Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Memory Lane written by Eddie Robson and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: No summer can ever quite be as glorious as the ones you remember from when you were young, when a sunny afternoon seemed to last forever and all there was to do was ride your bike, eat ice-lollies and play with Lego. Tom Braudy is enjoying just such an afternoon when the TARDIS lands in his Nan's living room and interrupts her in the middle of the snooker. After they've apologised, the Doctor and his friends soon discover matters of far greater concern than the fact that their time machine is blocking Mrs Braudy's view of a thrilling century break. The street which Tom happily cycles up and down appears to have no beginning or end, and every single house on it is identical. Is this the future of suburbia, or something even more sinister? Why doesn't Tom look as young as he behaves? And can anybody remember which house the TARDIS is in?

Breathless Romantic: Much like the opening to Carnival of Monsters where the third Doctor’s piloting ability is questioned by Jo (he thinks they are in the Acteon Galaxy whereas its clear to her that they have landed on Earth on a sailing ship…when it fact they are in the Acteon Galaxy inside the Miniscope!), Charley and C’rizz jibe at the Doctor’s flying skills at trying to reach Lucentra but landing on a regular Earthy street. I was happy to see the Doctor say I told you so when he is proven right! The Doctor wants a Sky Ray Rocket Lolly! He laughs outrageously at the terrible joke on the lolly stick and it reminded me that we haven’t heard the eighth Doctor laugh like that in the main range for a long time. The Doctor finds it morally wrong to have your self-awareness taken away. He has to take time travel requests on a case-by-case basis. He refuses to simply free Tom because he cannot be known for making unauthorised prison breaks! The Doctor finally gets to meet Lady Louisa Pollard in a roundabout sort of way and he is very pleased to do so. The Doctor goes round and round in his nightmare of losing the TARDIS and cannot fathom how many times he has been through it.

Edwardian Adventuress: Roast pork and all the trimmings is her favourite. For a while you think this is going to be another Something Inside and Charley would be forgotten in all the plot mechanics (just visualise her trapped between words on a page screaming ‘I don have a character!’) and then her mother phones her from within the scenario! It comes entirely out of nowhere and reminds you that this woman has left a family behind on Earth! Suddenly Charley is talking in a childish voice and lives on the street that they live in and she rushes off home to her mother! The faster you get somewhere the more time you have to have fun when you get there! She’s been making a model of the R-101 with Tom! When Charley wakes up she suddenly realises she is in her childhood home and states that every time she sees her mother these days it is always an illusion. Nice one Charley – the Doctor tells C’rizz not to mention to Kim that the TARDIS is a time machine because he will want her to take him back and in bumbles Ms Pollard: ‘Oh Doctor I just told Kim that the TARDIS is a time machine! Have I put my foot in it again? Doh!’ Charley is thinking again, conjuring up the plan to make the prison take on her memories and if she doesn’t struggled they will be able to escape far easier – even the Doctor is impressed! Charley creates a composite setting, her childhood but without the war hanging over her (the 1920’s in the peaceful 1910’s!). Other girls are quite capable of having fun quietly and not falling off things but not our Charley! It’s a very revealing story for the eighth Doctor as he is trapped within a cell at the end of episode three which takes you to a place where you are most happy and he is back in the TARDIS being congratulated by Charley and C’rizz for foiling the latest dictators scheme in some devilishly brilliant way! Gets all excited when she is given the choice by her mother of where to go on holiday and she starts spitting out trekking through a jungle, walking along the Great Wall of China and Egypt! She stills her fake mother it was super to see her and she hopes it isn’t too long before she sees her again.

Chameleonic Rogue: C’rizz lacks explanations because he won’t understand the cultural references. He orders Kim to let go of her gun or he will break her wrist and given his activities in previous stories you jolly well believe him! C’rizz knows he is rude and he doesn’t care – just because somebody is real he doesn’t have to like them. I rather enjoyed Crizz’s chemistry with Kim, its not even love/hate its pure hate/hate and yet they still have to work together. All the time they spend together he is absorbing her personality like a sponge and he’ll have to carry her around inside him forever. If the prison tries to get inside C’rizz’s head it will get quite a shock with all the victims inside his head waiting to pounce. It tries to worm its way inside and please all of his desires but it didn’t quite bet on having so many desires to please.

Standout Performance: Loved Nina Baden-Semper’s accent – I have a friend who sounds very similar and I could listen to that heavy Jamaican accent all day! It’s fantastic to have Anneke Wills back as Lady Louisa Pollard, a lovely touch of continuity in one of Charley’s last stories with the eighth Doctor.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The TARDIS has been stolen…by an ice cream man!’ – surely one of the weirdest cliffhangers for a while to top of a tasty episode full of mysteries.
‘Until some alien cracks the pod open and munches me down like some Pepperami!’
‘I suppose you’d call that cell division!’

Great Ideas: Sometimes it feels as though Eddie Robson has been rummaging around in my head and brought out lots of elements of my childhood – I loved custard creams and Blur Ribbond’s – and I was always fobbed off with fish fingers and chips! A little boy playing with his models and riding his bike tuning into a station that sees him grown up and in panic stricken life or death situation. A street that goes on and on. Materialising the TARDIS in a living room and unfazing Mrs Braudy but when they returning she thinks she has never seen them and the TARDIS isn’t there. The same person lives in every house, opening the door and claiming to have never met them. Loading the TARDIS in the ice cream van and stealing it! Kim tried to warp jump her ship out of here and ended up in Mrs Braudy’s attic by mistake! The whole street is a prison cell and Kim has been trying to broadcast messages into the TVs of black box footage showing a Marmadon (foul creatures that live in deep space) killing one of the crew. The crew went into cryogenic sleep for a mission to Jupiter and there was a system failiure, the ship drifted off course but they didn’t wake up. More than 100 years later the Marmadon broke in to loot the place and then they woke up. They got back to Earth 227 years after they left, after being considered long dead. Imagine going back to Earth 200 years after you left – everybody you know is dead, technology has moved on in leaps and bounds…how would you adjust to that? Prisons on Lucentra where the prisoner doesn’t know he’s a prisoner, he regressing to safe happy time in his life so that he’s docile. Mrs Braudy is shot on the kill setting and just gets up and carries on – Kim admits she has shot her several times out of frustration in the past couple of weeks! The Doctor and Charley once spent a day placing bets on dinosaur fights – I would love for that to be part of a story! Not satisfied with turning peoples memories into a prison they then violate those memories and turn them against people.

Audio Landscape: An ice cream van that immediately brings back memories of running out of the door on summer afternoons trying to grab the change from me mother, snooker on the TV which reminded me of late night sleepovers at my nans who loved watching the dullest sport on Earth after midnight (!!!) – a very reminiscent first scene! Making the tea, the buzzing of the Mr Whippy maker, sucking on their lollies, the ship screaming into orbit and approaching the Earth, ray gun, the space shuttle crashing into the house, rubble falling, a lovely scratchy old gramophone, delicious summery birdsong as the Doctor leaves the TARDIS (its divine), the ice cream van jingle in the TARDIS, the cloister bell, Morvik’s insane voice, the TARDIS freefalling and the Doctor screaming as she does so, the voices inside C’rizz’s head breaking free.

Musical Cues: The music bubbles along accentuating the mystery of the story in the first episode – it sounds strikingly like the music in the new series episode Fear Her which is ironic considering the similarity in the stories setting.

Isn’t it Odd: Here I go, comparing stories again – if you’re bored of me doing this then skip this section. In its most basic form Something Inside and Memory Lane are both exactly the same story – the Doctor and co trying to escape from a prison. Except one story works up a clever mystery, juxtaposing anachronistic elements and whipping up an air of tension and fantastic imagery before even revealing it is set in a prison and the other tells you in the first scene it is set in a prison and the plot doesn’t progress much further than that. You try and figure out which is which. There’s a wonderful concept thrown up in this episode to do with C’rizz about him absorbing the personalities of the people he meets – what an awesome idea and this could have been explored in some very funny and dramatic ways. What a shame he’s leaving in the next story, this is a case of too little, too late.

Standout Scene: My favourite moment in this story came towards the climax in a story where I thought C’rizz wouldn’t be given the same superb treatment as the Doctor and Charley and then Eddie Robson goes and does something very clever with the voices in his head that doesn’t involve him killing somebody again.

Notes: I always feel that this story is the equivalent of Frontios for the eighth Doctor main range stories – one last gasp of greatness before the subsequent adventures write out each of the regulars. The parallels don’t end there because with the 5th Doctor, Tegan and Turlough and the 8th Doctor Charley and C’rizz you have in both cases a potentially great Doctor that has had a few moments of greatness but has overall been underwritten and handled badly, a hanger on character who simply will not go away and has started to become more than a little irritating and a male companion where they have tried to do something a bit different and failed miserably. A brilliant cover, a spaceman holding out an ice cream with the Doctor reflected into his visor and the moon dominating the skyline! Mention is made of the Phobos mission which would be followed up by Eddie Robson in the eighth Doctor and Lucie adventures. Charley’s mother tells her she can go to the kitchen and have Edith make her a jam sandwich which is a lovely touch of continuity back to The Chimes of Midnight.

Result: Welcome to Big Finish Eddie Robson! Any writer who can take the bottom of the barrel combination of the eighth Doctor, Charley and C’rizz and whip up a brew this intoxicating gets my vote! His handling of both the Doctor and Charley are masterful and C’rizz is not far behind and all three get their best material in an age. The first two episodes are exceptional, building up a great mystery with lots of quirky moments and having some very satisfying answers when they come. The latter half of the story doesn’t quite have the same sense of magic but it still manages to conjure up some great surprises and gives us some rare insight into the most vacuous of regulars. The whole piece is superbly directed by Gary Russell who handles the atmosphere of the piece very cleanly and not leaving the audience behind for a moment. A quick mention for David Darlington’s superb score and sound design – this guy has done a lot for Big Finish audios over the years and his name rarely gets a mention. Memory Lane gets the range back on track after The Gathering sunk to new depths and provides an entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable ride. Lets have Robson back for more: 8/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @

Big Finish 1-90 The Worst of the Worst!

Unfortunately as much as I would like every release to be a winner there are definately a good handful of stories that fail to make the grade as is the way with any series. Here is my list of the lowest of the lower clunkers of the Gary Russell era...


Land of the Dead by Stephen Cole and directed by Gary Russell

English Gentleman: Unfortunately throughout this story he is saddled with the supremely irritating Tegan-clone Monica Lewis so rather than developing a fun relationship with her they spend most of the time discussing how she reacts to various events in the story. Odd.

Standout Performance: For all the wrong reasons it is Lucy Campbell as Monica Lewis. What an irritating character this is, Tegan in all but name and she oddly spends most of the story telling everybody how she is petulant she is and how much she wants to vomit. Campbell’s performance is really unconvincing, I did not for a second believe she was experiencing these events and some of her dialogue delivery turned some pretty bad lines into really bad ones (below).

Words That Should Never be Spoken: ‘The Doctor’s filling in the sea room door, he might as well fill you in as well.’
‘Are you trying to cajole me out of my petulant moaning with weak humour?’
‘Man of Destiny, you sound like such a pill-ac.’
‘God it actually looks like dynamite too – how wonderfully retro.’

Isn’t that Odd: My biggest fear of listening to Doctor Who on audio was that it would be a lot people screaming into microphones as though we were listening to a soundtrack of a televised story with no concession made for the fact that we can’t see anything. Fortunately Big Finish rose to the challenge triumphantly and producing some striking audio drama that really works in the medium it is in. However the end of part one was exactly the sort thing I was scared of…lots of shouting about nothing especially interesting, an action movie on tape.

Result: I can see what Cole was going for; a frosty, atmospheric character drama with monsters and he may have succeeded if this was a McGann and Lucie 50 minute episode but Land of the Dead is far too long and very poorly executed so it is perhaps the perfect representation of season 20! There doesn’t feel like there is an evolving plot or any meat to the story, there are just a lot of scenes that would probably look really cool on the telly with a big budget. The first episode is unspeakably boring, talky and uninvolving with dull characters saying dreary things and things only get worse. Brett goes from charming host to ranting villain with no motivation and Monica Lewis should have died a horrible death at the hands of the lacklustre monsters. When you have a cast this small you have to make sure and get the dynamics right but everything feels awkward. Davison tries his best with the material he is given, Sutton makes a positive return to the series but they are the only plus points in this stinker of an audio adventure. The worst crime is the missed opportunity; a snowy wasteland could make an atmospheric story…oddly Gary Russell would make a far better job of it in Winter for the Adept: 3/10


The Genocide Machine written by Mike Tucker and directed by Nicholas Briggs

The Real McCoy: Oh dear and it was going so well. McCoy is really good at playing it quiet but when he is asked to play righteous anger – like he does throughout this tale it all falls to pieces.

Isn’t that Odd: Ace, obviously. Some of the Dalek voices have to heard to be believed. Go and listen to episode 3 and catch the one that says ‘Dalek assault squad teams are assembled’ and then ‘Proceed’ in the same scene. These mincing Daleks give Dalek Invasion of Earth a run for its money. Which one was Gary Russell?
McCoy, naturally.

Result: There will be a Dalek story set in a jungle that deals with duplicates much later on in Big Finish’s run called Brotherhood of the Daleks and it is superior to The Genocide Machine in practically every way. The problems start with the script which undersells the threat and contains lots of obsolete ideas, poor characterisation of regulars and guest cast alike (I don’t know if anybody gets a character moment that isn’t a function of the plot) and some corny dialogue. Ignoring the good work they did in The Fearmonger McCoy and Aldred phone in two underwhelming performances and the guest cast fail to raise the game as well. Which leaves poor old Nick Briggs and the Daleks to give the proceedings a bit of zip which they try valiantly to do. You can admire the sound design and the horror of the Daleks for a while but without a plot to drive them and decent characters to care about you are fighting a losing battle. People praise The Genocide Machine to the detriment of The Apocalypse Element and whilst the second Dalek Empire story has its problems I find it by far a finer story. A hugely disappointing return trip for the Daleks: 3/10


Sword of Orion written and directed by Nick Briggs

Breathless Romantic: After making such a good impression in Storm Warning I took absolutely nothing away from his characterisation in this story. It was so vague and he was given so little chance to show off it could have been any Doctor in this story.

Edwardian Adventuress: Again she hardly registers which might a cause for celebration for some people but I found this quieter Charley far less interesting than the excitable one from the previous story.

(Not So) Great Ideas: One of the biggest problems with Sword of Orion is that its ideas are old. If I were to pitch this story to produce John Nathan-Turner – a derelict spaceship is discovered and a salvage crew board to discover it is a cyber conversion ship – he would probably lap it up. This is a traditional Doctor Who story in all the worst ways because it doesn’t try to be anything beyond that. Standout Performance: Bruce Montague who manages to salvage something from the thankless character of Grash. He is exactly the sort of gravelly voiced nutter you would expect to find in this sort of story but he manages to push the character to some extremes at times – especially during his conversion scene where he rants and screams until his last breath.

Result: Anyone who has read the rest of this review must have come to the right conclusion by now…I absolutely loved this one! Just kidding! Easily the most painful story to endure to this point and probably for a long time to come, this would have made a particularly soulless four parter on the telly. It is all atmosphere and no intelligence, a terribly dull linear storyline that lacks incident, characters with any personality or real drama. This is my reaction two days after listening to the story…be thankful I didn’t write this up afterwards because my language would be a lot more colourful. What bothers me is that Big Finish and Nick Briggs can clearly do a lot better than this and recycling traditional turds like this story is unacceptable when the same production company and writer offered us The Mutant Phase just two stories earlier. It is a huge black mark on the 8th Doctor line as well which began so promisingly with Storm Warning but ground to a halt with this plodder. It feels like one step forwards and two steps backwards, they had better offer up something pretty damn special to make me forget about this one: 1/10


Minuet in Hell by Alan W Lear and directed by Gary Russell

Breathless Romantic: What is really odd is that despite these mishandled clever ideas that really look at the nature of the Doctor is McGann makes no impression at all. Give him a script and ask him to be commanding or dashing and he delivers the goods. Lock him in a cell with no personality or charisma and he barely registers. A shame as that is the impression I walked away season one with!

Standout Performance: Helen Goldwyn is easily the standout performer in this play. Goldwyn plays Becky-Lee Kowalcyck with such hideous ineptness I wasn’t sure if she was supposed to be taking the piss out of Buffy or not! The accent was so annoying it was like a cheese grater working on my brain every time she opened her mouth and she stresses every other word to make sure we realise she is American and serious. She might have been a fun foil for Charley had somebody thought to tell Goldwyn that this was supposed to be a drama and not a Greek tragedy.

Isn’t that Odd: that this story should be so horrendously directed after Gary Russell’s masterful effort in The Stones of Venice? The opening sequence has lots of weirdly inexplicable stuff happening which sums up the story quite nicely really. Russell fails to create an American atmosphere when dealing with such hideous clichés and hideous accents.

Result: Not what I was expecting at all, Minuet in Hell was beset with problems from the outset and it is one of the few audios where it shows. The script is overlong and lacking in incident, it has some interesting ideas but it never exploits them, it introduces some spectacularly dull characters and its dialogue lacks any sparkle. The direction and performances are lacking too, the regulars are sidelined and uncharismatic and the guest artists fail to bring their characters to life. I found it a real struggle to get through this story because I didn’t care about what was going on or who was involved. I just wanted the 8th Doctor to get his memory back and have a jolly adventure with the Brigadier but I guess we are going to have to wait for another time for that. A flat end to McGann’s first season and it leaves me pessimistic for future appearances: 3/10


The Rapture written by Joe Lidster and directed by Jason Haigh-Ellery

The Real McCoy: I have always maintained that Sylvester McCoy is the weakest performer to have ever played the Doctor and it is performances such as he gives in The Rapture that remind me why. Its not as though he is consistent awful but he isn’t awfully consistent either and depending on whether you are catching him on a good day or a bad day sees the script he is bringing to life rocket or dive bomb…

Ace of Hearts: Because it is too easy to pick apart how unsuccessful Ace is in the Big Finish Doctor Who stories at this point it seems almost unfair to do so. But that isn’t going to stop me…

Isn’t that Odd: Anne Bird’s performance as Caitriona is so agonisingly awful words fail me. At first I thought it was just a really convincing performance of somebody with depression but a few scenes into the story and she is utterly unbearable and unlikable. Speaking as somebody who has suffered with depression in the past the writing is quite sensitive (‘There’s nothing wrong with my life but I hate it’) but nothing in Bird’s portrayal illicits any sympathy whatsoever. She walks through the story space out and the final indignity in the last episode is that she survives. Shame. Some choice extracts from episode four courtesy of Ace (‘You recorded him whilst he was dying! YOU SICK -!’ and ‘Why did you do it Gustavo!!!!!’) and the Doctor (‘Gustavo…whhhhyyyyyyyy!!!!!?’). Quality stuff. When your regulars are becoming your two least convincing performers there is problems. Episode four devolves into a shouting match, which goes down like a bucket of cold sick. Ace hanging over the parapet whilst the Doctor begs for her life as if he really needs a wee encourages McCoy and Aldred’s worst ever performances.

Result: I always admire writers for trying to experiment with Doctor Who so some mild applause for having the bravery to fuse Doctor Who and clubbing together. What a failure. The Rapture is a dreadful amalgam of tedious soap operatics, pop psychology and crass religious metaphors that features a cast of overwritten characters performed with hysterical ineptness. Doctor Who on holiday sounds like a great idea until you get down to the nitty gritty and this ultimately feels like an embarrassing fusion of Mile High (the exotic location, the drink and drugs), Eastenders (the exaggerated plotting, characterisation and dialogue) and Star Trek (analysing the villains indeed!). I feel for Joe Lidster because he would go on to write some of the most powerful audios and some fine Sarah Jane episodes but this really is a poor place to start. I took this audio on holiday to listen to and everybody kept wondering why I was scribbling away so furiously and sighing with such disdain. Moments of this story are as bad as it gets: 2/10 (this would rank lower but the score – which on its own would get 10/10 cuts through some of my despondence.)


Bang Bang a Boom! written by Clayton Hickman and Gareth Roberts and directed by Nicholas Pegg

Standout Performance: I shouldn’t like it but I do…Patricia Quinn’s hideous rendition of a Viking babe is so over the top it is residing somewhere on another plane of existence where such acting is considered Shakespearean. She’s just hilariously wrong I adore it. ‘Rest your head on my bosom!’ indeed! Her Angvian melody is truly something to behold: ‘I sing! I sing! Of Angvia! Most beautiful woman! Sweet Angvia! I sing! I sing! Sweeeet Angvia!’ I had to go to the toilet after that.

Audio Landscape: One of Nick Pegg’s lesser efforts and not just because the bulk of the material is terribly humourless…

Isn’t it Odd: The subtlety in the scripting is astonishing. You have a Queen called Vagina (think about it) who is extremely promiscuous! Angvia sees boiling masculine virility in the 7th Doctor and I cannot think of a more stomach-churning concept! McCoy playing at being seduced is unbearably embarrassing; this is where the story tips over the edge into absolute tedium. ‘Ooooh my little man!’ she screams. ‘I’m just not like the other boys!’ he replies. How did Roberts and Hickman ever think this was going to work? The Pits of Angvia are revealed to be the Angivian glands excreting from her armpits. Spare me. There is nothing less funny than a story that is trying to be funny and failing and there are scattered moments in Bang Bang a Boom that really drop the bomb. I hate the way the music punctuates every joke so dramatically, most of them aren’t funny in the first place but the musical stings highlight the moment and squeeze any subtlety away and any chance they had of working. The organ music blaring as Mel comments on each death and Eleanor’s rubbishy sayings left me groaning. The Doctor’s horny encounter is particularly cringe-worthy but the appearance of Michael Caine and Terry Wogan forced my head into my hands.

Result: Comedy is such a delicate beast. If it’s done well it can be the most incredible experience since laughing is one of life’s great pleasures. When it is cocked up to the level of Bang Bang a Boom it is excruciating to endure and this story highlights all of the problems that detractors accuse of season 24. So thumbs up for pulling that of authentically. A good comedy needs a good cast and the oddest thing about Bang Bang a Boom is that this is a really good cast…so why don’t any of them have any chemistry? The characters they are being asked to play are one dimensional, idiotic, charmless and pretty much bearable. The script continually throws away opportunities to tell a witty Agatha Christie story and the direction feels totally out of hand as if everyone got a bit merry and decided to send it up as much as they can. I’m not one of those people who think Doctor Who should avoid comedy but this is a step too far into parody and farce and coming from the same writers that gave us The One Doctor it is inexcusable. At least Gareth Roberts knew what to avoid when writing Unicorn and the Wasp. A few points for some clever twists in the last episode: 3/10


Nekromenteia written by Austen Atkinson and directed by John Ainsworth

An English Gentleman: Much like Arc of Infinity he spends the whole of episode three in a dreamlike state, this time watching a cricket match. Thrilling stuff.

American Attitude: Atkinson has exactly the same problem that Joe Lidster had with The Rapture, he is writing for Peri at the age we saw her on the telly. Which should be fine for continuity purposes but Nicola Bryant is twice as old as she was (but still looking hotter than hell!) and it sounds odd hearing somebody who has matured having to spout lines like a petulant child (there is more than a touch of Adric about her characterisation in this story).

Isn’t that Odd: The rape scene. This might open a can of worms because I know there are some people who think that the Doctor Who universe can expanded to allow all kinds of storytelling and usually I would champion that line of thought, but rape? I don’t think that is appropriate under any circumstances. At times I thought the New Adventures touched on material too adult for the show and I have had some great arguments on the subject but I cannot imagine an argument for the rape of a Doctor Who companion that would convince, especially not when it is written as shallow and throwaway as this. Erimem is approached by Harlon and beats him off and the next we see of her she is dazed and beaten to a pulp. It’s uncomfortable and ugly and feels totally out of place in a story about cackling witches and double-dealing businessmen. It feels as unsuitable as Barbara’s attack in The Keys of Marinus, a dark moment in an otherwise childish farce. We never hear about Erimem’s rape again, she just puts it to the back of her mind and gets on with the story. I don’t think any woman, even a potential Pharaoh, could ignore such a violation with quite such ease. Don’t do it again, Big Finish.

Result: With Bang Bang a Boom just gone and The Dark Flame to come, Nekromenteia makes for the heart of a trilogy of terrible stories that makes you wonder if Big Finish are running out of steam. The first episode is too fractured, with your attention divided a million ways with lots going on but nothing to follow and the story quickly becomes a bunch of unpleasant people betraying each other. John Ainsworth’s decent direction is lost because the story is unbearably dull and treats the regulars like bit players and gives the guest cast far more time than any of them deserve. The witches are among the most irritating Doctor Who aliens ever. This feels like a love letter to Eric Saward’s gritty approach to Doctor Who without any of the charm. It’s all oddly distant, unlovable and uninvolving: 3/10


Zagreus written by Alan Barnes and Gary Russell and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: Beats me. Okay, I’m kidding…

Breathless Romantic: Quite possibly the worst characterisation of the Doctor we have ever seen. It’s appalling and over its three and a half hours length it gets worse and worse…

Edwardian Adventuress: Poor Charley. I really do like her and think India Fisher is a good little actress but sometimes she is saddled with duff scripts to hold up with her bare hands. I’d rather listen to her narration of Masterchef than this…

Great Ideas: There are some good moments in Zagreus. I know, don’t faint. Most of them are captured in the ideas that are tossed about aimlessly throughout the story. What is really annoying is how good some of these notions are and how little they are explored, investigated or even used in a dramatically satisfying way. The concepts are revealed and shrugged off casually, like throwing away a coat. Zagreus is a smorgasbord of delicious ideas and reprehensible ones and separating them was the hardest part of this review as they are wound so tight around each other.

Poor Jon Pertwee. What the hell was the point of that? I’m sure the great man himself would be appalled to think that his last appearance in Doctor Who was as a barely audible, riddle speaking disembodied voice! I had to really strain to hear any of his dialogue and I still don’t understand what the point of it was. Tying the third and eighth Doctor’s is very popular with spin off Who but this is no masterpiece of continuity destruction like Interference, its just bollocks. It came across as a cut price Ben Kenobi. Perhaps the idea was to make this story mythic by including him posthumously but it just comes across as disrespectful to Pertwee’s grand performance as the Doctor. What the hell is the point of these ridiculous dreamscapes? Oh right, an excuse to bring back a wealth previous Doctor Who performers! What a terribly dull way to celebrate this anniversary. If you gave a damn about any of the characters in the dreamscapes you are a better man than me, I was just bored and wondered when they would get to the point. Hilariously Gary Russell had the nerve to suggest that this is a more sophisticated anniversary story than The Five Doctors. Pah!

Standout Moment: Don’t make me laugh.

Result: It’s not very good, is it? Zagreus fails on just about every level you can imagine, the script is dull, unintelligible, bloated fit to burst with extraneous material, the pace is languid to the point of standing still for hours, the characterisation hurts like a rotting tooth, the ideas are wasted and continuity ejaculates around you like an uncontrollable stream of fanwank. This is the anniversary story, it should be reminding me why Doctor Who is the greatest television/audio/book series ever made and instead it had the reverse effect, it left me wanting to turn my back away from the series and take a rest from it. This is what happens when you try and please your fans too much, JNT did it, so did Russell T Davies and Gary Russell has now joined the elite. There is nobody with a critical eye watching this spiral out of control, what is needed is a firm script editor who can say enough is enough. The biggest blow to Big Finish’s reputation yet: 1/10


The Creed of the Kromon written by Philip Martin and directed by Gary Russell

Breathless Romantic: Zagreus bred a new offensively self-pitying eighth Doctor and Scherzo nurtured the character to the point where he was practically enjoying frightening Charley and drowning in his own angst.

Chameleonic Rogue: I’ll let you read about C’rizz below. Needless to say the only thing I want to say here is that he joins…

Isn’t it Odd: Phew! The pace is so languid and slothful you may very well slip into a coma before the end of the story. Nothing happens! Literally two and a half episodes past with nothing but dialogue scenes, there is not one iota of action at all. If the dialogue was worth listening to that might not be so bad… The oddest thing about this story is how it is presented more as a documentary than a drama. We walk into Utermesis and meet the Kromon and explore their science, politics, food production, religion an economy which is just as dreary as it sounds. Martin tries to make this culture, as alien as possible but all of the characters sound like humourless politicians so what little imagination there is undone.

Result: Possibly the dullest Doctor Who story ever produced with very little in the way of drama, spectacle, imagination or even a narrative. The best scene by a million miles is the first one, which just shows you how exciting this story gets. The Kromon failed to grab me in any way, squeaky voiced politicians giving us no reason to care what happens to them, least of all have to study their tedious culture. The Doctor and Charley are one-dimensional non-entities and McGann and Fisher seem to have given up even trying to care and new boy C’rizz has perhaps the worst companion introduction, failing to be either interesting or sympathetic. A dreary, talky, benumbing experience, The Creed of the Kromon grinds the Divergent Universe arc to a halt and exposes just how moribund this period of the eighth Doctor’s life is: 2/10


The Twilight Kingdom written by Will Schindler and directed by Gary Russell (again!)

Breathless Romantic: Groan. Another less than stellar showing for the ever-dwindling eighth Doctor who continues his run of stories pontificating about his anxieties.

Edwardian Adventuress: Oh mother of all that is holy – what has happened to Charley? Its as though the producers have taken a how to turn a successful companion into a twat in four easy steps! Step One – have her fall in love with the Doctor and at the end of saving the universe have her turn his attempts to protect her into feelings of rejection, of being dumped. Step Two – have her repeat that she loves the Doctor over and over again until she moves beyond desperate into a an area of emotional self harm. Step Three – let said companion become the host for a breed of alien monstrosities and force your audience not to give a damn. Step Four – turn your companion into the previous record holder for utter twatness, Adric, by having your companion turn on the Doctor, have a massive paddy because she has a different view point and sulkily run away screaming nonsense like ‘I need some time to myself!’ Congratulations! You’re companion, Charlotte Pollard, is now a total prick beyond redemption in her present circumstances.

Isn’t it Odd: Congratulations to Dale Ibbetson who gives the worst performance in any Big Finish play as Quillian, knocking even Ann Bird from The Rapture out of the pool. He speaks every line with a blank, expressionless monotone I was wondering if perhaps the creature was sapping emotions from the characters. Imagine my surprise when it was supposed to be enhancing them! There are 57 tracks on disc two – I’m not sure if I have ever been so depressed. Episode four features some of the dullest psychobabble you are ever likely to hear out of a counselling session with Deanna Troi. Our big bonus for suffering this year is that we’ve gained C’rizz. Big woo.

Result: Really good and really bad stories are both a joy to listen to for very different reasons. The worst stories are the ambivalent ones where the writing it okay, the production is okay, the music is okay but nothing stands out for good or for ill. The Twilight Kingdom is one such story and in its own bland, forgettable way it is even more torturous than Creed of the Kromon, which you could at least feel something about, even it is pure revulsion. The Doctor needs to lighten up, Charley needs some serious personality surgery and C’rizz needs to get a personality. The three of them front this achingly dreary tale about a living city and a rebel cause that don’t even realise they aren’t actually fighting for anything. I don’t care how bad people think the monthly series is now, the third McGann year is the nadir of Big Finish’s output and I can’t imagine it ever getting worse than this: 2/10


Dreamtime written by Simon A. Forward and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: You’re asking me?

Isn’t it Odd: The opening sense have no description in them and so frustratingly all we hear is a right old racket but have no narration or imagery to back them up. By the end of the first episode my interest was seriously waning, it had little atmospherics, no interesting dialogue, said nothing about its characters…little did I know how much worse it was going to get. ‘Your Doctor is lost to us! He sleeps in stone!’ – that’s the end of episode one, how are we supposed to relate to a cliffhanger that we don’t even understand? The Galyari characters have no reason to be there aside from the fact that it is this author writing the script, they learn nothing from the events and exhibit no personality. Episode two is more talk and no action, I don’t mind talk (after all that’s what audios are about) but nobody seems to do anything but pontificate! Perhaps the mystical dialogue contains lots of hidden meanings that a rough townie like me can’t understand! ‘You have crossed the Dreamtime! I can see it in your eyes!’ – bollocks symbolism. ‘The land dreams what it will and wills what it dreams…’ – stop talking in riddles and tell me what the feck is going on! What is going on at the end of episode two? It’s all chaos and tearing and no bloody explanation? Am I supposed to make it all up as I go along? You shouldn’t be both bored and confused by the end of the second episode! The standard of dialogue is ‘my friends are stranded on the far side of an altogether different abyss.’ ‘Feel the sound, feel it travel your body, the vibrations pass through your fingertips…’ Do any of the characters have dreams, desires, pasts or
personalities because all seem to be shockingly vacant? Everyone seems to be there to spout for emblematic gobbledegook. ‘Where time sleeps! Time breathes in and out?’ – what are they talking about? ‘Reach out with your karma feelings!’ – I nearly turned it off at that point but I did have a friend I was texting at the time giving me the encouragement to go on. Are the Bunyips (and Hex is right that is an awful name) there just because this is Doctor Who and we expect monsters? ‘The end begins!’ – if only I was thinking at the time…this was only halfway through episode three. Mythological terraforming, I can accept some pretty kooky ideas but that’s embarrassing! When they started talking about a bond between man, the land and the spirits I thought I had wondered into a Chris Carter season opener of The X Files! All the voices we have been hearing are the sound of life dragged back to the primordial soup – did anyone manage to follow this script? When McCoy started dribbling ‘jaraperi! Garaloo! Unduwat! Kurakaban!’ I thought I had succumbed to some kind of madness. I thought it was the return of Kalid! ‘Your place is in the Dreamtime’ – what is going on!!!??? Should I have been cheering when the fake Doctor drowned Ace? ‘What’s that? ‘Angry waters!’ – why doesn’t anybody talk naturally? John Scholes completely fails to convince as Baiame, he stresses his already florid dialogue and the character seems like a parody of every shaman and wise man you’ve ever seen on the telly. A story shouldn’t be so badly written that you need the Doctor to summarise the last three episodes in the final instalment. So…we have stopped believing in the old ways of Dreaming so the Dream decided to do something about it and start again – that’s what this has all been building to? ‘Your angry heart knows peace…fly to him Kookaburra!’ – the Doctor does something (apparently) clever at the conclusion but I don’t have a clue what it was. ‘I was always a fan of Rolling Stones. They gather no moss’ – this is painful stuff.

Result: Perhaps somebody could explain this story to me because I’ve just finished listening to it and I don’t have a clue. I honestly don’t mind a touch of mysticism but it needs to be tethered to an engaging narrative of which Dreamtime has neither. Either this is an experiment gone horribly wrong or I am completely the wrong audience for this sort of mystical mumbo jumbo but I found this story never generated an ounce of tension or interest, it was far too busy up there on its philosophical cloud to entertain me. Easily the least digestible thing that Simon Forward has written (and he had a pop at Russian literature in the EDAs) and one of Gary Russell’s most ineffectually directed stories, with nary a memorable performance or set piece. Dreamtime is aptly named, since I felt I had slipped into a coma throughout: 1/10


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

Fair Fellow: Like the rest of the production the characterisation of the fifth Doctor is unmemorable. He doesn’t do anything; he wanders about for three episodes not connecting with the plot in anyway before wrapping everything up and leaving.

American Attitude: Brake seems to be under the impression that all American’s are intolerant, stupid bullies. I am so glad that Peri is not a counsellor because she is shockingly insensitive throughout. My advice to any budding psychiatrists out there is that you don’t say the following things to an agoraphobic:
· ‘What you need is to get out of here and get a life!’
· ‘Get a grip!’
· ‘It’s like walking with my granny!’
· ‘Go straight up and you’ll hit that space station of yours!’
· ‘Its just moving air, don’t panic!’

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

Isn’t it Odd: The first episode is completely devoid of events, they land in the dome and Peri and Erimem are so daft that the latter gets trapped inside a transmat booth and the former beams her away! Underwhelming describes the first cliffhanger - ‘I think your friend might already be dead!’ – supposition hardly builds excitement. A colony of people trapped in their bedrooms? Could you think of a duller location for this to take place in (aside from the weird dream spaces of Dreamtime)? I was very surprised to find that Auntie wasn’t an automaton because Deborah Watling stresses her dialogue like a mechanical version of Ross from Friends!

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


Scaredy Cat written by Will Schindler and directed by Nigel Fairs

Breathless Romantic: Just one leap back into his own universe and the eighth Doctor (after a dazzling showing in Terror Firma) now sounds more bored than ever (but then with an adventure this unengaging who can blame him)…

Edwardian Adventuress: No I’m sorry but I can’t remember Charley being in this. Was she the one who was shoved in cold storage with a serial killer?

Music: I don’t remember there being any music and I certainly didn’t write any notes on it – which has never happened before in 75 main range releases.

Isn’t that Odd: How does a 75-minute story split into 101 tracks? Some of them are only 11 seconds long! Oddly the story doesn’t bother setting up its characters it simply jumps straight into the plot without getting us close to anybody. Why did they choose Linda Bartram to play the little girl…she must be 30 – why not simply get a little girl to play the part? The first cliffhanger doesn’t spring from the story; it is a shoehorned moment of danger that isn’t needed. It feels as though this was originally a much longer script that was castrated because it was so mind numbingly dull they wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. The second cliffhanger is equally as baffling, some chap says ‘Well hello my dear’ to Charley despite the fact that we don’t who he is or even if poses a threat. ‘Because I’m a political activist!’ admits Flood as if that’s all we need to know about his character. The big twist of the story is that Flood genuinely is a psychotic mass murderer, which we have been told over and again already (only Charley has been duped and its hardly the first time). ‘I’ll make them sing with pain before I finish!’ – why go for the revenge motive, it’s the only thing that could make this yawn fest even more tedious. C’rizz the killer pops out at the end of the story after judging the Doctor as heartless! Who is Flood? What does he stand for? Why did he kill people? Why does he want revenge on the sister planet? The conclusion as Flood is beaten down by a hail of ‘Scaredy Cat’ chants is rubbish – what the hell was the point of that saying anyway? All Floods’ evil is washed away and he is left like a newborn baby, this story is so moronic it borrows an idea from the similarly dull season 18 opener.

Result: This is the first time a story has been so monotonous I was left completely apathetic by the experience and found it a chore to write the review. At 75 minutes long this should be a snazzy, fast paced science fiction thriller but instead all we get is an anonymous bunch of characters (we literally know nothing about them) rehashing the plot of The Twilight Kingdom (except with even more stagnant dialogue). It’s further proof that with a script that is lacking, Charley and C’rizz (and their performers) lack the ability to bring some life to the story (in the way Evelyn or Lucie would). Paul McGann sounds like he has been hypnotised and delivers his dialogue in such a banausic fashion there is no doubt he is as bored as we are. Scaredy Cat leaves no impression on me whatsoever except I wasted a sunny morning inside listening to it. It worries me that Big Finish’s lows are so bad at this point and so frequent: 2/10


Something Inside written by Trevor Baxendale and directed by Nicholas Briggs

Breathless Romantic: The eighth Doctor is suffering from amnesia! Are they mad? Something Inside was released in 2006, which was just after BBC Books EDA range had come to an end. For me the latter half of the EDAs is the finest run of Doctor Who novels and my personal favourite run of stories for any version of the eighth Doctor. Trevor Baxendale himself wrote a wonderful pair of stories, Eater of Wasps and The Deadstone Memorial for the amnesiac eighth Doctor. However I am not blind to the fact that the EDA readership grew very tired of the Doctor not getting his memories back and refusing to push to find out what catastrophic event pushed him over the edge. They managed to get around that in The Gallifrey Chronicles but at the same time amnesia had become a byword for everything that was tired and clichéd in the range. Goodness knows why Trevor Baxendale chose to bring that apathy to Big Finish and why Gary Russell let him, especially considering the last time the eighth Doctor suffered amnesia in the Big Finish range (oh yeah it’s a regular occurrence dont’cha know?) was Minuet in Hell, one of the least popular stories in the range.

Edwardian Adventuress: At one point Charley says she doesn’t think there is anybody here who cares what happens to her – is that Baxendale commenting on the apparent unpopularity of the character at the time?

Audio Landscape: Joseph Fox provides the sound effects for this story but you probably wouldn’t have known that because they are so scarce it’s hard to perceive a soundscape!

Musical Cues: What is up with the music in this story? I usually always applaud when they try and do something fresh and unusual with the music but the odd 80s disco themes of Joseph Fox is probably the most inappropriate score for a story since Keff McCulloch had a go at adding atmosphere to Paradise Towers! I gather the Cube is not supposed to be a very nice place but you would never be able to work that out given the groovy music that plays over the scenes set inside – I was bobbing my head with the repetitive disco dancing snatches of music when I’m sure I was supposed to be worried about the characters, fearing for their lives, etc. I gather the fact that Fox was never used again that Big Finish also considered his work a failed experiment.

Result: As bland as watching magnolia paint drying, Something Inside is the most vacuous audio adventure I have heard in a long time. Trevor Baxendale needs a big slap around the chops for writing an adventure that lacks even a basic narrative or any danger especially when we know he is capable of so much more. The move Cube is a claustrophobic and clever movie that uses its lack of resources as an excuse to create an stifling atmosphere – Something Inside is the antithesis of that intense little classic, a predictable, clichéd, dumbed down run-around that fails to characterise even its regulars let alone the miscast vacant guest characters. I don’t understand the point of setting this story within a prison if you aren’t going to create a bit of atmosphere; the characters literally walk around the corridors throughout the entire story and fail to encounter anything that makes escaping a task. Compiling the problems is a repetitive and atmosphere destroying musical score and a lack of sound effects, Something Inside drags interminably at over two insomnia inducing hours: 2/10


The Gathering written by Joseph Lidster and directed by Gary Russell

Musical Cues: Didn’t make an impact on me at all unlike its predecessor, there is a discordant electronic warble that plays throughout but that’s about all.

Isn’t it Odd: I’m not convinced that Kathy was an interesting enough character in The Reaping to bring her back in The Gathering and give her such a large slice of the action. It is nice to see some of the consequences of that story (especially some discussion about Janine’s death and what happened to Nate) but beyond that she is a pretty empty character. And besides which why give Kathy such a huge slice of the action when Tegan is practically ignored? Wow this really is an eighties story – the first disc is 18 tracks long and the Doctor doesn’t make an entrance until track 8! The Reaping handled Peri with far more aplomb than The Gathering handles Tegan, for a starters Peri is vital to the story all the way through whereas halfway through the first episode of Tegan’s spectacular comeback and all we have experienced is a 2 minute phone call with her mother (some would consider that a blessing). Whereas The Reaping had a real emotional thrust from the start this story is very oddly structured and has two beginnings which aren’t connected – Kathy telling the story to the waiter which opens the story and the Doctor landing once again (although from his point of view for the first time) on the Gogglebox which happens somewhere in the middle of episode one. By this point the story should be well underway but I still have no idea what this is supposed to be about, why any of the characters are relevant or if there even is a threat. Unfortunately all this flaws are highlighted against the crisp and emotive plotting of the last story. The 8687 links are tenuous to say the least, anybody expecting a clever revelation will be disappointed to hear that the Doctor used the name of the bar to stop himself remembering these events from his past. Is it beyond the realms of possibility that Peri’s best friend as a child would wind up to be one of Tegan’s
closest friends as an adult – it does seem a bit of stretch? The scenes between the Doctor and Tegan at her birthday party where she bitches and moans and then spits out that she has a brain tumour are deeply uncomfortable and not in a pleasant way – it feels wrong for a show as wonderful as Doctor Who to sink to this level of depression. I couldn’t believe the first cliffhanger, not only because it was duff but also because it meant that the first episode literally ran on the spot for 50 minutes still not revealing one iota of a plot! Dait Abuchi gives a terrible performance as Michael, he fails to convince as Tegan’s ex lover and plays his concern for her with a stiff clumsiness that makes Tegan’s taste in men as unfortunate as ever. There are scenes between Michael and the Doctor where they bitch over who is closer to Tegan, where he tells the Doctor he was the reason that she wouldn’t marry him and that there is every possibility that she was in love with him – how deeply so-cringeworthy-my-I-get-chills-down-my-spine embarrassing. Jodi is a disturbingly provocative character – someone who enjoys upsetting people and getting her own way through bullying. Surely Kathy is so thick to think that what she is doing is ethically responsible? Whilst I am glad that they matched up the superb homecoming plot for Peri with the far more attractive Cyberman plot in The Reaping wouldn’t it have made more sense to have run these two stories with consecutive Doctors to avoid all the ‘I must make myself forget’ nonsense? The climax is beyond underwhelming – the Doctor convinces Nate to kill himself sounding almost bored as the audience as he does.

Result: The antithesis of The Reaping so it is astonishing that both stories came from the same writer – a barely plotted (you don’t discover there is a plot until the second episode) Cyberman story with nothing interesting to say about the creatures and some truly horrible characterisation of the guest cast to add salt to the wound. None of the characters are remotely likable and hardly any of them have any depth beyond bolshie Australian, misguided Doctor and jilted ex lover. This was a chance to bring Tegan back to life with some real sparkle but it turns out she left the Doctor and denied her previous lifestyle, turned away friends, lost herself in her boring job and resented pretty much her entire life – I never thought they could have made Tegan even more obnoxious and unfriendly than she was during her three year run and I have never been more displeased to be proven wrong. The Gathering suggests that travelling with the Doctor can poison your mind and that’s a concept so disgusting I don’t even want to consider it. As much as the last scene tries to suggest she is happy the proof of her dull, repulsive, miserable lifestyle wafts from every scene in this play. A very hard story to like and a huge disappointment after the sterling effort in The Reaping. What’s that? Tegan’s coming back again? Really looking forward to that: 3/10

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Big Finish 1-90 The Best of the Best

Given this is the handover point between Gary Russell and Nick Briggs I thought this was the perfect time to round up the best and the worst of this period of Big Finish. Gary Russell should hold his head very high for (on the whole) maintaining an extremely high level of quality through the series’ first 90 releases and here are my personal favourites…

Thanks for coming this far on this journey with me guys - it wouldn't be the same without out your feedback be it here on the site, on Gallifrey Base or the Big Finish forums. So lets celebrate the best of the best of the Gary Russell era...

The Fires of Vulcan written by Steve Lyons and directed by Gary Russell

The Real McCoy: Wow. Wow. Wow. Astonishing that this story should feature the season 24 team of the seventh Doctor and Mel and it is all the more impressive for it. With four episodes Steve Lyons has shown us a very different dynamic we could have seen between them and opened up a world of potential stories.

Generous Ginge: Whatever plaudits go out for McCoy should be quadrupled for Bonnie Langford. Kudos to her for approaching Big Finish herself to appear in their audio dramas and what a difference it made to her reputation within fandom circles. Suddenly Mel is being written and performed as an adult, maintaining her positive attitude to life but sensible enough to turn down her enthusiasm when the situation is serious enough.

Great Ideas: Capitalising on the drama of Pompeii’s destruction. So good Doctor Who did it twice.

Standout Performance: Bonnie Langford underplays every scene and sells the drama of the situation with ease. Go and listen to her quiet shock at the end of episode three where the seagulls have left the sky, it’s haunting.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You think you’ll reclaim your honour this way but your honour will be worth nothing when you’re reduced to ashes!’ ‘Then die Doctor with a coward’s plea on your lips!’

Musical Cues: The best score yet, Alistair Lock’s command of instruments gives the impression this historical adventure had an entire orchestra backing the action

Result: A Scotsman and a redhead visit Pompeii and argue over the morality of their foreknowledge of the future, sound familiar? This is something very special indeed. So many areas of this story could have been fudged (McCoy could have phoned in his performance, Bonnie Langford could have over enthused, the script could have been too maudlin, the atmosphere too grim) but every aspect of this production is spot on from the cast to the director and the musical score. I have always loved Historicals and Steve Lyons produces a powerhouse of drama here, a cast of memorable characters and a emotion drive that runs through the story and makes pressing stop to go to sleep (grrr) very hard indeed! It’s clever, involving and dramatic and it never cheats the audience of the spectacle of Pompeii whilst telling quite an intimate story within it. Possibly the best performance Sylvester McCoy has ever given as the Doctor, it is a triumph for the seventh Doctor and a real highlight amongst the fluff of season 24: 10/10

Full review here:
The Holy Terror written by Rob Shearman and directed by Nick Pegg

Softer Six: The sixth Doctor’s renaissance continues apace with another story that sees him stepping out of his terrorising personality of the past and emerging as a powerful but gentle being with a vast tapestry of experience to call on and his own unique way of approaching his adventures. The climatic moment that sees the sixth begging Eugene not to commit suicide is simply one of the most powerful scenes in Doctor Who’s canon and Colin Baker’s finest moment thus far. It brought tears to my eyes.

Great Ideas: The Holy Terror is a cornucopia of fantastically clever ideas; Rob Shearman lavishes his imagination and introduces stacks of funny, dark and powerful concepts.

Standout Performance: Roberta Taylor is astonishingly good as Berengaria who is an indulgent, cruel and bored Empress. Her gorgeous gravelly voice is perfect for audio and she plays her part to the hilt. The scene where she berates Livila’s lousy torture methods is awesome: ‘I don’t want to live!’ As the wife of a dead God she has no purpose and the story sees her trying to discover if she can have a purpose beyond that role which starts to subvert before the child kills her and her son.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Your father committed the ultimate blasphemy.’ ‘What’s that?’ ‘He died. Gods aren’t supposed to do that sort of thing.’
‘I thought I felt a twinge of something divine for a moment but it was just indigestion.’

Isn’t that Odd? For Big Finish to tip their hat towards the comic strip like this is marvellous and it is such a shame that so few people bought this title initially. Those proud, idiot fans who think that it is too far fetched for the Doctor to have a talking penguin for a companion.

Standout Moment: The conclusion of this story is devastating. An ashamed, tortured father begging his son for forgiveness and killing himself for the crime of murdering his own son.

Result: This is how good Big Finish are when they are on form. Much like the prison that the story is set within this audio is not quite what it seems and anyone who goes in expecting a deliriously fun and flightly adventure with the Doctor and Frobisher will be shocked. This is a shockingly bleak and yet hilariously funny take on the nature of religion with a biting commentary on the nature of religious toleration. It is populated with some gruesome and twisted characters played outrageously by a terrific cast at the height of their powers. Colin Baker and Robert Jezek make as much of an impact on us as the Doctor and Frobisher do on this society. The script constantly surprises with witty lines, thoughtful moments and stacks of unusual twists and by the time you reach the last episode you are wrapped up in this dangerous and frightening world. Every time I listen to this story I come away with something new, the issues discussed are always going to be relevant and the imagination on display here by Rob Shearman means he simply has to be used again. Astonishingly good, Big Finish has really hit their stride now: 10/10

Full review here: =====================================================================================
The Stones of Venice by Paul Magrs and directed by Gary Russell

Breathless Romantic: Now this is more like it! Considering this was the first story Paul McGann performed after the TV Movie he puts in a confident and assured performance where you never doubt for one second that he is the Doctor through and through. Paul Magrs’ fantastic dialogue helps but McGann plays the lines for all they are worth – if anything he is even more enthused and full of wonder than in Storm Warning and he snuggles into the romantic atmosphere beautifully.

Great Ideas: Magrs is an ideas man – that is his meat and tink so you can always expect something special when his name crops up in the schedules but imagine my delight when he decided to set a story in my absolute favourite place in the whole world – Venice! I had a truly wonderful week in Venice three years ago and have been desperate to return since. There is an atmosphere of beauty, magic and wonder, decay and disaster, curses and cults. It’s fabulous.

Standout Performance: How wonderful to see Michael Sheard in Doctor Who again. His impressive turn as Duke Orcino is one of his best performances in the show; in turns desperately romantic, lethargic, ruthless, bloodthirsty and theatrical. He is an insane selfish man but is ultimately redeemed.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Last time I watched the light spilling from palace windows onto the Grand Canal and all the stars looked as though they were trapped underwater bursting to get out.’
‘I’ll find myself some opulent ballroom and watch the chandeliers grown extravagant beards of lichen and weed and the monstrous fishes take up residence in the sepulchre boudoirs of ancient princesses.’

Audio Landscape: God bless Gary Russell for being so in tune with the script and bringing it to life with such verve and energy.

Musical Cues: More plaudits as Russell Stone gives us the party of the decade with his riotous piano score. Seriously this is the best of some outstanding scores by Stone, the glorious piano pieces in episodes three and four as the party goes on around the drama really got me in the mood for a knees up.

Isn’t the Odd: That the story is hopelessly predictable but I don’t give a toss because I was so romanced by its atmosphere and imagery? It happens…

Result: Controversially this might be my all time favourite Big Finish. It’s not the most intelligently written or the most innovative, it doesn’t have a huge mission statement and it doesn’t once threaten to become an exciting story. The script is captivating all the same, full of delicious dialogue, magic, love and wonder and perfectly taking me back to one of the best weeks of my life spent in Venice. The Doctor and Charley are perfect for this story and have their own adventures, wrapping themselves up in the seductive atmosphere of the place and enjoying some of their best ever dialogue. This is a world of secret cults, lost love and revolutionaries hiding under the surface, a story where the conclusion sees lovers sacrificing themselves so they can be together and a City reborn. I could listen to this one over and over. How on Earth did Tom Baker say no? What a nutter: 10/10

Full review here: =====================================================================================
The One Doctor written by Gareth Roberts & Clayton Hickman and directed by Gary Russell

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

Generous Ginge: Somehow…somehow Roberts and Clayton manage to highlight all of Mel’s overdone morality, enthusiasm and squeaky cleanliness and make her utterly wonderful at the same time!

Standout Performance: Who else but the incorrigible Christopher Biggins, one of our national treasures and an absolute hoot as the conman Banto Zame. He is hilarious throughout and has many laugh out loud confrontations with the similarly verbose sixth Doctor. Just read some of the dialogue listed below to see what a marvellous character this is.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Awe inspiring in that coat? Have you taken a look in the mirror recently? Come to think of it I shouldn’t think you do much else!’ ‘I intend to rise above your barbs…but before I do I’d like to say that this coat can only be appreciated by someone with a sharpened aesthetic sense – not a dunderhead like you!’ ‘Sharpened aesthetic sense? Sharpened by what a dose of mind altering drugs?’ ‘I warn you a verbal duel with me would only lead to ignominy for you!’ ‘Igno-what? Talking with you is like arguing with a thesaurus!’
‘It’s a gigantic body composed almost entirely of super heated gas.’ ‘Rather like you then!’ ‘If I have to endure another insult…’ ‘Oh here we go another voyage around the English language!’
‘Lucky you were wearing that coat, no way of knowing someone’s just been sick over it!’

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

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

Full review here: =====================================================================================
The Chimes of Midnight written by Rob Shearman and directed by Barnaby Edwards

Breathless Romantic: Wow, and I thought Invaders of Mars would be the best we would ever see of Paul McGann’s 8th Doctor. This is a superlative piece of Doctor Who in every fashion you can imagine but in its drawing of the regulars it really does transcend the usual adventuring schlock and become a piece of drama that genuinely says something about the Doctor’s relationship with his companion and how much he cares about them.

Edwardian Adventuress: Aside from her appointment at the Singapore Hilton and her general lust for travelling and adventure there is little that we know about Charley Pollard. The Chimes of Midnight takes the brave steps of dealing with the consequences of the Doctor’s actions in taking Charley away from her fate in the R-101 and shows how miserable the family and friends of Charley were at the news of her death. It gives India Fisher the first chance to really grab hold of a script and milk it for all the pathos it is worth rather than simply going ‘golly gosh’ and boggling at the surprises the Doctor’s adventures keep throwing up.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I died for you Charley because you were the only one worth dying for.’
‘It took me a long time to die but I did it eventually…’
‘How can I be dead and alive at the same time?’

Audio Landscape: The first few second convince you we are dealing with something very special; a sweet lullaby, a fiercely ticking clock, a heartbeat and something unnatural coming alive.

Standout Moment: Well two to be precise. I love the cliffhanger to episode two as time runs away and murder approaches and it is captured with dazzling performances and excellent music to trap you within that moment and make you desperate to hear the next episode. The climax of the story is unbelievably moving where the Doctor steps in and convinces Charley not to commit suicide. The pace and the performances are perfect and it remains the most touching, haunting and life affirming scene in Big Finish’s repertoire.

Result: As good as you have heard and then some, The Chimes of Midnight is one of those very rare Doctor Who stories that get everything right and even when you are told about how brilliant it is it still manages to surprise you. With peerless performances, a script that constantly plays with your mind and leaves you breathlessly emotional at the climax, direction that couldn’t be bettered and more clever concepts than both series of Sapphire and Steel I can’t think of a more accomplished piece of time twisting drama. Paul McGann is given more opportunities to prove just how right he was for the part and India Fisher finally comes out of her shell and rocks Charley up into the higher ranks of the companions. Like The One Doctor I have heard this story more times than it is probably sane to admit and I still find it as thrilling as I did on my first experience. This was a really good time to be a fan of Big Finish where they were producing some of the finest Doctor Who we had been privileged to enjoy: 10/10

Full review here: =====================================================================================
Neverland written by Alan Barnes and directed by Gary Russell

Breathless Romantic: If there was going to be a story that you pointed at to prove just how wonderful Paul McGann is as the Doctor Neverland would certainly be one of the best. It’s a story that manages to achieve a great deal but first a foremost it gives McGann’s eighth Doctor the sort of stunning season finale his predecessor have enjoyed and brings his relationship with Charley into tight focus and exposes their chemistry at its finest.

Edwardian Adventuress: How far has Charley come in these six incredible stories?

Aristocratic Adventurer: Romana is disappointed that in all of the billions of people in universe that could have been responsible for the breach in space/time, the Doctor is responsible.

Great Ideas: Where do you start with a story as complex and involved as this one? I have to say there are a number of Doctor Who stories which I whilst I enjoy on an emotional level, I enjoy even more on an intellectual level simply because of the wealth of clever and brain bursting ideas they feature. Christmas on a Rational Planet and The Last Resort are two very good examples and Neverland joins their ranks. What I find especially clever about this story is that it manages to squeeze in all manner of clever ideas without ever become incomprehensible or losing its entertainment value. Instead it drives these bold concepts to a dazzling climax and closes the story on the best idea of all!

Great Lines: ‘Happy birthday Charley! Only it isn’t my birthday, is it? It isn’t my birthday because I’m not supposed to have any more birthdays. No more cake, no more candles, no more presents, not now, not ever, no more birthdays since I died! That’s right, isn’t it Doctor? No more birthdays because I’m supposed to be dead. Dead and burned in the wreck of an airship. Born on the day the Titanic sank, died in the R-101. Poor tragic little Charlotte Pollard, her life snuffed out before it had even begun.’
‘I am not the Doctor! I have become he who sits inside your head, he who lives among the dead, he who sees you in your bed and eats you when you’re sleeping. I am become…Zagreus!’

Musical Cues: Nicholas Briggs’ finest score to date. It is hard to categorise his music but I was aware of it throughout without it ever being intrusive and moments such as Charley’s Peter Pan speech were beautifully underscored.

Isn’t it Odd: That all the fantastic work done in Neverland would be blown on the next 8th Doctor story? But that’s for another time…

Result: What else can I say that hasn’t been said above? This is superb climax to McGann’s second season, brilliantly dovetailing all of the hints that have been whispered throughout the year and bringing the paradox of Charley’s survival to a dramatic climax. I can’t remember a companion ever being given this much focus and India Fisher holds the story together beautifully, both as Charley and Sentris. Gary Russell has assembled a fantastic cast and each them bring something special to the story and his direction is nothing short of masterful throughout. Neverland is a story with a wealth of mind-expanding ideas at its disposal but whilst it is thrilling you with its possibility it never forgets to have a heart and the touching scenes between the Doctor and Charley as they realise their partnership may be coming to an end provide the icing on the cake. Alan Barnes has written a thrilling script and it is joyously brought to life by all concerned. Triumphant: 10/10

Full review here: =====================================================================================
Jubilee written by Robert Shearman and directed by Nicholas Briggs

Softer Six: Oh this is just gold. Like holding up a plump and gorgeous jewel you get to see every facet of this fascinating incarnation from his genocidal hatred of the Daleks, his love for Evelyn and willingness to protect her at the cost of his own life and his outright horror at the torture the humans have been subjecting the Daleks too.

Learned Lecturer: Maggie Stables’ Evelyn Smythe is no ordinary companion. I think we all know that by now. Stables, one time French teacher turned actress injects Evelyn with real heart and intelligence that ranks her amongst the very best of the Doctor’s travelling companions. However it is stories like Jubilee where she steps from that role (and definitely in her next three appearances too) and becomes a fully-fledged protagonist driving the drama of the story.

Great Ideas: There are very few Doctor Who stories with the sort of content Jubilee enjoys and what’s more it takes the Daleks and examines them in every way you can imagine. The script is transcendental, bigger on the inside than the out and it is injected with so much diabolical invention it leaves a lot of the other audio writers in the shadows.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘If it was a scream! It might just have been laughing at me!’
‘When we swallow our Dalek juice, we swallow a bit of them. It is the drink of victors!’ ‘And who would have thought that victory could be so tasteless?’
‘You humans are so fragile, your lives so brief, tiny splash of brilliant colour against the time stream and then gone forever.’
‘You’re still my dearest friend. Still the best thing that’s ever happened to me. The places you’ve taken me, the wonders you’ve shared. I know that whatever happened to me along the way, even death, it was worth it.’

Audio Landscape: By far the best story Nick Briggs has directed (and paired with Rob Shearman) to this point, he brings this chilling tale to life and never holds back the horror making it a truly stomach twisting experience.

Standout Moment: Are you joking? For me it is probably the scene where Evelyn discovers Farrow’s body and confronts the Dalek, it is so murderously played I had goose bumps but the whole story is loaded with standout moments from torture to merchandising to invasion.

Result: Alarmingly inventive and brooding, I adore this story. Doctor Who rarely has the capacity to make me feel genuinely uncomfortable but Jubilee had me in a cold sweat throughout, compiling one horror and dramatic set piece after another. The humour is jet black and quite inspired making the terror all the twitchier. It is full of strong emotional beats, highly atmospheric and leaves you with lots to think about when it is over. Evelyn gets a really meaty role and Maggie Stables excels in a powerful, angry performance topped only by Colin Baker’s agonising take on the Doctor tortured for 100 years. This story is a (not so) subtle commentary on the horror of mankind and it drives its point home like a knife in the gut. Rob Shearman’s greatest gift to Doctor Who is his ability to make you think in brand new ways about staples of the series we thought have become mere clichés. This is beyond doubt the most interesting exploration of the Daleks we have seen. And the wittiest. And the scariest. John Scott Martin will never complain about getting into a Dalek casing again: 10/10

Full review here: =====================================================================================
Doctor Who and the Pirates written with great imagination by Jacqueline Rayner and superbly directed by Barnaby Edwards, esq.

Softer Six: These reviews are becoming a little predictable but seriously…how good is Colin Baker in this story? There was a moment in the all singing, rope swinging, cutlass dodging third episode where the sixth Doctor goes from being a great Doctor to being the best Doctor (it was around the hilarious ‘Please! Please! Give me one more chance before you cut me down like a dog!’).

Learned Lecturer: Another superb showcase for Maggie Stables who really tears out your heart at the end of this story. One of my absolute favourite companions ever. It is a pleasure to listen to Baker and Stables together, they are an addictive combination.

All of the songs are full of memorable lines and delights but by far the most accomplished (and stuffed full of more continuity than a book co written by Craig Hinton, Gary Russell and David A. McIntee) is Colin Baker’s hilarious ‘I am the very model of a Gallifreyan Buccaneer…

Audio Landscape: As accomplished as his work on the similarly excellent Chimes of Midnight and then some, Barnaby Edwards is proving himself to be the very best Big Finish director. Can he do more please? What? He wants to climb inside and play Daleks?

Musical Cues: Timothy Sutton is not a name I have heard before which is crying shame because this is story that is controlled by music, especially in the third episode, and Sutton pulls out all the stops to make this as memorable experience as possible.

Result: Strikingly experimental and yet still an absolute pleasure to listen to, Doctor Who and the Pirates has taken all the style and effort that has been missing from recent stories and injects them all into four episodes of bliss. Jac Rayner has written a superb script, easily her best for Big Finish, which manages to be a beautiful character study, a rip roaring adventure, a hilarious comedy, a blinding musical and a striking piece of drama whilst offering a treatise on narrative techniques at the same time. It should be utterly schizophrenic but the story shifts mood effortlessly from humour to horror. Colin Baker and Maggie Stables continue to shine in what has become one of the great Doctor/companion pairings and the guest cast instil the story with some priceless performances. The jokes are funny, the songs are wonderful and the direction is faultless. Why can’t every story be as good as this? Remarkable: 10/10

Full review here: =====================================================================================
Creatures of Beauty written and directed by Nicholas Briggs

An English Gentleman: One of the cleverest things about this story is how it sets up its consequences before revealing its dilemmas. In doing so and having the audacity to have the Doctor not even realise his role in this story’s affairs it ironically says more about his character than if her had found out and we had explored his reaction. Creatures of Beauty holds the Doctor’s choice to leave Gallifrey and explore the universe up to the spotlight and dares to make the suggestion that it might not have been the best idea. I love that.

Alien Orphan: Briggs has hit upon a formula that really makes Nyssa work here, put her in the worst situation imaginable! Seriously, by having sweet, gentle Nyssa exposed to such vicious interrogation, violence and horrific images we get to see her stand up to authority, ask the right questions and become a truly sympathetic character.

Great Ideas: Two dying races combined to make a new one. What a fascinating idea.

Audio Landscape: What has happened to Nick Briggs? Since he took a break from the main range to write and direct Dalek Empire his handling of Jubilee and Creatures of Beauty have been nothing short of masterful.

Musical Cues: Understandably Briggs opts to make the music as scarce as possible to really drive home the drama of this story. The silences can be very uncomfortable. Ironically the lack of music in some places really emphasises his superb sound effects.

Result: A forgotten masterpiece and a stunning experiment in fractured narration that results in grit your teeth suspense. It’s a piece which opens up some disturbing questions about the Doctor’s effect on the places he visits that wisely leaves you to come to your own conclusions. I love how the story’s climax is the end of part three and its beginning is at the start of part four, Briggs has clearly put a lot of thought into making this experiment work and manages to save a whoop-ass twist until the final few seconds which demands you give the story a second listen. David Daker gives the performance of a lifetime as Gilbrook; he is sinister, sadistic and yet rather wonderfully departs the story on a moment of pure poetry. Creatures of Beauty is not afraid to make its audience feel uncomfortable and in doing so it manages to be one of the most thought provoking stories yet. I cannot fault this story: 10/10

Full review here: =====================================================================================
Davros written by Lance Parkin and directed by Gary Russell

Softer Six: If you look at the televised era of the sixth Doctor he actually had quite a few really good villains to butt heads with. From the morally ambiguous Lytton, greedy and excitable Sil, the gorgeous Rani, ravenous and homicidal Shockeye and of course the Valeyard, the darker side of the Doctor’s nature. And yet of all of these it was Davros who sparked of him the best…

Scarred Scientist: However good the work with Baker’s Doctor is that is nothing compared with the superlative character examination of Davros. Whilst I, Davros and Terror Firma would go on to provide fascinating glimpses at Davros this is the story with just his name as the title and it fills in a lot of gaps in our knowledge of our favourite genocidal maniac.

Audio Landscape: God bless Jim Mortimore, not only a fantastic writer and musician but he also brings audio adventures to life with some fantastic sound effects. The difference between this story and Omega is that remembers to be quiet in the right places and really drives home the drama…

Musical Cues: Jane Elphinstone provides the creepiest Big Finish score yet. The trick is to keep it as minimalist as possible and only rise to drama when the story needs it.

Standout Moment: There a so many great moments in this story but the one that always gets my heart going is Davros’ first ‘DOCTOR!’ as he wakes from his sleep of the dead. Even when I know it’s coming its still frightening!

Result: A story that redefines Davros beautifully and drips with malevolence. When I first heard this story I thought it was far too long (150 minutes!) and was quite blandly directed but I was so wrong on both counts. I wouldn’t want to cut a single scene from this story and I found that the two and half hours of material flew by this time. As a character tale there is none finer as it uses its extended time to flesh everybody out with real clarity before leaving them gasping to get out of Davros’ homicidal grip. The dialogue is crisp and thoughtful and the music ramps up the tension to unbearable levels. Colin Baker gets another chance to shine and unencumbered with an assistant he is as naughty and rebellious as we will ever see him. But this story belongs to Terry Molloy who gets to explore a whole range of emotions as Davros and manages to tug at the heartstrings and terrify you, sometimes at the same time! Its one of the best portrayals of a villain we have ever seen on the show and elevates Davros to some nightmarish pedestal when he can glare down malevolently at the other bad guys we have encountered and laugh at their ineptitude. He’s really scary and that just feels right: 10/10

Full review here: =====================================================================================
The Wormery written by Paul Magrs and Stephen Cole and directed by Gary Russell

Softer Six: Definitely in this one. Why is it that the sixth Doctor gets all the best characterisation in these audios? When you go back and look at Jubilee, Pirates, Twilight and the like there has been some serious development of his character not afforded to the others? The Wormery features my favourite development and characterisation of the sixth Doctor yet because it reveals how the events of the Trial would have hit home and caused the Doctor to lose some of that adventurous spirit.

Transtemporial Adventuress: Absolutely Iris’ best audio adventure and the one that exposes her true potential. Anybody who thinks Iris is just a one-dimensional continuity shattering hysterical old drunk could be in for a few surprises…

Sparkling Dialogue: I could just quote all of Iris’ dialogue…
‘How tawdry! A pistol stuck in your garter!’
‘’Ere, you can rest your head on my bosom…’
‘Who ever heard of a diabolical denouement taking place in a patisserie!’

Standout Performance: Its one of those casts that Big Finish assembles every now and again that just gels. Colin Baker emotes beautifully; Katy Manning makes me scream with laughter, James Campbell camps it up wonderfully, Maria McErlane is the ultimate Diva and Paul Clayton menaces in the shadows.

Musical Cues: The Wormery features my favourite musical score with only Russell Stone’s music for The Stones of Venice coming close. It really enhances the cabaret atmosphere of the piece but also provides some genuinely foot-tapping music as well.

Standout Moment: Tough, very tough. The second cliffhanger is wonderful (‘Iris! Stop singing! Or you’ll destroy us all!’) but for making me fall about on the floor in hysterics the Iris/Bianca bitch fight over the Doctor tops everything else..

Result: A story of the future haunting the past (3 times over), the Wormery holds a mirror elegantly up to Trial of a Time Lord. With Paul Magrs’ gift for English and poetic language and Steve Cole’s command of plotting and dialogue this is a classy marriage of minds and a peerless script. There are more sparkling one-liners than you can shake a stick at, wonderfully fulsome and theatrical performances, a tone which walks a tightrope between hilariously funny and achingly poignant and it all ends on one great universe threatening song. Colin Baker and Katy Manning are perfect together and my campaign to get them their own series starts here. The story creates a fantastic atmosphere and is plotted with some real care and offers twists and turns that genuinely thrill and surprise. Oh and the last line is perfect. The Wormery is shamelessly camp, glorious, fabulous: 10/10

Full review here: =====================================================================================
>[Review of The Natural History of Fear has been excised for public safety. Enjoy your day in Light City.]

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\ - quick I only have a few seconds to get this transimission out – I hope these don’t spot it…this is where my interrogation is listed by the authorities – get the word out there!

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

The Real McCoy: I’m happy to report that the real Sylvester McCoy is back with us, the one who gave us dark, compelling performances in Ghost Light and Master as opposed to the gibbering idiot who phoned in an embarrassing performance in Unregenerate(!).

Oh Wicked: It feels like ages since I last heard Ace and even longer since I enjoyed her this much.

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

Audio Landscape: I refuse to believe it is a co-incidence but with Gary Russell taking a break for a couple of stories sees him returning to the main range with probably his best ever direction of a Doctor Who audio…

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

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

Full review here: =====================================================================================
The Kingmaker written by Nev Fountain and directed by Gary Russell

American Attitude: A wonderful, wonderful story for Peri who gets so many priceless moments I lost count by the end of the story! Nicola Bryant gives this witty material such exuberance, I have always adored her in the role but this is one of her best ever performances. Every time Peri opens her mouth I couldn’t decide whether to laugh my head off or cringe – most of the time I just said ‘Oh Peri…’

Standout Performance: A great cast for a great script. Jon Culshaw does a wonderfully funny Tom Baker impersonation, including overdramaticising the end of sentences (‘He decided to act!’) and giggles madly.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Look! Richard the III has got the hump!’
‘Have you ever tried to get a writer to keep a deadline? I would say that laser canons are a minimum requirement.’
‘Erimem, I’m not sure but I think Shakespeare put a hand on your royal behind!’
‘No one killed the Princes in the Tower and Shakespeare died at the Battle of Bosworth, there’s no way I can put that in my Doctor Who Discovers Historical Mysteries book!’

Standout Scene: I love all the temporal scribblings between the Doctor and Peri – she writes him a letter in 1484 which he reads in 1485 and then the ninth Doctor (‘Northern chap with big ears’) travels back to before Peri and Erimem arrive a leaves a note with Clarrie for them! ‘I’ve just remembered! They left you another letter with strict instructions that it should be opened after that one!’ ‘Do you know my dears I clean forgot that that bloke left another letter…’ – what a fantastically naughty break-the-rules through time scene!

Result: The last time I had this much fun with history and time travelling antics was City of Death and I don’t exaggerate when I hold this ingenious story in exactly the same league. Nev Fountain has written a fantastic script, which juggles passionate ideas, belly laughs, moments of genius and great character drama. No aliens in sight and yet this is still Doctor Who through and through, the guest cast are phenomenal and the direction keeps the story skipping along energetically. Fountain’s handling of the regulars is perfect, giving the usually colourless fifth Doctor some witty and wonderful moments, touching on Erimem’s ancestry and best of all pushing Peri into the limelight and have her go off like an emotional rocket. Two of the best Big Finish moments come with the revelation of who the Master really is and the identity of the real Princes – this story is beautifully thought through and has some delicious answers. Even the title is on the subterfuge. After an inconsistent run of stories that verged from ball squeezingly awful to tickle my fancies sublime, The Kingmaker is the first out and out classic in an age: 10/10

Full review here: =====================================================================================
The Reaping written by Joseph Lidster and directed by Gary Russell

Busty Babe: Probably my favourite scene in this entire story is a very heated exchange between Peri and her mother, which works beautifully because you can see precisely how Peri came to be how she is. It’s a long overdue and extremely revealing homecoming, giving this latest Cyberman story an equally strong character thread to fall back on if the story doesn’t work out. Our first chance to see Peri’s life in Baltimore, her relationship with her mother and what happened exactly before she met the Doctor in Lanzarote…

Standout Performance: Colin Baker excels as ever but this is Nicola Bryant’s chance to shine and I think (despite some real competition with The Kingmaker and Point of Entry) this may well be her most accomplished performance as Peri.

Musical Cues: David Darlington’s score is mournful and beautiful, playing up the tragic events that unfold. I really love the guitar theme that plays over the funeral scenes; we haven’t heard such great use of the instrument since Loups-Garoux.

Standout Scene: The cliffhanger is exceptional because Joe Lidster has spent enough time building up the threat of the Cybermen and dealing with Anthony’s death in a very emotional fashion and as those two threads collide you know the shit is going to hit the fan!

Result: A revelatory story for Peri, Joe Lidster writes a script that explores her character like never before and really give her substance. Nicola Bryant grabs hold of this opportunity and gives her most assured performance as Peri, ably backed up as ever by Colin Baker and they once again prove what fantastic chemistry they have. It’s an innovative Cyberman story too which I find something of a novelty, often the metal meanies are dumped into a story for no rhyme or reason but to boost ratings or increase sales. Lidster takes the Cybermen and gives their story a definitive ending and a new beginning and their brilliantly over complicated plan could only come from a mechanical mind. Some tasty moments of body horror, a genuinely emotional exploration of losing somebody to the Cybermen and subtle blanket of control over America – somebody is finally exploiting the potential of these creatures. Its Peri’s homecoming that makes the most impact, Joe Lidster takes all the domestic elements that made The Rapture such a disaster and skilfully provides some emotionally choking moments in this outstanding tale: 10/10

Full review here:

Coming tomorrow night - The Worst of the Worst - eek!