on his reputation. In shocking contrast with the season 13 classic all of the characters are dull and unengaging from the returning Time Lord Straxus, to the Sisterhood and right the way through to Zarodnax and Morbius himself. The best moments belong to the regulars, Lucie in particular, but they cannot hold up this camp bit of old nonsense on their own. Even Nick Briggs’ direction lacks its usual panache. A damp squib of a finale at the end of an inconsistent year: 4/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

Friday, 25 February 2011

Sisters of the Flame written and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: The richest man in the galaxy has just bought a backwards planet with no obvious mineral wealth in the outer reaches of the universe. An obscure mystical sect has been revived after centuries of neglect. A new race of aliens are hunting for prey. Why? As the Doctor and Lucie attempt to discover the answer, it becomes clear that someone is attempting to resurrect the past - and they need a Time Lord to help them achieve it.

Breathless Romantic: This is the Big Finish equivalent of those Doctorless tales like Love & Monsters and Blink where he is written out of the action, but it is more like Turn Left because it gives Sheridan Smith the chance to own an episode of her own. The Doctor knows his TARDIS console and he knows when he is dead. He wonders if the Time Lords want him to return home why don’t they just ask? He considers failure as one of the basic freedoms.

Luscious Lucie: Poor Lucie gets so many bruises falling about in the TARDIS. She is ripped apart from the Doctor and we get to see how good she is on her own two feet. Lucie doesn’t have any documentation and gives an incredible amount of lip to her jailer (‘you great big garden bug!’). We finally get to see how much the Doctor means to Lucie but now she thinks he is dead, she misses him and she cannot bear the thought of never seeing him again. Straxus had almost forgotten what a thoroughly unpleasant girl she is! Lesser species aren’t allowed on Gallifrey so Straxus wont taking her with him. She and the Doctor were having a really good, fun time, she liked being with him, it was dangerous and she moaned. Lucie keeps saying was as if it really is all over. I really like that Lucie apologises for her blatant racism and finds Rosto’s calm acceptance of it very generous. Lucie and Rosto make a pretty good team and she is quite the most fascinating humanoid he has ever met. Lucie asks the Time Lords about their pretentious way of gobbling up the Doctor in time scoops: ‘Ever thought of just using the phone?’ She’s so excited to see the Doctor at the conclusion and hugs him to death!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Karn here we come!’

Great Ideas: The TARDIS is eaten up by a time scoop and are spat out of the vortex into a space freighter. Rosto is a Trell, a ten-foot centipede police officer from a peaceful and ordered race. Straxus visits Lucie in her cell. The survival of the Time Lords and the whole of space-time are at stake! Haspira is one of the Sisterhood of Karn trying to kidnap Lucie. The Sisterhood departed Karn years ago. Zarodnax is the leader of the cult of Morbius and he has bought Karn…what could he be up to?

Audio Landscape: A silent TARDIS, freighter tearing through space, a creepy computer voice, centipede mandibles twitching, the coughing Time Ring materialisation, Lucie is assaulted by the chants of the Sisterhood, flames, gas, teleport device.

Isn't it Odd: The Doctor mentions that a stellar manipulator can shut off the Eye of Harmony in the very first scene…something that would only be mentioned if it were relevant in this story. And bugger me that is exactly what happens in the next episode! I don’t understand why they keep bringing back Katerina Olsson in various roles, it wasn’t so bad in The Zygon Who Fell to Earth when her voice was modulated but here she just sounds like the Headhunter doing an old woman voice – it was so obviously her I was expecting a cliffhanging moment when the leader of the Sisterhood was revealed to be…the Headhunter. Alas that moment never came. As far as I can see the point of this episode was to introduce the Sisterhood and reveal that Zarodnax is the leader of Morbius’ cult and yet both things were done in a little under ten minutes in The Brain of Morbius. The cliffhanger is utterly underwhelming, considering how many other things could be done shoving the Doctor and Lucie into the Dispersal Chamber is probably the falsest moment of tension they could have chosen.

Result: Far too quiet and eventless for its own good, Sisters of the Flame does not feel like the prelude to an exciting season finale. There is all this talk of the direst of consequences and yet all we see here is the usual kidnap/escape/capture routine on an even smaller scale than usual. Lots of Lucie is always a good thing and Sheridan Smith’s performance is as rewarding as ever but rather than using her character to drive the plot there is no plot so most of the story is Lucie sitting in various prisons grunting at her captors. My favourite aspect of the story was Alexander Siddig’s Rostro, a genuinely appealing character who is great here but wasted in the finale: 5/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

The Zygon Who Fell to Earth written by Paul Magrs and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about:There are no monsters this time... are there? Ten years later and Aunty Pat is in her prime. She's snagged herself an ex rock star at the Kendal Folk Festival and now, in the brave new world of the early 1980s they manage together a snazzy hotel on the poetic and shingly shore of Lake Grasmere. However, still waters run deep and friends from the past are returning, intent on milking the old cash-cow...

Breathless Romantic: Whilst on the surface this is a quiet episode it will have consequences that will shatter the eighth Doctor’s life in the future. Such is the way of life when moments of decision that you think are right at the time turn out to have disastrous consequences for those who it effects. Admittedly he does ponder on whether telling Lucie that her Aunty Pat has died but ultimately decides that it will do her no harm to leave her with the comforting notion that the Pat she knows and loves is the real thing and not a Zygon replica. How wrong can he be? The Doctor and Wordsworth are like that. They are not here for a palaver with monsters but for the poetry, the scenery and Aunty Pat! Lucie declares him an old fogie when he asks what a remix is. He doesn’t destroy eco systems, enslave populations and suck out people’s minds (or at least not that we know of!). Like the third Doctor was with the Ice Warriors in The Curse of Peladon and proved wrong, thus the eighth Doctor is highly sceptical about the motives of Hagoth the Zygon and Aunty Pat thought he would be the last person to be prejudiced. After the Zygons are exposed and Lucie starts acting out of character I kept waiting for the Doctor to put two and two together and figure out she was a fake but turns out he was one step ahead of me all along and just playing along to gain her trust and learn more. Aunty Pat suggests there is death and disaster around him all of the time and notice how he doesn’t question that summation of his life. Like a romantic hero he wants to sit and drink tea as the sun comes up and quote poetry, a lovely image shattered by the shock reveal of Hagoth’s survival and their quiet pact of silence for Lucie’s sake.

Luscious Lucie: She didn’t realise that Aunty Pat ran a posh hotel way back when and puts her foot in it again suggesting that the Aunty she knew as she was growing up wasn’t successful or happy at all, hinting at the tragic events that unfold here. Watching Mims suckling the Skarasen is quite the most disgusting thing Lucie has ever seen! When she returns from her undercover spying a different Lucie she downs half a pint of vodka! ‘Doesn’t this body appeal to your twisted tastes?’ she asks of Hagoth in which I was unsure if there was an insult or a compliment hidden! The Doctor rouses her from her slumber by insisting that this isn’t one of her Sunday morning lie ins and as she wakes and discovers herself encased in Zygon technology she screams ‘I’m in a womb!’ Lucie panics at the thought of Aunty Pat dying on the ship and Sheridan Smith’s vulnerable performance really pulls at the heartstrings. The idea that history could blink and miss Aunty Pat devastates her. When she finds out the truth of what happened however, that’s when the shit will really hit the fan…

Standout Performance: I really love how everybody throws themselves into their Zygon roles, especially in such an unusual script. Its one of those stories where had the actors not taken the material seriously it could have descended into farce but this dedicated ensemble wring every iota of feeling from Magrs’ layered script. I especially liked the relationship between Malcolm Stoddard’s Urtak and Tim Brooke-Taylor’s Mims, which could have been desperately embarrassing but actually turns out to be very funny and touching. I have to mention Steven Pacey who I had the biggest crush on during his time on Blake’s 7.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Let us take a stroll together in the moonlight’ ‘Oooh!’
‘He’s my great big hunk of Zygon!’
‘At the sight of our natural forms most of your kind becomes shrieking basket cases!’
‘Fingers crossed the Skarasen is off visiting his Scottish pal.’
‘She was given it by Warlord Hagoth or as you know him…Trevor!’

Great Ideas: Bygones Guest House in the Lake District is run by Aunty Pat and her husband Trevor. There are myths of a monster in the lake and as is always the case with these legends there is a Skarasen nearby! ‘Squeeze out her gorgeous vitality!’ cries Urtak as Mims milks the beast! Pat knows her husband is a Zygon and states that she has certainly dated far worse and they have a body print device in the cellar. The Doctor mentions another lot in the 19th Century down South, which seems to imply The Bodysnatchers and very interestingly links the Big Finish stories with those of the novels (stick that in yer pipe and smoke it, Gary Russell). Trevor had a terrible accident and his body was put into cryogenic suspension and only survives now through Hagoth, he’s assumed his form and kept him alive for a quarter of a century. The Zygons have been investing massively in industrial projects all over the globe for decades, encouraging the unleashing of modified CFCs into the atmosphere with the twin objectives of raising the cash for materials to repair their ship and causing massive damage to the ozone layer. Flinging every kind of poison at the sky and because it is in the guise of ‘big business’ the people of the Earth just let it happen – the spirit of free enterprise. I found these scenes highly appropriate as just like Brave new Town told an intimate story about the Autons whilst making some extremely salient points about humanity, as does this story about the Zygons. It makes perfect sense for the Zygons to tackle their desire to manipulate the environment of the Earth by polluting it since it is one method we would happily allow happening without a fuss as long as money is being made. The Zygons are ready to detonate gasses into the atmosphere as soon as they have the organic crystalliser. As that is fused to Pat’s skin they rip her throat out to get at it. When he sees what they have done to his beloved Trevor sends the Skarasen to attack their ship and release the gases, poisoning them all. He uses all of his energy to take one more shape which will last for a couple of decades, that of his love Aunty Pat thus keeping the web of time and Lucie’s memories of her Aunty on track.

Audio Landscape: We are extremely lucky that Barnaby Edwards directs so many of these EDAs because he has such a great ear for an evocative audio and he assembles some of the most impressive casts. There is a wonderful soulful opening that merges into a car journey with the song on the radio, pouring drinks, Zygon voices, the control signal, the Skarasen roaring and bursting free of the lakes, the transformation noise, morning birdsong, the sting of the Zygons, that whacky communicator alarm, the humming Zygon ship, the awesome Zygon alarm, Trevor being stung (whipped) near to death…

Musical Cues: Its great that both of Magrs’ EDAs have a song specially written and performed in them and this is another winner. The closing melody in particular is very stirring. I also loved the music whilst Lucie was creeping about after Zygons and the subtle piano theme as Lucie contemplates life without her Aunty Pat.

Result: The ultimate collision between the unreal and the domestic, The Zygon Who Fell to Earth enjoys the gorgeous premise of a fallen Zygon warlord opening up a B’n’B in the Lake District and falling in love. Now if that sounds like a lunatic premise too far be warned, this isn’t a ribbing at Doctor Who but rather a characterful and touching adventure that tiptoes confidently between embarrassment and genius. The Zygons are very well suited to audio as there are so many memorable and creepy sound effects to call upon that make them instantly recognisable and enjoyable. Paul Magrs never really lets me down, this was the one story of his that approached with caution and within I found some wonderful moments of warmth and laughter and an ending that left me holding back the tears. Bravo: 8/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Grand Theft Cosmos written by Eddie Robson and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: Here's to crime, Doctor! The Doctor and Lucie visit nineteenth-century Sweden and become embroiled in an attempt to steal the infamous Black Diamond. But the stone is guarded by forces not of this world...

Breathless Romantic: Oh my, what luminous characterisation of the eighth Doctor! It reminds me very strongly of the same irreverence with which the sixth Doctor tackled Dr Who and the Pirates, a sense of casual abandon and a dazzling sense that he is making it all up as he goes along with great pleasure! When he announces that they are going to steal the painting he is positively foaming at the mouth with excitement! This episode suggests a trainspotter Doctor with a geeky notepad licking his pencil. It transpires that the works of Tardelli are obscure because the Doctor has done his utmost to find them wherever he can and destroy them! He tells us of an adventure in Rome where he discovered that Tardelli could warp the fabric of reality and he was trying to influence the Pope. When criticised for his time crafts lack of stealth making discreet landings impossible the Doctor bemoans that it is exceedingly difficult to making the rendering of space and time any quieter. The Doctor is clearly having a ball playing Lucie’s gruff guardian, I bet he loves these kind of theatrics. He thinks it is quite possible to be a morally sound thief and cites Robin Hood, Lucie ponders that he was at his wedding to which the Doctor replies ‘No, he wasn’t the Marion kind.’ Groan. He indulges in a spot of swordplay and I bet he looked strikingly Byronesque with his flowing hair and velvet jacket! With a certain crushing inevitability he always shows up. Are they talented amateurs? Thinks he is clever by forcing Tardelli to free his people and mentions that you should never meet your heroes. I love that as she zaps off the Headhunter still refuses to acknowledge the Doctor as an enemy and asks for his and Lucie’s CV, just in case any work comes up that they might be suitable for!

Luscious Lucie: Oh Lucie let me count the ways I love thee! If I were to rank the original Big Finish companions from worst to best I would have to start with C’rizz who hardly ever floated my boat, then move onto Erimem who was very good but had stories of unpredictable quality and was chopped off in her prime, next up would be Hex who is quietly rather wonderful and real but is sometimes drowned out by the melodramatics of his other regulars, Charley comes next who is extremely inconsistent as a character but at her best (her first two season and her run with the sixth Doctor) is one of the best companions and Evelyn would come out on top as one of my all time favourite companions, beautifully performed by Maggie Stables and having a consistently wonderful rapport with Colin Baker’s sixth Doctor. Lucie Miller is edged into second place by Evelyn but just by a smidgeon, she’s excellently suited to McGann’s northern eighth Doctor, she makes me laugh in every single story, she has a fabulous line in put downs and she is so successful you invest a lot of energy and emotion into her (making the huge developments in season four all the more devastating). I really like her as a companion because she doesn’t need much hand holding and I really like her as a person because she comes armed with a lot of common sense and humour. Alas I have just that bit more emotional energy invested in Evelyn, when she gets upset it well and truly breaks my heart and I simply adore the idea of a feisty old dear getting a new lease of life in her twilight years.

Anyway I digress from the fabulous work done with Lucie in Grand Theft Cosmos that sees her relationship with the Doctor at its height. Astonishing considering Sheridan Smith wasn’t even there on the same day of recording as Paul McGann but thanks to some smart editing and phenomenal performances you have no chance in hell of telling that this was the case. As one of my very favourite actresses Patricia Routledge said comedy is all about rhythm, all the best comics throw a lot at you very quickly but if it flows and the wit is in the right places it hits a crescendo of humour that really tickles your toes. Grand Theft Cosmos displays that sort of wit in profusion, lots of clever wordplay and fast paced chemistry between the actors that left me heaving with laughter. It’s at times like this it is very handy to have performers of the calibre of Smith and McGann. Lucie wants to play her MP3 Player regardless of the consequences to the web of time! She cannot believe that she fell for the ‘look over there!’ trick. Lucie is just as enamoured with the idea of being an art thief as the Doctor. Her turn as the camp and outrageous poash Miss palmer Tomkinson had me in stitches, she plays the dainty, fainting, fawning, flirtatious, fluttery rich girl with considerable aplomb! ‘Oh pershaw!’ she scoffs to her guardian the Doctor and manages to extract all the information they need from the guard with her damsel in distress routine. How far have companions come, there was a time (Susan, Victoria) when this sort of Dresden china really did hang about with the Doctor! As much as the Doctor dresses it up as something more Lucie still thinks of it as nicking something! When she finally sees a painting by Tardelli she is distinctly unimpressed. I love her whacked out reactions to things – ‘ang on!’ and ‘Leg it!’ She thinks the Headhunter is all mouth to which her nemesis responds that the Doctor has let his dog out! Oo-er! Expect pain…

Standout Performance: What an astonishing cast. I have been a little underwhelmed by the casts of the second season of eighth Doctor adventures – not because any of the performances have been bad by any means but because the calibre of the first season stories was so high (Bernard Cribbins, Nigel Havers, Roy Marsden). However this is as showy a cast as Barnaby Edwards has ever assembled with Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith at their height, Katerina Olsson and Louise Fullerton making a sparkling comeback and Timothy Spaull and Christopher Benjamin providing some very colourful characters.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Here’s to crime!’
‘Why don’t you use that stuff you put on a hankie and hold over someone’s mouth?’ ‘Because a good whack on the head is easier, more reliable and above all cheaper!’
‘I obey…’ ‘Why do people always say that when they’re hypnotised?’ ‘It’s the default setting on most mind probes. You can choose what response the subject gives you.’
‘What’s that?’ (whispering) ‘I don’t know…’ – you’ve got to love a thoughtful hypnotised lackey!
‘Good grief you throw like a girl!’
‘You are entering a world (punch!) of (punch!) pain (punch!)!’

Great Ideas: I love the idea of Lucie and Karen bumping into each other so casually in the most unlikely of settings no they both travel with a time traveller! Claudio Tardelli has very few surviving examples of his work. Karen leaps from the speeding train onto a horse being ridden at speed by the Headhunter, having stolen a fake diamond! I love how the Headhunter beautifully puts down Karen but doesn’t offer any apologies. Isn’t all the Master-esque ‘wasn’t she dead?’ stuff great? They manage to skip over all the awkward explanations with pure cheek. King Oscar is a highly respected arbitrator and if he is influenced by Tardelli it could be ruinous for politics. The Headhunter is posing as Elizabeth of Bohemia and has hypnotised a guard to help them in their art heist. Lucie allows Simonsson into the TARDIS to suggest it is some kind of rare art treasure so they take it into the palace with the Doctor insider (and she makes a tidy profit in the meantime). I love all the scenes of tossing the diamond about and Karen and Lucie running into the scene and gaining possession at different times. A moving Tardelli statue – silicon based life form? Exiled to Earth, hidden in the black diamond containing a small self containing universe three light years long that Tardelli designed and rules over. The Headhunter is after Tardelli as a designer for one of her clients. The diamond is fractured and the universe is spilling out with a potentially ruinous collision of matter that will destroy them all. The Doctor forces Tardelli to force his gap in the universe into a gap between universes and allowing his subjects to survive.

Audio Landscape: A wonderful atmosphere of trains, dining carts, restaurants, galloping horses, swordplay, street scenes, palaces and monsters!

Musical Cues: Amorous, sweeping and charming, perfectly suited to the piece.

Standout Scene: Its another one of those stories where it is hard to pick an individual scene amongst so many attractive moments but my favourite are probably the deliriously enjoyable Miss Palmer-Tomkinson scenes.

Result: Stylishly written and directed, Grand Theft Cosmos matches Max Warp as the most brilliantly irreverent and pleasurable release of the year. I love heist stories when they are done well and Eddie Robson gets the gleeful tone of this story perfect and his witty and clever script is matched by a very impressive, elegant cast. The pace is relentless and the comedy flows beautifully from the characters and their history but there are also some very tasty original ideas floating about as well. Enjoy these times with the wonderfully fun eighth Doctor and Lucie team because it wont last forever and their partnership sees Big Finish produce another unforgettable, unmissable series of adventures. The Headhunter whisks away in a romantic fashion and I desperately want her to return! A comic heist tale that always leaves me blissfully happy: 9/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

Brave New Town written by Jonathan Clements and directed by Jason Haigh-Ellery

What’s it about: It's like The Village That Time Forgot! The inhabitants of the quiet seaside town of Thorington in Suffolk are living the same day over and over again. What's so special about the 1st of September 1991? Why haven't the villagers noticed that the same song has been number one for years? And just where on Earth has the sea disappeared to?

Breathless Romantic: The Doctor manages to save an entire new race from certain destruction and deservedly gives himself a pat on the back at the end of the story. He was planning on taking Lucie to the seaside but she was thinking Blackpool rather than the town that time forgot! The Doctor likes a good mystery but this has questions that keep piling on top and there are no answers and the only people who can give them are prevaricating like mad! No wonder he gets a bit grumpy. He thinks he might be slipping because he didn’t suspect for a moment that he might be dealing with Autons, the people of the town simply feel too real to be fake. Lucie thinks that the Doctor knows everything. I really liked the scene where he opened to the comms and sent a coded message to Lucie and McCarthy to detonate the bomb using explosive and cataclysmic and destructive language!

Luscious Lucie: One thing I really learnt about Lucie in this story is that whilst she might not be very intelligent, she does have a lot of common sense. ‘Where does all plastic come from?’ asks the Doctor ‘Taiwan?’ answers Lucie. ‘Marco Polo himself!’ the Doctor enthuses, ‘The guy who invented the mint?’ asks Lucie. I can imagine that Lucie spent a lot of her school life bunking off and learning about life because her knowledge is appalling whereas her ability to handle herself is second to none. She certainly has a vivid imagination and she walks from the TARDIS suggesting zombies, ghost towns and epidemics! When the Doctor says they are going to the shop Lucie exclaims ‘sherbet fountains!’ She was born on 31st July 1988. I loved her reaction to being hit with a tranquilliser (‘I’m not some walking dartboard you…’) – I don’t know where that sentence was going to end but I bet her captors are glad she fainted when she did! Declares that the papers are ‘all in foreign!’ and is appalled that the Doctor breaks up the pace at the end of the story to settle a domestic. Clearly in Lucie’s house they let off the explosions first and talked about their feelings later.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Its 2008’ ‘Thank God for that! Bryan Adams isn’t number one anymore!’
‘I don’t care if it’s the Women’s Institute coming over that hill, if they’re armed I’m going to blow them up!’ – McCarthy channelling the Brigadier there!
‘Talk about having something up your sleeve!’
‘Its funny but I don’t fancy destroying the human race anymore…’

Great Ideas: People are walking around acting normal in the village that time forgot buried under a layer of dust. The clocks have stopped. The cans are empty in the village store. People can be replaced. It is the same day every day. Everybody has a fallout shelter in their garden. Nobody gets hungry or thirsty. The newsagent picks up the paper he has already delivered so he can sell it to the same person the next day. Where is the next town? Where is the sea? Who builds a seaside town so far from the sea? Turns out we are not in England but Uzbekistan! It was a fake English village where spies could practice in a British setting. A spy school of Autons! They don’t eat, you can’t stop them with bullets and they don’t show up on thermal imaging scans. The school was shutdown and the synthetics were left behind and the Autons have kept up the pretence for 17 years. These are independent Autons, embracing their roles as humans. The Soviet scientists must have put them there after having found one of the Nestene meteorite storms that have fallen over the past few decades. They now want the oil for themselves, without the oil there will be no more Autons. To humans their lifeblood is nothing but fuel; they have to join forces to save the life force of their race – kudos to Jonathan Clements for exploring the Autons in such a fascinating and unusual way here. After the Doctor buries the Consciousness signal that has been driving them they return to normal as humans and are now asylum seekers, forgotten people, 17 years out of touch. McCarthy ponders over whether they could use this invincible race as a weapon…

Audio Landscape: I personally think that the Autons work very well on audio, whilst they were never the chattiest of monsters they had some pretty frightening sound effects that caused my hair to stand on end! Wind, shop doorbell, clicking a light switch, change rattling, the TARDIS ceiling scanner, growling armoured personnel carrier, musical child’s toy playing, heart monitor, bullets, the oil well on fire, the comforting voice of the mother consciousness, banging on the sickbay door, Auton guns whooshing, that chilling Auton hum, a rat, the heartbeat of a Nestene meteor and the almighty final explosion.

Musical Cues: Very well done, I really liked the music when we think Sally is being hunted but it turns out she is firing at the oil well and talk about ramping up the tension at the conclusion as the explosion is imminent.

Standout Scene: I probably shouldn’t say this but it was while Lucie was on the loo! Or rather when she was washing her hands! That’s the first time you hear those fabulous Auton gun noises and all fanboy senses started tingling at once!

Result: Just like his season one adventure Jonathan Clements has thought up a very interesting scenario and explores it with some depth in his limited running time. The opening scenes pile mystery on top of mystery, Android Invasion style but have a silent menace of their own. I really like how the story subverts its location and its monster with some clever twists and there is an interesting argument in there about the Autons merely being the slaves of their controller and they could be a force for good. All this plus a number of exciting set pieces, some quirky dialogue, and an interesting open ended conclusion. I have been asking for more substance in season two and Brave New Town has it in abundance: 8/10

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Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The Skull of Sobek written by Marc Platt and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: Too much perfection's dangerous. On the isolated planet of Indigo 3, far out in the wastes of the Blue Desert, lies the Sanctuary of Imperfect Symmetry. It is a place of contemplation and reflection. It is also a place of death. Something from another time, from another world, has found its way inside the hallowed walls. Something with a leathery hide, a long snout and sharp pointy teeth. Tick tock. Here comes the crocodile...

Breathless Romantic: It’s the first time that I have said it for this range (and it really surprises me coming from the usually reliable pen of Marc Platt) but this was a pretty unmemorable showing for the eighth Doctor. I don’t expect wit and wonder every week but I do think we should learn a little something about the character in each story (why include him otherwise?) but this story was so plot driven the Doctor’s character was pretty much swallowed up in the mechanics of the narrative. Paul McGann was so alive during Max Warp it seems such a shame to deprive him of the sort of material that brings out the best in him. I did like his admission ‘that’s my brave Lucie’ and the acknowledgement that he has always fought for freedom but neither statement is particularly mind-blowing. Probably the best thing to come out of this story for me is that he is under Lucie’s guidance from now and is only released from the planet under her care. I wonder if it will be brought up again because that is a very fun idea!

Luscious Lucie: Just as Dead London catered for the Doctor and left Lucie flopping by the river like a desperate fish, The Skull of Sobek gives Lucie a meaty role and neglects our hero. Sheridan Smith throws herself into the role of the possessed Lucie with real gusto and puts on a terrific, snarling voice for the part (‘There you are you cringing dog!’) – I bet the outtakes were brilliant! Lucie has great fun with the Doctor as she leaves the TARDIS and mocks at the general blueness of the planet (its all in the performances – I can imagine, say, the fifth Doctor and Tegan playing out the same scene and the emphasis being entirely different with everyone’s favourite Australian whinging interminably but Smith attacks the sarcastic material with a wink and a smile and makes it amusing). She is worried that she is getting used to the sight of dead bodies on her travels and that disturbs her, she doesn’t want that to happen. Lucie is developing appalling habits, the monk is dead and she goes ahead and robs his ass! A lot more sensitive than she lets on. Crocodiles are the one thing that really wind her up…whenever she got worried when she was younger she had anxiety dreams of their horrid smiley faces, sticky outy teeth and slitted eyes. When she is shown Sobek of the past she is seduced by the wild, save and darkness of the planet. The Doctor tries to bring her back from possession by reminding her of fish and chips, the Blackpool Tower and the log flume on a Saturday (sounds enchanting). I love her subtlety as she tries to leave the nunnery: ‘I don’t want to stay her with you blue baldies!’

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Oh brother…oh, brother!’
‘The skull needs his head looking at.’

Great Ideas: Every 83 years a torrential storm floods the blue desert and a few days later the whole region is carpeted with aquamarine flowers (now that’s the Marc Platt I know and love!). There are planets out there that approach perfection but its all the annoying imbalances that make life interesting. Sobek was once an imperial world ruled by notoriously contagious Crocodilians! The flames in the sky are prophecies of war and apocalypse. Sobek was a world founded on centuries of slavery until the oppressed overthrew the their tyrannical monarchy. A few royals escaped the blood purge and now they are being hunted down. The skull is the repository of all of Sobek’s history and memory, it has chosen a champion and their stolen world will be avenged! The ancient battle is about to be re-enacted with the Doctor and Lucie as the opponents, two old relics who can’t even remember why they are fighting.

Audio Landscape: Bell, horn, lush jungle life, clashing steel, growling voices, wind, grumbling thunder, a body floating in the healing pool, something thrashing in the water, the Doctor shoved from the window, a hand being bitten off and eaten (!!!), coins and treasure, lightning bolts, spaceships landing, screaming, being eaten (ugh!).

Musical Cues: Not bad at all, relaxing strings in the introductory scene merging into battle drums.

Result: Not one of Marc Platt’s better efforts on audio, The Skull of Sobek is a confused and humourless tale that sits uncomfortably within its single episode format. There isn’t the space to tell an engaging story and explore this world in any great depth and both are neglected and as soon as we hear that the ages old battle is going to be re-enacted it is painfully predictable that the Doctor and Lucie will play opposing roles. Barnaby Edwards gives his usual sterling effort and the sound effects are very striking (the horn and Crocodilian voices are especially dramatic) and Lucie is as wonderful as ever but ultimately I found it hard to engage with the material and kept expecting something more…thoughtful from this particular writer: 5/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Max Warp written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: Welcome to Max Warp! Broadcasting live from the Sirius Inter-G Cruiser Show. Hosted by outspoken columnist and media personality Geoffrey Vantage, with spaceship-guru-extraordinaire O’Reilley and daredevil pilot Timbo ‘the Ferret’. When a test flight of the new Kith Sunstorm ends in disaster, the Sirius Exhibition Station is plunged into a web of murder and intrigue. Someone – or something – is trying to re-ignite a war between the Varlon Empire and the Kith Oligarchy. As the fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance, only two investigators, the Doctor and Lucie, can hope to uncover the truth. So strap yourself in, engage thrust, and prepare for... Max Warp!

Breathless Romantic: This is the story that outs the Doctor at last…as the total spaceship geek we always suspected he might be! I can just imagine him as a young boy on Gallifrey making models of all the coolest spaceships with the Master and playing war! The Doctor is one rubbish date according to Lucie, he thinks he had his mid life crisis a few centuries back but she’s not so sure! He has an inferiority complex about the TARDIS (its hardly very bling) and so naturally Lucie teases him about it as much as she can. Every time his erstwhile assistant makes a faux pas he gives her a not so subtle whack. I loved his nonchalant reaction to discovering that they are in a simulator and a genuine spaceship that is about to crash (‘Didn’t you guess?’). He finds the Kith fascinating what with all their budding and bubbling. He is completely anal about technical detail (he reminded me of a Doctor Who fan obsessing about a point of continuity!) and changes things out of principle. One thing he has learnt is the best way to win a war is not to start one. The old ham wants to gather all the suspects together for his very own Poirot moment. ‘People might actually like the show if its actually about spaceships’ he says at the end once O’Reilly has taken over Max Warp – geek! His double bluff, saving the Ambassador by faking his death proves that he definitely hasn’t lost his touch.

Luscious Lucie: Jonny Morris should write every Lucie script because he gets her voice spot on and remembers the best way to charm people is through their sense of humour. Lucie is hilarious in Max Warp, tiptoeing from one crazy scene to the next as she and the Doctor try and solve the murder mystery. She does like spaceships but not so much that she wants to stick a poster of one on her bedroom wall. Lucie compiles an intelligently thought out list of suspects…everybody they have met (‘Its Kilbride! It’s the President! It’s the Spin Droid!’). Her rubbishy cruiser-destroying ferret theory made me howl with laughter (screaming out ‘Otter! Beaver! Mole!’ as they fly to their deaths!). Geoffrey Vantage thinks it doesn’t sound right with Miss Lucie Vauxhall Nova (hah!) as one of Max Warp’s commentators. She’s at the mercy of her hormones, she’s dangerous to herself, she’ll want to talk about her emotional problems and before you know it the whole show will be about shoes! Somehow Lucie manages to keep her cool around all this blatant sexism. She is of the non-male persuasion! Poor Lucie has to awkward escape O’Reilly’s horrific flirting and she decides the best way is to be brutally honest (she’s just one step away from saying fuck off). She prefers the TARDIS to any of these modern spaceships…after all it is a shed!

Standout Performance: As an example of how magical McGann and Smith are together, Max Warp sees them at their height but this is an episode of terrific performances. Graeme Garden (in his first role in the eighth Doctor adventures – unless you are trying to tell me that Geoffrey Vantage is…The Meddling Monk!) is simply divine as the Jeremy Clarkson wannabe, sexist, rude, racist and outrageously villainous!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I bet they’re all male, single and having a mid life crisis!’
‘I could tell you but I’d have to erase your memory. In fact…I may have already told you…’
‘It’s a mans spaceship! Literally fuelled with testosterone! Ladies bring a toothbrush and a spare pair of knickers!’
‘Just smile and stick out your bits!’
‘The last word in looking like a total Morok!’
‘Do you have any idea how tedious it is to talk about spaceships all the time?’
‘He faked his own death as well? This is worse than Poirot!’

Great Ideas: The Intergee Cruiser Show at the Cirrius Exhibition is being hosted by…Top Gear – oops I mean Max Warp! The Funky Board was a gorgeous touch. The Ferret = The Stig! I was wetting myself at the subtlety of this parody! The Kith Sun Storm is incapable of malfunction but with the death of the Ferret somebody must have sabotaged it. The Cruiser Show is to show that both the Kith and the Varlon can set aside their warlike differences and work in peace but somebody is trying to reopen old wounds. The Doctor and Lucie wake up in a shuttle that is malfunctioning and screaming in panic at their impending death…realise it is only a flight simulator! For all their talk of reconciliation the Kith maintain a thousand strong battle fleet and the Varlon have nothing in comparison. According the Vantage men do not have the accident chromosome (hmm, my husband has written off three cars!). Jeffrey has had death threats from feminists (Janet Fielding probably), environmental campaignists, animal welfare… The Presidents Spindroid is found smashed to pieces and somebody attempts to assassinate the Kith Ambassador. The Kith battle fleet enter the exclusion zone and his shuttle is destroyed! The Kith give the Varlon five minutes to make any legal and religious arrangements before annihilation. The Kith are infected with a computer virus that infects the flight computer and dives them into the nearest moon at one false move. It was a trap to lure the Kith battle fleet her all along and destroy it. The virus was tested on Timbo the Ferret who was an undercover Kith agent! Timbo and the Ambassador both faked their own deaths! Timbo was the Spindroid in a fake robot suit! Jeffrey was trying to stop another war by wiping out the Kith, his racism has consumed him.

Audio Landscape: A cheering, testosterone fuelled crowd, a very impressive sounding cruiser taking off and whizzing past, advertising boards, the mezzanine atmosphere at the Cruiser show, the camp sounding Spindroid, bubbling Kith voices, Lucie’s hallucinatory gassing experience that leads to her suddenly waking up on a shaking shuttle which accelerates wildly, alarms, his crackly Fungalness, sonic screwdriver, the lift, laser blasts…

Musical Cues: A meaty, manly theme tune for Max Warp! The score is foot tappingly good as the Doctor and Lucie accelerate to their deaths in the shuttle. Great music in the bar, loud and nonsensical!

Standout Moment: Take your pick; Lucie’s insane theories and pointing the finger at everybody, the Doctor’s geeky anal retentiveness, the fake shuttle explosion in the simulator, Vantage’s outrageous sexism towards Lucie, the Doctor’s Poirot scene…but my favourite moment comes at the climax when Vantage is outed as the villain and finally see that Jeremy Clarkson is the ultimate scoundrel! Hahaha!

Result: A non-murder murder mystery, Max Warp takes its Top Gear in Space premise and wanks off some crazy fun with it! It’s a hilariously unsubtle parody, a fun mystery tale, a great chance to see the Doctor and Lucie at their sparkling best and a story packed with wonderful characters and very funny gags. There isn’t one part of this that isn’t firing on all cylinders. Barnaby Edwards provides some very memorable set pieces and the cast have an absolute ball. There is so much packed into this 50 minute episode but it all slots together with dazzling exuberance: 9/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

Monday, 21 February 2011

Dead London written by Pat Mills and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: Someone's playing with us. Manipulating time and space for their own ends. The TARDIS lands in London. But which one? The Doctor and Lucie find themselves trapped in a maze of interlocking Londons from Roman times to the present day. But they are not alone in this labyrinth: a killer is on their trail.

Breathless Romantic: The eighth Doctor has had such an interesting time of it on audio, don’t you think? Besides rehabilitating the sixth Doctor, bringing Paul McGann back to the role after his blink and you’ll miss it TV Movie was Gary Russell’s greatest gift to Doctor Who. Whilst BBC Books had taken the eighth Doctor into interesting new directions, their interpretation moved the character as far away from the giddy, excitable puppy we saw in San Francisco as possible, amnesiac, violent and unpredictable. What we wanted was to actually see (but hearing would do) McGann in further adventures so we could evaluate him as an actor in the role. To see how he would have fared if a series had been commissioned. Pretty well by all accounts. Paul McGann is a fantastic actor and throughout the first two seasons of audio adventures we saw him hit the heights of Storm Warning, The Stones of Venice, Chimes of Midnight and Neverland amongst others. This eighth Doctor was enthusiastic, clever, thoughtful, funny and very likable and his relationship with Charley Pollard evolved beautifully with some surprisingly emotional moments. Then something went wrong. We should always applaud writers for trying to take characters in a new direction but when it is fudged as spectacularly as it was when the eighth Doctor stuck his fingers up at our universe and slouched off to the Divergent Universe you have to wonder why Gary Russell wanted to take everything that was working with the character and turn him so unlikable. He became insular, rude, grumpy, moody and pretty dull – it was a real slap in the face to those of us who were following the series eagerly to have a Doctor who didn’t seem to give a ¤¤¤¤ anymore. The biggest problem was the character didn’t go on a journey during his time in the Divergent Universe, he’s ill-tempered and bland, learns nothing about himself, fails to make up with Charley, picks up vanilla companion C’rizz who he can barely muster any enthusiasm about and then gets slapped back into our universe. With those two seasons of non development over with there were a handful of fun adventures back in our universe but the sparkle had gone – his relationship with Charley had hit its peak during Neverland and he doesn’t batter an eyelid when C’rizz dies. The eighth Doctor had had his day, it appeared. So hurrah for Nick Briggs and Alan Barnes (who we can now forgive for Zagreus) who decided to rip the eighth Doctor from the main range and give him his own series of shorter, juicer 50 minutes episodes mirroring the success of the new series and a dazzling new companion in the shape of Lucie Miller. Oddly Charley went off to have adventures with the sixth Doctor and worked an absolute treat with him so both characters were reinvigorated by a thoughtful new direction. Gone was the mood swings and overplayed melodrama, this spanking new eighth Doctor was witty, energetic, occasionally violent and enjoyed his relationship with Lucie Miller. Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith are the northerners in space and share dazzling chemistry and their first season was book ended with a fantastic Dalek and Cyberman story. Things are looking bright for number eight…

The Doctor has a habit of leaving the TARDIS unparked when Lucie gets the shopping bug and gets sentenced to death for a parking offence! How embarrassing if that had been his end! He’s been called many things in his life but never a dishonest beggar! His imaginary ravings would give Don Quixote a run for his money. ‘Shut up, yer fop!’ the crowd screams at him! Sophie has known a few violators in her time but none as handsome as the Doctor. I his life he has much to apologise for. He admits that he has committed heinous crimes against fashion but in his defence he pleads for the regrettable tastes of his previous incarnations. Considers himself an ambassador for human cattle! Enjoying himself? Check. Defeating monsters? Check. Catching the eyes of pretty ladies? Check. All is right with the world at the moment. He appropriates a new companion for this story, the delicious Clare Buckfield (Sally-Ann from The One Doctor) as Springheel Sally and once he meets up with Lucie again the three of them work very well together!

Luscious Lucie: Unfortunately things are quite as spunky for Lucie who is separated for the Doctor for most of the adventure and whilst he gets to do all the fun bits she is left pondering the purpose of a river. Smith is marvellous, of course but Dead London lacks that bit of Lucie charm that boosts the best stories. She thinks Southerners are rude (she’s right, we are) and is attacked by the sinister Ripper-esque slasher The Blackout Killer! Lucie is confident enough to pretend to be pissed (frankly she’s so convincing I fear she is channelling experience) and Sheridan Smith might be the only actress to be able to get away with saying ‘Gerrof!’ in all seriousness! Love you Lucie but lets see more of you next time!

Great Ideas: The Doctor shifts from a modern day court case to the dock of the Old Bailey in the 17th Century in the blink of an eye. Springheel Sophie is the finest funambulist in London Town! The Blackout Killer is a fellow of frightful appearance who’s been in the habit of attacking respectable females in the neighbourhood of Newgate, taking advantage of the blackouts to take his victims. Time zones have been shoved side by side in a very War Games fashion. The Sepulchre is bringing people of no consequece to their re-enactment chambers, bringing to life the more colouful episodes of human history to feed off. The river connects all the difference time zones. The Doctor, Lucie and Sally find themselves inside the Wicker Man and about to be burnt alive as a Celtic sacrifice! The Sepulchure’s brain is like a TARDIS, bigger on the inside and they have landed inside.

Audio Landscape: Laughter in court, a horse and cart, tram, air raid siren, screaming and mad cackling in the cells, bombs exploding in the street, a suddenly appearing bubbling river, the tapping cane of the Blackout Killer, smashing through crates, burning wicker, rafting, jumping and landing from a great height.

Musical Cues: Unmemorable if I’m honest and pretty basic for the most part. There wasn’t one moment when the music struck me as especially atmospheric.

Result: The imaginative concept of slipping through London in various time zones just about works thanks to some colourful scenes in the first half but the mystery that shrouds the story is answered far too quickly and solution feels effortless. Unfortunately this ranges strongest aspect, the Doctor/Lucie relationship is neglected and they are kept apart for most of its running time which isn’t so bad for the former but leaves the latter unmemorable which is unthinkable. What could have been a afar meatier story is skipped through in record time leaving little time for exploration of the various glimpses at history and fun set pieces aside it is pretty disposable. Entertaining but too brisk: 6/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Doctor Who The Lost Stories Season One

The Nightmare Fair
A visit to Blackpool pleasure beach ensnares the Doctor in another of the Celestial Toymaker’s fiendish games…
On set anecdote: The crew found it highly amusing when Nicola Bryant threw up all over Colin Baker on the roller coaster!
DWAS: ‘I thought the location work was especially good! What a shame they couldn’t get Michael Gough back as the Toymaker but at least we can take some comfort in the return of old Taren Capel!’
Ratings - Episode One: 7.7m/Episode Two: 6.8m
What Mary Whitehouse said: ‘Think of the effect that this story is having on the children! They will be going to Blackpool pleasure beach expecting to be tortured by a Chinese Mandarin!’
Doc Oho’s reviews chips in with… After listening to The Nightmare Fair I am in two minds about the Lost Stories. On the one hand I want them to be as authentic as possible so it feels like we are literally skipping into season 23b but on the other hand I want them to be as slick and as confident as Big Finish’s usual output. Graeme Williams story opens on a great location and genuinely innovates the Toymaker with an unforgettable, unexpectedly affecting conclusion but much of what comes between is quiet, talky and unmemorable. The performances of Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant feel totally authentic and David Baillie steps into Michael Gough’s shoes effortlessly and the production is the usual high standards. I’m not sure what to make of this story to be honest, I enjoyed it for nostalgic reasons but I don’t think it stands up to the best of Big Finish’s usual output: 6/10

Mission to Magnus
The Doctor and Peri visit a planet ruled by women and encounter both the Ice Warriors and Sil!
On set anecdote: Watch out for the scene where John Nathan Turners dog Pepsi tried to sniff Nabil Shaban thinking he was a giant lump of…well you know.
Christopher (God) Bidmead: ‘Thank goodness I am writing a script shortly! Looks like we are heralding back to the Douglas Adams era of too much silliness! A talking turd! Knocking a planet out of orbit? Dear oh dear…’
Ratings - Episode One: 8.0m/Episode Two: 7.5m
What Mary Whitehouse said: ‘A planet ruled by women who want to quell the violence inherent in their male counterparts. Why can’t Doctor Who always be like this?’
Doc Oho’s reviews chips in with… Wordy, clichéd, silly and stupid…who gives a shit? This story is an absolute laugh riot! Lisa Bowerman directs Mission to Magnus with a lightness of touch which ensures it is a very smooth ride and extremely reminiscent of the confidence of the Williams era. Fresh performances, funny lines, insane levels of inventi
veness (oh right you can handle a time travelling police box but knocking a planet out of orbit is just ridiculous!), lots of great monsters and a general sense of crazy exuberance make this an incredibly fun slice of hokum. The story turns on its axis at the cliffhanger and becomes something quite different in the second episode ensuring the story keeps delivering. Turn off your critical faculties, this feels astonishingly authentic as though it has literally stepped from the mid eighties and should be thoroughly enjoyed as a lively and delightful breath of the past: 8/10

A visit to medieval England is not quite what it seems…
On set anecdote: The Hearne’s antlers kept falling off and had to be glued on again…that’s why there is only one in some scenes.
DWAS: ‘We are not amused. We do not like Colin Baker and would ask the BBC to stop making good stories like this so we can continue to complain.’
Ratings - Episode One: 7.8m/Episode Two: 9.0m
What Mary Whitehouse said: ‘To me I think it’s astounding that people with brilliance in many ways couldn’t have extended their awareness! Big scary monsters with skull faces and horns indeed!’
Doc Oho’s reviews chips in with… Now that is more like it! Leviathan is a magical little script that keeps peeling away layers of meaning as it progresses. The first episode is full of great mysteries and pleasingly turns out to be one big con and you would think that after the big reveal of the Leviathan it might rest on its laurels but the story continues to innovate until its conclusion.
The Doctor has a multitude of problems to juggle up and as a result he is more incredible than ever for not breaking a sweat and even Peri gets lots to do. Its written and directed as though it could have been made at the time but unlike the first two stories it would also stand up remarkably well today, a pacy, intelligent, thoughtful story with more than enough going on to keep you thinking throughout. Extremely impressive: 9/10

The Hollows of Time
The Doctor drops in on an old friend and finds that an even older friend is waiting for him…
On set anecdote: Anthony Ainley was reportedly too busy to play Stream because he was at the Ashes…
Stephen Hawking said:
‘What a brilliant slice of science fiction. I thought it was gripping!’ What everybody else said: ‘Umm…what was that about?’
Ratings - Episode One: 8.2m/Episode Two: 6.6m
What Mary Whitehouse said: ‘Giant woodlice that burrow through the ground! This time they’ve gone the whole hog and included a child in the action! This show must be cancelled!’
Doc Oho’s reviews chips in with… Utterly inexplicable, here you have a story with a mysterious villain who dish up some indecipherable technobabble for unknown motives! The Hollows of Time starts off well with an intriguing flashback structure, the Doctor and Peri going on holiday and promises of some Tractator action and then singularly fails to do anything interesting with all three. This isn’t a piece of drama where the plot services the characters and we go on journey with them, it’s a science lecture where the characters are sacrificed to the nonsensical, illogical plot. It’s a pity because the direction is evocative and the performances are very good but I have rarely heard an audio where the script has singularly destroyed any chance of enjoyment. This was a real shock to me because I adore Castrovalva and Frontios but The Hollows of Time is singularly Bidmead’s worst ever script (I even preferred Renaissance) and one of the most turgid excuses for a story in Doctor Who canon: 3/10

Paradise FiveThe Doctor and Peri work behind the scenes to bring down the Paradise Corporation…
On set anecdote: They had terrible trouble getting the animatronic cherubs to work properly. Interference with the cameras meant that they went haywire on the set much to the amusement of the actors!
Butlins chipped in with this announcement: ‘We would like to assure all of our guests that we are not in the habit of selling our visitors into slavery although
we cannot promise that the camp isn’t run by a pair of ladyboys.’
Ratings – Episode One: 6.0m/Episode Two: 7.7m/Episode Three: 7.8m/Episode Four: 8.2m
What Mary Whitehouse said: ‘This story was ticking along nicely with a very pleasant visit to a holiday camp in space. And then they go and turn perfectly responsible, learned adults into children!’
Doc Oho’s reviews chips in with… Another impressive entry in the lost stories season, if we had had a season with stories like Leviathan and Paradise Five we would have been declaring the mid eighties as the renaissance of Doctor Who! This is a quietly menacing story that keeps the mystery of the Paradise Machine and what has happened to the previous guests at arms length leaving you desperate to know what has happened. The Doctor is more playfully commanding than ever and Peri gets the chance to take centre stage and question her direction in life, in both cases it is gorgeous characterisation. It takes the unusual approach of keeping the anonymity of the high dimensions warfare and concludes with no easy answers for the cherubs and in both cases it is highly effective and thoughtful. PJ Hammond’s ideas are top notch, Andy Lane’s scripting is witty and perspicacious and Barnaby Edwards’ provides his usual stellar direction. A special mention for Gabriel and Michael; beautifully played gay villains who top the ‘I wish they could return’ list: 9/10

Point of EntryChristopher Marlowe is seeking an audience with Devil…
On set anecdote: Nicola Bryant received a letter from the Royal Household commending her on her performance as Queen Elizabeth.
What the Australian censor said: ‘Unfortunately this 100 minute Doctor Who story will be transmitted between 5.35pm and 5.40pm with all the offending material removed.’
Ratings - Episode One: 8.0m/Episode Two: 8.8m
What Mary Whitehouse said: ‘Now they really have gone too far! Tongues being excised! Devil worshipping! Out of body experiences! Aztec blood sacrifices! Is this show being scheduled for after the watershed or is it still being made for children?’
Doc Oho’s reviews chips in with… Wow. Astonishingly mature storytelling and the pinnacle of the lost stories season; Point of Entry combines theatrics and devilry to create an unsettling, dark mood with moments of genuinely chilling horror. This is the story of Marlowe bewitched by the Devil, looking for a sinister muse to shape Faustus and bringing an alien menace to fruition that is laced into Earth’s bloody history. Marc Platt has written his best script yet, an ominous historical atmosphere of storms, screams and sacrifices and John Ainsworth direction offers moments of spine chilling terror. Barbara Clegg’s pitch was the per
fect change of scene for this science fiction heavy season and gives Peri her best material yet. People have bemoaned that this story is too long but I wouldn’t lose one second of its brooding piquancy: 10/10

The Song of MegapteraOn set anecdote: The animatronic whale went crazy and slapped its wet fin right in Colin Baker’s face!
A spokesperson for Greenpeace said: ‘We find it appalling that whaling should continue so far into the future. The human race will never learn…’
Ratings – Episode One: 7.7m/Episode Two: 8.4m
What Mary Whitehouse said: ‘An ecological theme. I whole heartedly approve.’
Doc Oho’s Reviews chip in with: Not quite as strong as the last two but a fine story nevertheless, The Song of Megaptera plants the Doctor and Peri in a desperate situation from the first scene and explores the nature of the Galeen and their industry with considerable panache. There are some amusing characters to keep the story ticking over and an awesome shift in location inside the whale halfway through the story. The Galeen are one of the most imaginative races we have encountered yet and it is wonderful that we got to see them televised last year. Coming after the subtle and terrifying Point of Entry this is a complete change of pace, lacking the atmosphere but far more exciting and considering the gestation period this story has had it is astonishing that the end result is this entertaining and thought prov
oking. It’s a story that sees the Doctor and Peri at their best and proves they are made for each other, and the show: 8/10

The Macros
The Doctor and Peri are cut down to size...
On set anecdote: JNT reportedly stormed onto the set and bellowed at the poor actress playing Osloo ‘not enough Thatcher! Give it more Thatcher!’
DWAS: ‘We are appalled that during her guest appearance in her own script, Ingrid Pitt did not get her tits out once. Speaking as Doctor Who fans she must realise this is the only way we get our kicks.’
What Mary Whitehouse said: ‘I am proud to announce my position of script editor of Doctor Who. Next season: Trial of a Time Lord!’
Doc Oho’s Reviews chips in with: Listening to extras on this story it is really disappointing to hear that The Children of January was originally supposed to end this run because it would have made a far more impressive job of it! Much like the first season of Jago & Litefoot this is a disappointingly unclimactic ending to what has been a fantastic season of stories. What we have here is two disjointed plots that are brought together without finesse with the emphasis on the least interesting (the events on Capron). Irritatingly the story keeps offering potentially interesting avenues (heading to a micro world, the sailors returning from he dead, the Doctor and Peri trying to stop the experiment) but fails to follow up on them and all roads lead back to Osloo who is one of the most useless characters to ever turn up in a Big Finish story. She’s every crackpot villain the show has ever produced, every corny line, all the lack of motivation and craving power for its own sakes we have been subjected to over the years mushed into one cringeworthy, empty baddie. There are some lovely directional touches, the music is fine but the tension is sorely lacking in this uncomfortably plotted and ill-characterised finale: 4/10

The Lost Season has turned out to be a total success in my eyes, mirroring almost exactly my feelings of season 22! I am far more enamoured with Colin Baker’s debut season than a lot of other people seem to be and just like this season I find there is a handful of classics (Vengenace on Varos, The Two Doctors and Revelation of the Daleks as opposed to Leviathan, Paradise Five and Point of Entry), some entertaining adventures (Attack of the Cybermen and Mark of the Rani as opposed to The Nightmare Fair, Mission to Magnus and The Song of Megaptera) and a few stinkers (Timelash/The Hollows of Time/The Macros).

The Celestial Toymaker is haunting Blackpool pleasure beach, Sil is playing two sets of aliens off against each other to make maximum profit (Lalalalala), a medieval village exists within a huge spaceship, a sinister holiday company is sacrificing its guests to extra dimensional beings, Peri is lost on the astral plane, our heroes are trying to save the life of a magnificent space whale and the Philadelphia Experiment is explained – this is a year of bold, imaginative concepts and colourful stories. The genres hop about like a good season of Doctor who should from surrealism to hokey science fiction, from historical fantasy to chilling horror. Point of Entry aside there does seem to be a lighter, less violent touch to the season – the two stories that we know were commissioned are much less graphic and more fun than anything from season 22. There is humour in abundance; Sil’s wonderful turn of phrase, the brilliantly camp villains Micheal and Gabriel, the Warriors Gate-esque guards in Megaptera – the stories are really pepped up with some very funny moments.

Most importantly this is a wonderful year for the much-maligned (within fandom) sixth Doctor and Peri which expertly bridges the gap between their acerbic relationship in season 22 and their gentler one in 23. You can gradually feel the sixth Doctor softening throughout the season and with an abundance of good material he really gets to own his era once more. He discovers the secret of the Toymaker, tackles his old nemesis Anzor, discovers a rapier wit in swordplay, visits more old friends, goes behind the scenes to bring down Paradise Five, manipulates the astral plane and saves the life of Megaptera. He is a hero through and through, witty, clever, thoughtful and superbly played by Colin Baker who is getting a thrill out of finally bringing these stories to life. Peri gets some fine development too, she finally gets to enjoy her time with old Sixie but also ponder how she got to where she is and comes to the conclusion at the end of the season that this life is too exciting to give up. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and the producers of the Lost Stories have finally given Peri the sort of material she deserved in the series.

A couple of duds but the majority of the first season of Lost Stories are very well written and made. For plugging a gap that the fans were denied and proving this could have been a very strong year for the series, these stories are too good to miss out on.

Friday, 18 February 2011

The Macros written by Ingrid Pitt & Tony Rudlin and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: The TARDIS materializes on the USS Eldridge, after the Philadelphia Experiment has gone disastrously wrong. Most of the crew are dead, the ship is disintegrating, and the Doctor soon realizes that the problem comes from another dimension… As they attempt to find a way to get the ship home, the Doctor and Peri visit the distant planet Capron and meet its tyrannical ruler Osloo. But the search for a possible solution only creates increasingly dire problems. Osloo's horizons have been widened – and space and time are hers for the taking…

Softer Six: What a shame that the last episode of the Lost Season sees the sixth Doctor at his most mundane, especially after the material he has been given this year. It’s not bad, per se, just a little traditional, a little normal. Any clue is important for the Doctor. Peri spars him the embarrassment of wasting a regeneration on a rusty staircase. He looks like an entertainer is his jacket. He mentions Planet of Giants but he’s more familiar with the TARDIS controls these days. Why does Peri always doubt him? ‘I’ll let you know as soon as I’ve won them over…’ and completely fails to do so and needs Peri to help him out. He doesn’t carry passengers. Peri thinks he’s the best. The Doctor has no interest in weapons and finds them rather tedious. In his experience it is best to tell the truth, if they don’t believe you then it’s their fault.

Busty Babe: Oddly it feels far more climactic and conclusive season finale for Peri. The Doctor sometimes reminds her of her stepfather, he never knew where he was either. They are supposed to be going to Baltimore so Peri can let her family know she is okay after she disappeared from Lanzarote. After listening to her whistling the Doctor can see why Peri went into botany rather than taking to the stage and after listening to her sparkling rendition of ‘row row your boat’ you have to agree with him! How many scrapes has Peri helped the Doctor out of now? She is always in trouble with him and she’ll always look after the Doctor. Peri has been on Androgum lunch menus, escaped from Ice Warriors and Tractators and been in more prison cells than she can count. It’s never a peaceful life with the Doctor. Why doesn’t she return home? She’d be bored, this is the most exciting time of her life, travelling with the Doctor is just incredible. Different planets/species/times…what could ever compete with that? Peri sometimes thinks she will be travelling with the Doctor until she is old and grey. One lifetime is not long enough to see the whole universe. The Doctor is the brains and Peri is the low cunning! One day Peri will write a guide to the galaxies best prison cells and how to escape, she’ll be rich!

Sparkling Dialogue: There may have been some good lines but I was too busy drowning under the platitudinous garbage that spewed from Osloo’s mouth! I did quite like: ‘Its beautiful’ ‘Most beautiful things usually are…’

Great Ideas: The sailors going round and round like a stuck record on a ship and green rust is eating through the ship. The USS Eldridge was a destroyer that was subjected to invisibility experiments in Philadelphia Bay, 1943. The ship vanished and the government was blamed and the official explanation was that it was renamed and given to the Greek Navy. The Doctor, however, believes it is wedged between dimensions. He and Peri are repeatedly watching the events that happened just before the ship vanished. The ship is trapped between a large and small universe and the micro universe is drawing on their energy supplies as a power source. A world within a universe within a universe! The interface is an unstable rift that they have harnessed for their energy supplies and looks like the aurora borealis. The people of Capron were happy and prosperous until their leader met Osloo; she seduced him and their people and became very powerful. She wanted the Presidency and had her husband banished and her competitors for the position unexpectedly vanished. Peri starts to crumble away to nothing, a micro in the macro universe. If the ship reappears it will be in 2010 not 1943 and the story touches on what could have been a very interesting avenue here, their families assuming the crew was dead and them returning home – I would loved to have been able to have explored, you know real drama. Peri and the Doctor head back to Washington to put a stop to the experiment which temporarily perks the interest but this turns out to be another blind alley that goes nowhere (except back to Osloo and her camp theatrics). The Doctor gives Mrs Tessler the most important message her husband will ever have and prevent a major catastrophe. Osloo manages to get on board the TARDIS with her armed guards, a potentially gripping idea that lacks any tension.

Audio Landscape: The creaking, clanking hull of the Eldridge, the ocean heaving, chugging engines, crowd scenes, humming insects, squeaky prison doors, water dripping in the cell, hover craft, Peri’s ageing hands marching jackboots, the deck disintegrating, the ship finally meeting its maker.

Musical Cues: There’s an exciting countdown in episode one complimented by some exciting music and I really enjoyed Osloo’s grand fanfares – the music is far more pleasant than anything she has to say!

Isn’t it Odd:
· Not a fault of the story itself but The Macros has many similarities to other Doctor Who stories that made the clichéd plot feel even more familiar. Firstly the opening where Peri and the Doctor are not able to interact with the crew brings back memories of The Space Museum, the time loop and the mystery of the missing ship feels as though it is lifted straight from Carnival of Monsters and the conclusion that sees the tyrant become an infant so they can bring her up again properly feels awfully like both The Leisure Hive and Boom Town.
· There is a sudden, inexplicable change of location in episode one to the Micro universe which could have been quite exciting but the story makes no effort to explain where they are or what is going on so its more like a big questions mark amongst the Philadelphia material.
· Perhaps Ingrid Pitt remembers too much about her experience on The Time Monster, the fanfare and theatrical speeches on Capron are unpleasantly reminiscent of the Atlantian scenes of the former story.
· There are far too many unconvincing American accents…
· Why didn’t they take advantage of the fantastic opportunity of creating a miniaturisation soundscape on audio? Nothing at all is made of this potentially gripping idea.
· I honestly cannot remember a soporific, more prosaic character than Osloo in a Doctor Who audio for a long time. ‘If there is another world out there it must be found and conquered!’ – why? What is her motivation? Does she just want to conquer…because? ‘My glorious Empire is about to expand!’ – she has a dreadful line in trite science fiction dialogue. ‘Get them! Take the craft! You are no longer of use to me! I did not give the command!’ – oh ¤¤¤¤ off you one-dimensional non-entity! ‘I’d like to see the source of my power!’ she cried, like all nonsensical villains. ‘Get used to fighting the mighty Osloo or perish!’ ‘I’m taking over!’ she says of the Philadelphia Experiment…what the hell? She knows nothing about our world! ‘I have my men and they have their guns!’ – the cry of all cowards! ‘You will take them to this planet Earth Doctor and they will claim it in my glorious name!’ Turns out she will never have enough power…she will always want more! Turning her into a baby is a blessed relief because it means the ranting clichés end…
· Peri is such a silly ass rushing out of the TARDIS in a moment of character assassinating tension – it’s the first genuinely twattish thing she has done all season! Plus the solution feels far too easy making you wonder why they bothered for any over reason than that a cliffhanger was necessary.
· Osloo just happened to be waiting for the TARDIS when it came back to Capron, which is very fortunate otherwise she wouldn’t be able to hijack the ship and drive the (lack of) tension in the last episode!
· One of the characters is called Bundth which sounds awfully like ‘Bumf’ that leads to some hilarious moments in the second episode where Osloo orders him ‘Bumf! Torture him! Bumf! Show him what you’re made of!’
· ‘It has nothing to do with you!’ the Doctor tells Osloo of the Philadelphia Experiment and he’s perfectly right. The stories in the Micro and Macro universe completely fail to gel; they have nothing to do with each other and are linked very tenuously. Osloo heading to the Macro universe and barking orders sees these two worlds colliding unconvincingly and to undramatic effect.

Standout Scene: Despite the fact that it makes Peri look like the biggest US dunce until President Bush, the cliffhanger manages to be a gripping moment thanks to John Ainsworth’s strong direction and some great music.

Result: Listening to extras on this story it is really disappointing to hear that The Children of January was originally supposed to end this run because it would have made a far more impressive job of it! Much like the first season of Jago & Litefoot this is a disappointingly unclimactic ending to what has been a fantastic season of stories. What we have here is two disjointed plots that are brought together without finesse with the emphasis on the least interesting strand (the events on Capron). Irritatingly the story keeps offering potentially exciting avenues (heading to a micro world, the sailors returning from he dead, the Doctor and Peri trying to stop the experiment) but fails to follow up on them and all roads lead back to Osloo who is one of the most useless characters to ever turn up in a Big Finish story. She’s every crackpot villain the show has ever produced, every corny line, all the lack of motivation and craving power for its own sakes we have been subjected to over the years mushed into one cringeworthy, empty baddie. There are some lovely directional touches, the music is fine but the tension is sorely lacking in this uncomfortably plotted and ill-characterised finale: 4/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: