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?
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.
Isn’t it Odd: WARNING – NOT FOR THE FAINT HEARTED
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