Saturday, 30 April 2011

Nocturne written by Dan Abnett and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: On the human colony planet Nocturne, there is suffering and blight, tragic symptoms of an ages-old war. Never the less, Nocturne is also one of the Doctor's favourite places in all of time and space, because it is here that a late, great flowering of human art - the High Renaissance - is taking place. He has been back here, many times. It is a place of music and art which he finds inspirational and uplifting. It is a place he wants to share with Ace and Hex. It's always been a safe haven for him, a world of friends and laughter. But with strict Martial Law imposed on the front-line city, and the brutal scourge of interstellar warfare vicing the system, how safe can anyone really be? There is a note of death in the wild, midnight wind…

The Real McCoy: I think Big Finish has finally got a hang of the seventh Doctor in the last handful of stories and Nocturne continues that trend. McCoy plays the part with wonderful wit and relaxation. Its wonderful to hear his two friends mocking him gently and affectionately. Somewhere along the line these three have become a very entertaining trio with Ace and Hex as aware of his faults as he is of theirs. Keeps his friends baffled and in the dark and drips feeds them information on a need to know basis so he looks clever and they look stupid. He likes the grand reveal and takes them to places and tells them nothing about it. Nocturne is just about one of his favourite planets because art blossoms in the adversity of wartime. He talks longingly of the great art works that were created and long remembered from this time period and how he tries to visit whenever he can. The Doctor has friends and delights in being able to show his companions somewhere where he is welcomed. The Doctor has returned to Nocturne without changing his face, a rare delight. He hasn’t brought guests as feisty as this since Senora Jovanka! The Doctor has never been comfortable with the familiars because too much can go wrong with robots and he’s seen it done before. He has foreknowledge, secret information that he is not willing to share, not even with his own friends. The truth is a funny thing because even when he speaks it people tend not to believe him. Death and mystery seems to accompany him but no more than anybody else in his line of work. In a quiet moment the Doctor says sorry for not always giving Ace all the information she needs but in his defence he only does it to protect her and Hex. He sounds genuinely sorry to have once again have put them both in danger. The Doctor orders Oberst to put her gun away because he doesn’t like them. He’ll be back to Nocturne, sooner or later, when its more quiet.

Oh Wicked: ‘Too much temptation…must tease Hex!’ should have been a fun line but Sophie Aldred fudges it. Its just Ace unless you want something snapped out. Ace well and truly puts her foot in it with a man with a missing foot! After all the great material she has been given of late this isn’t the best of stories for the character. She really works when she is sympathising with Alleron and trying to deal with his death but during the dramatic moments she lacks any kind of conviction. I always find she works very well when she is given quiet, understated material but just like McCoy, Aldred finds it hard to underplay the more shouty moments and sounds simply hysterical. What is this fool talking about? Go and listen to Olivier screaming for help at the end of episode one and compare and contrast with Aldred playing out the same scene at the end of episode three and you’ll see how the former creates drama and the latter melodrama. However Ace does share an intimate moment of friendship with the Doctor at the beginning of part four and its rather touching.

Sexy Scouse: How relaxed does Hex sound in this story? Philip Olivier has really eased into the role and shares some very fine chemistry with McCoy and Aldred. He went to the kind of school that went on a trip to Venice.

Standout Performance: I’m very pleased to see Trevor Bannister playing a role in Doctor Who as I have long been a fan of Are You Being Served. His recent death gives this story an extra feeling of poignancy.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Sound, art, my dear everything around us is art in some form or other! The buildings the sky, the sound of music or a brush of paint on canvas…even the war!’
‘Pure living music!’
‘This particular masterpiece is deadly. No art however perfect should be valued over life.’
‘Bang your pot man!’

Great Ideas: One of the most enchanting original locations Big Finish has offered up for a while, a place of romance and art. Glass City on Nocturne smells like Venice because of the canals. There is a war on and it has been going on for a long time. The greatest collection of artists and creators since the Florentine renaissance. The ‘inky black’ recital is truly the worst poetry known to man! Familiars are all girls because research shows that people are more comfortable with the female form but Ace wonders if sexism is still rife in the future. Respected artist Lukaz Morane is murdered and his house is torched and Hex being the first person on the scene was arrested and accused. Killed by the noise that a really bad feeling would make. Alloran tells the story of what he discovered in the archives before the war, ancient, alien scripts found on a distant planet – it was information on bio harmonics, a completely kind of music, pure and raw and beautiful but potentially deadly. His brother made a copy of the notes before Alloran went to war but he made him promise that he wouldn’t do anything with them. Bio harmonics is using your own planet as a musical instrument, to create music that was an expression of their own world. Lillian tries to intercede as they are about kill the music, trying to save the most destructive of art forms.

Audio Landscape: Thunder rumbling, lapping waves of the canals, the mechanical footsteps of the familiars, polite chatter, I like the squeaky familiar voices, crackling fire, there is an impressive clap of thunder in part four followed by an almighty downpour, banging pots.

Musical Cues: For an adventure about exploring art through music I thought the score was a little dull and was doubly surprised to see it was produced by the usually reliable Steve Foxon. The music we hear Korbin playing sounds tinny and synthetic and the piano theme Alloran plays is plain and lacks the bounce of the best of the instrument. Even the Beethoven sounds horridly artificial.

Isn’t it Odd: Oddly the cover makes Sylvester McCoy’s head look like a huge misshapen crystal and cause my husband (who isn’t the actors greatest fan) to laugh his head off when he sat at the computer to do some work! The first scene is pretty nonsensical and quite annoying – Lomaz emoting crazily over a whole lot of noise! Not the most inspiring of beginnings. The cliffhanger to episode one comes completely out of the blue, it has been a pleasingly quiet and relaxed episode and suddenly Hex is screaming about some unknown noisy danger. It doesn’t mean anything to the audience because we don’t have a clue what is going on. Whereas his direction was right on the mark throughout Circular Time there is something a little disjointed about how this story has been put together with long stretches of silence and only the barest minimum of sound effects. It founds half finished. The second episode is remarkably bland – a lot of discussion about an ambiguously unknown threat and I really don’t feel any great danger from the Familiars. Cate Reeney is an astonishingly irritating character, she’s one of those police officers that turns up every now and again to hamper the Doctor’s chances of solving the crime and to accuse him. The actress sounds like a petulant child rather than a serious professional. DI Menzies, she aint. Lillian aside, I thought the guest characters were all pretty unmemorable. The end of episode one and episode three are identical! You would have thought that they would have gone for a really creepy sound effect to portray the sound of a planet but instead it sounds rather like a rock band smashing up the garage during a jamming session.

Standout Scene: Poor Lothar, I felt more emotion for him being told that his poetry is abominable during the climax than the actual events!

Result: Average, unfortunately. Nocturne has the feeling of an unfinished production – the script feels like it needs another few drafts to iron out the repetitive nature of the plot and dullness of the characterisation but what I was really shocked about was John Ainsworth’s direction which is usually top notch but lacks any kind of sparkle. For a story that should exploit the audio medium to the nth degree its remarkably quiet and unengaging. There were a few bright areas – the regulars are mostly written for very well and Sylvester McCoy grows ever more confident on audio and Philip Olivier really can’t do much wrong in my book (as an actor, not a looker!). I feel that I am being far too unkind on a story that doesn’t really get anything too wrong but on the flip side it really doesn’t distinguish itself very much either. After Circular Time’s unforgettable kick start into a new era it is a shame that we should plummet into blander territory quite so quickly: 5/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Circular Time written by Paul Cornell & Mike Maddox and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: Spring – In the springtime of a distant future, the Doctor and Nyssa become embroiled in Time Lord politics on an alien world. Summer - During the stifling heat of a summer past they suffer the vengeful wrath of Isaac Newton. Autumn - In the recent past, Nyssa spends a romantic golden autumn in an English village while the Doctor plays cricket. Winter - And finally, many years after their travels together have ended; the two friends meet again in the strangest of circumstances.

An English Gentleman: Nyssa thought the Doctor would be scared of heights after falling of the telescope at the Pharos Project on Earth. If he had a rope and harness he would still be walking around handing out jelly babies in a mile long scarf! He admits that he can die but quickly skips over explanation. The Time Lords are clever – they send him to places they know he would give his right arm to see and if he refused they would send some stuffy dull bureaucrat in his place. Positively evangelical about the idea of another Time Lord striking out in the universe. Prydonians are cunning and you cannot take your eyes off them for a second. Do the Time Lords like to keep on good terms with their resident rebel? Not all Time Lords want to use up all their lives the way the Doctor fritters him – although he wouldn’t say that they are frittered! The Doctor’s idea of worse than being trapped in a torture chamber is a Dalek taskforce or Mars winning the ashes again. Must get around to making a new sonic screwdriver, he keeps going on about it but has never gotten around to it. Prydonians are usually anything but free thinkers. The Doctor would place himself in hazard rather than allow Newton’s speculation about time travel continue which adds credence to his claims. He dies and returns like a hardy perennial. The Doctor once told PG Wodehouse that there is always a story waiting to get out. He’s rubbish at telling Nyssa that she looks nice, instead telling her that she fits into the period well! I really enjoyed the Doctor’s awkward, almost angry reaction to discovering Nyssa and Andrew in the woods canoodling and how he asks her not to apologise for enjoying herself. It feels as though he has lost so many friends to other men who can offer his girls something he can’t that he is bruised by the fact that it may happen again. They always used to say he was old before his time, an old man in a young mans body. Each time the Doctor regenerates they change into something more comfortable, something appropriate to the present conditions (actually given the increasing violence of the Eric Saward era the sixth Doctor is an appropriate example of that principle). Every time he regenerates, he dies. What a person his next incarnation will be – all those colours in the white! With the strength of his companions he runs without reluctance into his next life with another life to save.

Alien Orphan: The best Nyssa story we have ever been given – a story which develops her character to the nth degree and allows her experience all facets of life. How can Nyssa herself so superior given the company that she keeps and the destruction the Doctor carries in his wake. She cannot bear to see children hurt and steps forward to object to the justice of the Avian race. When the Doctor suggests that the bird city looks a bit like Traken Nyssa is appalled saying that maybe he is right except that its laws are random and brutal. Nyssa is genuinely shocked to hear that the Doctor was exiled from Gallifrey, she thought that he left his home planet freely. Nyssa is writing a novel, embarking on a literary adventure about a world where everybody is kind and looked after by a good King – its not a fantasy adventure. Its fascinating to see how awkward Nyssa is when she gets some male attention. She was thinking that there would be something frightening about the village of Traken and almost sounds disappointed that it is quite ordinary. She gets talkative once she has had a few drinks. There are all sorts of times and places where Nyssa can point up to the sky and say that was where she grew up and everybody she knows lives – even though that world is lost to her in her personal timeline. Feelings are feelings and you cannot hedge them off with logic – Andrew grabs Nyssa and kisses her and she enjoys it even though letting surprises in are a new skill for her. She believes she requires practice and she asks him to kiss her again. She is terrified that if she stays with Andrew one day he will change his mind about her and not see an alien princess but an ordinary woman who works in a pub. She cannot make the choice and so asks him to tell her to stay but he refuses because it has to be her choice. In the future long after she has left the Doctor Nyssa is married to an analyst and has a baby. Leaving with the Doctor to explore the universe was the start of Nyssa growing up, it wasn’t all horror, it was fun as well. Nyssa was the most vital part of the Doctor’s family at the end of his fifth life. The last time Nyssa saw the Doctor was in a dream but she will say without reluctance that he is still out there.

Standout Performance: I’m always impressed with the excellent material they give Nyssa in these audio adventures because she was so neglected on television and Sarah Sutton is simply divine in this story, delivering a fresh and different performance in each episode. In Spring she is accusatory and shocked as Nyssa learns about the Doctor’s past, in Summer she slips into the fast and witty dialogue with ease, in Summer we get to see a gentler, melancholic Nyssa who enjoys a twilight romance and in Winter we visit an older, stronger Nyssa who has forged her own path in the world. Throughout all of these many facets of her character Sarah Sutton gives a consistently but subtly different performances and once again reminded me of what a superb actress she is.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Look out! Vampires in the Capitol!’
‘I do not like fools, forgers…or Catholics! Which are you?’
‘I will tell your jailer not to spit in your food unless I expressly request it!’
‘Nothing political! What could be more political than money?’
‘I’m so glad you didn’t pay by debit card…’
‘I cross the void beyond the mind…to seek a truth they’ll never find!’ ‘A bit less arch Doctor…’

Great Ideas: The Doctor has been asked to bring Cardinal Zero back home since he has decided to give up his political career and live amongst the trees. Avian creatures who punish the children of the criminals. Regeneration has class, gender and species politics. Zero is planning on giving the Avian race the power of flight again. Droppings of the chicks plus fruit juice equals poison which deters the males from stealing the eggs. The first murder in six years and Zero is to be the judge, jury and executioner. I love the fact that Zero’s TARDIS turns out to be a lake – how awesome! He regenerates into something half Time Lord, half avian. I loved the sudden moment of awful realisation when Zero admits that he was the murderer and but he has no family on this planet to punish – the nearest thing would be somebody from his own planet…

The Doctor gives Nyssa coins from the wrong era and they are arrested for forgery! If it was intended as a joke they will be executed anyway. Newton is a very clever man who deduces precisely what the TARDIS is and refuses the Doctor entry because he fears he will head back and change his past. What if there is no future or at least we do not reach an age in which time travel is impossible? Which would make the Doctor an alien from another planet and quartering him would sort that out. America becoming so powerful that they will conquer even the moon itself! Although he discovered gravity Newton is thoroughly pissed off that the apples struck him full in the face causing him to have a nosebleed for three days (the Doctor is a fast bowler!).

Cricket writes mortals into history through stories and statistics, that’s why it appeals to the Doctor. To have the Doctor return to the village of Stockbridge is a fantastic touch of comic strip nostalgia that Big Finish will exploit again in the future.

A farmhouse where the Doctor lives with dishes on the shelves around the room resembles the TARDIS. He lives there with his wife and his children, Adric, Tegan and Nyssa. He has a zero cabinet inside his barn. This whole adventure takes place inside the Doctor’s mind in the few seconds before he regenerates – it is the Master’s laugh that is echoing inside his head and the Spectrox poisoning is draining the life from his body. He was trying to reach out across time and space to get support from his friends and add their energy to his own but somebody is trying to create an illusion in the hallucination you have in the few seconds before the regeneration. The Master is using the Doctor’s mental link with Kamelion to stave off the process and turn the Doctor’s friends into a hallucination rather than aid to his transformation.

Audio Landscape: The exotic sounds of the rainforest, there is a fabulous chirruping alarm signal, Zero snoring, falling into the lake, his flapping wings, arrows firing, birds twittering, firing a pistol, squeaky prison doors, the polite applause of a cricket audience, children screaming in the distance, the crack of the cricket ball hitting the bat, Nyssa in the bath, screaming winter winds, making a cup and stirring in the milk, gurgling baby, squeaky doors, frightening laughter the screams across the landscape.

Musical Cues: There is a growing sense of unease as Newton deduces the future through a handful of coins and the ominous, building string music adds a real sense of frisson.

Standout Scene: Issac Newton thinks through the manufacture and surface detail of mixed currency and judges it not to be Irish propaganda but a product of the future – a brilliantly written scene packed with intelligent observations. I almost choked on my crunchy nut cornflakes when the Doctor started quoting ‘I am the Doctor!’

Notes: Paul Cornell is Carolyn Smycox’s husband and there is a lovely touch where the Doctor expresses his wish to head back to Nicaea one day – The Council of Nicaea is written by Symcox and takes place after Nyssa has left the Doctor and Peri and Erimem have joined.

Spring: A delightfully imaginative piece which economically covers quite a lot of ground. It has been almost 30 releases since we last heard the Doctor and Nyssa together and this is a firm reminder of how well they work together. With its intriguing Avian culture, digs at Time Lord culture and Zero’s quirky transformation, this is a highly enjoyable first episode: 8/10

Summer: The astonishing premise of Issac Newton predicting the future through a handful of coins is the springboard for this profoundly powerful segment. The writing is top quality with the author having studied currency intellectually and creating the world of the future through them. David Warner gives a typically strong performance and the fifth Doctor enjoys some quality moments. Sterling stuff (geddit): 10/10

Autumn: An evocative holiday of cricket matches and dancing that sees the Doctor and Nyssa shine in the golden autumn Stockbridge atmosphere. Sarah Sutton gives her most affecting Big Finish performance yet and the direction of this piece is extraordinarily good, capturing the romance and the atmosphere of this colourful, chrysalising season. I never thought short bursts of storytelling like this could be so emotive and I have never been more pleased to be wrong. Enchanting: 10/10

Winter: What could have been agonising fanwank is given a touch of genuine emotion and becomes a touching parting riposte for the fifth Doctor. I guessed early on at which stage of his life we were visiting but that didn’t make this reunion between him and his closest companion any less moving. The description of the Doctor running into his regeneration is as beautiful and uplifting an ending as I could imagine and the story is laced with some poetic touches: 9/10

Result: Despite his New Adventures and Human Nature television masterpiece it is Circular Time that feels like Paul Cornell’s most personal opus. His favourite Doctor and ideal companion, the theme of the seasons, romance and regeneration – all of Cornell’s strengths burst into life within this story. Mike Maddox proves an excellent collaborator and together they produce four very strong, distinct, evocative stories. Circular Time is a superb first innings for the Nick Briggs’ produced audio dramas and kicked off the anthologies that would turn up sporadically and already raises the bar that none of the subsequent attempts have quite matched. A top quality release, superbly put together by John Ainsworth and one that turns evolves Nyssa’s character beautifully, this is highly recommended: 9/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

To the Death written and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: 'He can't be alive...' After a last, futile fight-back against the Daleks, Lucie, Susan and Alex are heading home to England in the desperate hope of saving the Doctor's life. But the true, terrible nature of the Daleks' plan is beginning to emerge and the Monk has blood on his hands. To defeat the Daleks, it can only be a struggle… to the death

Breathless Romantic: The Doctor dies smiling, that feels very right. Susan wishes he would own up to himself that he never goes back, that he always just goes forward. The Doctor warns the Monk very darkly that if he had anything to do with the plague that has harmed Lucie he will punish him. As soon as he realises the Time Controller has directed this conquest of the Earth he blames himself for not defeating them in his sixth incarnation (in the very good Patient Zero, check it out). He is willing to break all the laws of time to ago forward with the Doomsday Bomb and finish what he started. Susan is there to remind him that he is better than that, altering time to suit his will isn’t his style. The Doctor tells the Daleks that he once had the chance to avert their creation but he hesitated thinking he could take the moral high ground. He lacked the courage at the time but he warns them if they give him one chance to escape he will go back and wipe the Daleks from the face of history. The Doctor is smart enough to know that as much as he loves Lucie she is the only chance at stopping them so when she asks for a signal from him that there is another way he doesn’t give her one. He gives her permission to kill herself and that decision is going to stay with him for a long time. He’s seen so many people die that he’s got used to it, he moves on but today there has been one life lost too many and he wants to say enough. You’ve never heard the Doctor sound so angry when he confronts the Monk, McGann plays the part with a furious intensity. He wants to take more direct action because he thinks he has gone soft. ‘I suppose the universe was bound to do this for me eventually, wasn’t it? A universe that contains such refined evil as the Daleks or wanton amorality as the Monk. It was bound to push me over the edge.’ He’s off to the edge and maybe beyond. One day he promises to go back…but is he talking about rescuing Lucie or going back to Susan or heading back to Skaro to wipe out the Daleks.

Luscious Lucie:Look at me! Look at the state of me! I nearly died because you could get here in time!’ screams Lucie at the Doctor in a scene that took my breath away. Sheridan Smith refuses to hold back for her last story and squeezes every singe drop of emotion of her part. She’s not Alex’s mother but she does answer to her. I’m glad we got the maudlin explanations out of the way in the last episode and Lucie simply and brightly tells the Doctor that he is forgiven and that she is moving back in whether he likes it or not. She flings herself at the Monk ready to tear his face off for what he has put them all through. You can cripple Lucie Miller but you can quell the fire in her belly. In a very tense moment Lucie pulls a gun on the Monk and the Doctor is astonished that she has changed so much, he calls her bluff and says that he wont help her either and she will have to kill him as well. It’s devastating that she isn’t able to talk to the Doctor before she sacrifices herself.

Tasty Tamsin: After all the effort that went into building her character earlier in the season Tamsin’s death is so superfluous to the main action, a Dalek murdering her because she cannot contribute anything, that I had to stop the CD to take a breath. Of all the shock moments in this story that was the one that literally took my breath away. One day when the human race has recovered from this devastating attack, Tamsin wants them to be able to have their culture back. She really is a selfless person. She does care about the Doctor, she understands why he tried to warn her and now thinks that she should have listened. She really has seen the error of her ways.

Meddlesome Monk: The Monk is genuinely missing Tamsin and their time together now she is no longer under his spell. It is quite a statement for the Monk to admit that he was scared. He wanted to help the rebels but chickened out when the Daleks got very angry. The Caped Crusader or a git? The Monks lies finally catch up with him – he cannot tell the truth to the Doctor about keeping all the art treasures for himself and lie to Tamsin about doing it for the benefit of mankind at the same time. It’s very awkward when he has to face all of the Doctor’s friends and try and explain himself for betraying them to the Daleks. You have to wonder if this unique inquisition will put a final end to his meddling. The Monk’s reaction to Tamsin’s death is incredible, a genuinely heartfelt stab of grief for somebody he cared for a great deal. He admired her, adored her and the Doctor (probably quite wisely even though it seems callous at the time) chooses that moment to tell him that he has to live up to the consequences of his meddling. Lets hope it hit home. You would think that the Monk couldn’t get into this any deeper until he admits that he was the one who brought the plague to Earth, popping the file out through the door and popping forward three years when the plague had burnt itself out. The Monk saves the Doctor and Susan’s life from the time warp that destroys the Dalek fleet but it isn’t enough to appease the Doctor. He helped them rescue the Time Controller and he stopped the Doctor getting to the Earth in time to stop Lucie being infected. I can’t wait until we see the Monk again

Simply Susan: She never told her Grandfather how angry she was after they defeated the Daleks and he stranded her on the Earth. Even though she knew he would never come back, all those years she was cross that he said he would. Tries to smother the life out of him when he wakes up. Ouch, the Monk brings the fire out in Susan when he calls her melodramatic and she bites back (‘Don’t you dare patronise me, this is the second Dalek invasion I have lived through!’). You really feel for Susan as she watches her son killed by the Daleks, screaming, unable to speak. She is hysterical as she is reunited with her Grandfather and there is nothing he can do to comfort her.

Angelic Alex: Alex is the only character that is lost amongst all the drama but he goes out with a bang, distracting the Daleks long enough to allow Lucie to succeed. I do think there was more mileage in his character (I even wondered if he would be the next companion as the eighth Doctor skips back into the main range) but this is another death that really hits the spot.

Standout Performance: I love Briggs’ turn as the Time Controller, I hate it when Daleks sound quite that human, it’s really disturbing.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The human race is on its knees and hasn’t got a hope!’
‘Has it ever occurred to you that your trip through eternity might have evaporated your sanity?’
‘Well perhaps you’ll learn something today Daleks. When you can’t threaten us with death you have no power over us at all.’
‘You come here, you mess up my planet, you mess up my life and now you say you’re gonna kill the best bloke I ever met! You think I’m gonna just, what, bleedin’ surrender? Well all I can say is that you don’t know me, you don’t know me at all and just in case you wanted to know who it was who blew you to pieces the name is Lucie Miller! You got that? Lucie bleedin’ Miller!’
‘I remember when you were so young’ ‘And you were so old.’
‘Why didn’t you do the universe a favour and jump into that time warp yourself?’
‘One day, I shall go back.’

Great Ideas: I realise that this concept comes quite late in the day but it had to take top billing – turning the Earth into a plague planet teeming with viruses, wiping out all life on all planets! I have heard people bemoan that the Daleks could just drop plague missiles on planets – oh fuck off! A plague planet is such a devastatingly awesome idea it boggles the mind! They really are the scum of the galaxy, those Daleks, but you’ve got to admit that they’ve got style. Every planet that comes within its gravitational force will be fatally infected and their populations wiped out. Doomsday bombs; big, bad and nuclear, a particularly nasty piece of work inspired by mankind’s worst period of paranoia. The Monk is keeping one handy in case the Daleks turn against him. The Daleks want to put a time warp engine into the centre of the Earth, to pilot the Earth through time and space. The Doctor thought he had destroyed the Dalek Time Controller many lifetimes ago but relative to the time period they are in now thousands of years in the future. The only way the Time Controller could be here now would be if he survived in the future and travelled back in time to conquer the Earth again. The Time Controller controls Dalek war strategies when they gain the ability to travel in time. It was one of the Amethyst viruses that the Daleks used as a plague to devastate the planet. Lucie wants to take the bomb, ride the Dalek saucer into the heart of the mine and prevent them from launching the planet through time and space. The Daleks found the Time Controller who had been blasted back from the future, repeating that the Doctor destroyed them, which terrified the Daleks. They wanted to know how their greatest enemy would kill them in the future. It had been blasted by the time winds and the Monk helped to nurse it back to life and as soon as it was able the Time Controller took over. When he was blasted back through the time vortex the Controller had an eternity to search for the Amethyst viruses and now their locations became imprinted into his mind. They located them and wanted to use them to conquer the entire universe.

Audio Landscape: Wreckage bubbling under the surface of a wild sea, seagulls screaming in the wild wind, bullets, Daleks firing like mad, destroying the artefacts, the grinding engine of Lucie’s car, the Dalek saucer tearing down the mineshaft, the destruction of the mine is deafeningly climatic, a time warp whipping up all of the Daleks, sucking them in and crushing them into a singularity.

Musical Cues: Howard Carter saves his best music for the devastating final attack on the Dalek mine and he bashes those drums with some triumph as Lucie pilots the Dalek ship into the heart of the planet.

Isn’t it Odd: That we can be told about millions of people being stricken with a Dalek plague and then experience Dalek massacres and yet they only feel like a truly overwhelming threat when they start cutting through the Doctor’s friends. It is a masterstroke on Nick Briggs’ part to murder quite so many of the Doctor’s allies because for once you feel like nobody is safe and the Daleks are genuinely the biggest badasses in the galaxy. It’s a terrifying bloodbath.

Standout Scene: Lucie’s death, which makes the most impact because it is gloriously optimistic. Sheridan Smith will give you goosebumps with her final speech. I promise.

Notes: Lucie, Tamsin, Susan and Alex all helping out as the Doctor is presumed dead – there is more than a little feeling of The Stolen Earth here except in this case all of these characters have been expertly woven into the season to be at the right place at the wrong time.

Result: A devastating finale that will not be forgotten for a long, long time. The first half of To the Death is a protracted scene amongst the major players of the season and sees some of the most brutal character work the range has ever provided. It’s an astonishingly raw extended sequence and it maintains its edge throughout. The second half is a bloodbath the likes of which we haven’t seen since the finale of Blakes’ 7, the Doctor’s friends and family slaughtered by the Daleks and leaving our hero a battered man unsure of his place in the universe anymore. The links to Patient Zero are a wonderful touch, adding a lot of depth to both stories and the Daleks scheme this time is more brutal and devastating than even I could have imagined. To the Death rounds of this incredible season on a climactic, melancholic finish that proves this series was not afraid to take risks and make Doctor Who as exciting as it can be. Monumental: 10/10

Monday, 25 April 2011

Lucie Miller written and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: 'Hello! Doctor, it's me. Lucie. Lucie Miller…' Lucie Miller needs the Doctor's help. The whole planet Earth needs his help. But he is nowhere to be seen. While Lucie struggles to survive a terrible sickness, an even greater threat to the human race is about to be unleashed. And this will be the second Dalek invasion of Earth the Doctor's granddaughter has had to endure

Breathless Romantic: By raising the stakes so high and showing how badly the people of the Earth suffer it has never felt more important for the Doctor to show up and save the day. When Susan’s key starts glowing and you here the TARDIS dematerialising it is the most wonderful sound you have ever heard. The Doctor never lets go of you – Lucie thought he had died once and spent months mourning him but then they got back together. The Doctor is a sentimental old Time Lord and when Lucie left to go travelling with Alex he slipped the Interossiter into her luggage so that if at any point in her life she needed him she could call him – wow she must really mean a lot to him because I can only think of one other person he has given that ability to (the Brigadier). After all the Doctor always defeats the Daleks, doesn’t he? When he is marched into a Dalek cell he is really cheeky with them, the one spot of humour in this otherwise fatalistic episode (‘Isn’t it time you brought around the hot towels?’).

Luscious Lucie: Lucie falls sick with the Dalek plague when they were in Thailand. Her eyesight got worse and her legs were constantly painful. Because everybody was hurting she just had to cope because there was no aid. We have to endure scenes of poor Lucie screaming in pain with the illness, its horrible. Sheridan Smith genuinely sounds sick, as though she can barely talk and on the edge of tears. She wonders if her and the Doctor are stuck together, Lucie Miller and the Doctor because no matter how many times they part company they always seem to be drawn back together. Lucie understands that the Doctor must have been going through something pretty important not to answer her call. The sickness did its work on her after time, she couldn’t properly walk and she lost her sight completely in her right eye. She won’t have any of that pity the poor girl in the wheelchair lark, she’s just grateful to be alive. Once they were underground Lucie only kept going with the dream that the Doctor would turn up one day and defeat the Daleks. Who would have ever thought Lucie Miller would give up? Crippled and alone on a devastated planet, she wants to curl up and die. Lucie really does forgive the Doctor for all the secrets and lies surrounding her Aunty Pat and she really wants to come back to the TARDIS and travel with him.

Tasty Tamsin: When the Doctor and Tamsin meet again it is clear that there is no love lost between them, their dramatic split has had devastating consequences for their friendship. The Monk has really wrapped his veil of charm around Tamsin – she thinks they are rescuing the priceless artefacts of the world from destruction but the Monk never does anything that benevolent. She even thinks the Daleks are medical missionaries! Its one thing not getting on with him, not approving of him but its very different for sitting back and letting the Doctor die.

Meddlesome Monk: You’ll shake your head at the Monk breaking through the rebel communications and showing the Daleks where they are. You forget that through all that comedic bluster that actually he is only out for himself even though he does try and make there be as few killing as possible. He tells Tamsin when the Daleks get cross they get a little over zealous – undersell a situation much?

Simply Susan: Sometimes Susan can feel a tiny tingle of power in the TARDIS key as though the ship is racing towards her. Every time Susan wakes up from bad dreams about the Doctor dying she imagines she can feel the power of the TARDIS as she clutches the key so tightly.

Angelic Alex: Time Lord blood holds Alex back from the sickness. Alex and Lucie manage to get a boat back to England eventually when they found out he was the son of a member of government. He takes too many risks like his Grandfather. Turns out Alex is a right little general, rousing the rebels.

Standout Performance: This is the culmination of four years of incredible work as Lucie Miller by Sheridan Smith and it is fantastic that she should go out with such dramatic material that pushes the character and the actress to their limits. Smith is always sublime but beaten down to such extremes we have never quite cared for Lucie as much as we do here.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Who wants to listen to nasty rumours when you’re having a good time?’
‘But you never came…you left us to die.’
‘I don’t understand how this can be happening again. It’s exactly the same as before. They weakened the Earth with a plague. How can this happen? The Daleks! They’ve come back!’
‘Sometimes I think we were crazy. Like you have to be as insane as the Daleks to defeat them?’
‘We’ve killed him. We’ve killed the Doctor.’

Great Ideas: The opening sequence screams of the tragedies to come with Lucie sending a desperate message to the Doctor and the Daleks intercepting. Alex and Lucie were in Thailand when the sickness came, the plague that gripped the entire world. Nobody knew where the sickness had come from, only that it was everywhere. The hospitals are swamped, no transport, power failures – the Earth is on the verge of collapse. All the alien allies have left to ensure the disease isn’t spread further and the Earth is quarantined suspected to be stricken with an alien virus. There were a few pitch battles when the Daleks landed, well mass exterminations, hundreds of people running away screaming. The rebels plan to intercept Dalek communications using a submarine radio mast. The Daleks have dug up most of North America and are building a mineshaft to create a propulsion unit to drive the Earth. The rebels lost a lot of their men but over time they had small victories and were gripped by the fever that they could perhaps one day defeat the Daleks and reclaim their planet. Tamsin is helping the Monk preserve all of the famous art treasures, to prevent them being destroyed by the Daleks including the Mona Lisa and the Sistine Chapel.

Audio Landscape: Waves crashing, flies buzzing, Susan on the intercom, helicopter landing, an almighty explosion as an alien ship crash lands in England, the Daleks screaming over the radio waves at the rebels, dripping water underground, seagulls, climbing a ladder into a submarine, sonar, missiles launching and tearing into Dalek bases and blasting the shit out of them, a Dalek army getting very excited at the thought of exterminating some rebel scum, the Daleks tear through the rebels and murder indiscriminately, gunshots, Dalek heartbeat, submarine alarm, deep breaths as the Dalek ship is destroyed that is carrying the Doctor.

Musical Cues: As the Daleks realise the rebels are listening into their radio waves there is a dramatic heartbeat that leads into a stirring action score. Intoxicating and stimulating music as the rebels begin to fight back.

Isn’t it Odd: That for the first 20 minutes you don’t even notice that the Doctor hasn’t been present.

Standout Scene: How can Nick Briggs be so cruel? To have the Doctor turn up all confidence and bluster ready to take on the Daleks only to be taken aboard the Dalek ship that is being fired on by the rebels, that is being fired on by Lucie, Susan and Alex. They all take a collective breath as the missile tears through the ship and destroys it. What a cliffhanger.

Notes: Naturally this has many similarities to the Dalek Invasion of Earth, the plague, the subjugation of the planet by Daleks, etc but with the benefit of hindsight and the ability to get up close and personal with the human race throughout the crisis I personally feel this story does a much better job of exploring the atrociousness of the situation. It is certainly far more uncomfortable to endure. Briggs brings home the crippling uselessness of being disabled by the virus and there is a sequence where the rebels try and attack the mineshaft that mirrors the attack on the saucer but the stakes feel so much more raised here. There’s no tame whipping of the slaves by the Robomen here, the Daleks don’t accept surrender and they cut the rebels to pieces with machine guns.

Result: Extremely uncomfortable to listen to but positively gripping at the same time, Lucie Miller takes us intimately closer to an invasion of Earth like never before and doesn’t shy away from any of the horrors. It’s practically a companion chronicle for Lucie Miller and whilst this would be captivating material regardless of the companion we care so much more about Lucie because of the journey we have taken with her. Sheridan Smith gives the performance of a lifetime allowing us closer to her character than ever before and the unjust pain that she experiences makes this distressing, anxiety producing material. Whilst he may not appreciate the comparison, the strength of the writing and the direction shows that Nick Briggs has truly upped his game since the Morbius two parter at the end of season two, this is blisteringly stirring material. The finale will have to be something very special to top this: 10/10

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Prisoner of the Sun written by Eddie Robson and directed by Jason Haigh-Ellery

What’s it about: Six years after being captured by the galaxy-spanning organisation known only as The Consensus, the Doctor lives inside a hi-tech complex at the heart of an unstable sun, condemned to an eternity maintaining its systems. A moment's carelessness could cause the star to collapse – and the deaths of billions. Watched over by liquid guards, the Mercurials, the Doctor's only company at the heart of the sun is his assistant 'Daphne' – the latest in a line of android helpers. But rebel eyes have their eyes on the sun, and its lonely controller – and are prepared to risk even a galactic cataclysm to secure the Doctor's release…

Breathless Romantic: It’s fascinating to see that Eddie Robson has contrived the only prison that the Doctor would willingly bar himself into – a prisoner of his own morality. He has been trapped in the sun complex for nearly six years trying to save the lives of six billion people. The Doctor programmes his android assistant with Lucie’s voice, which says rather more about his character than he would probably care to admit. He programmes his assistant to be loyal, eager, earnest and to have a sense of humour – his perfect companion? His told the Consensus that he would like his companions to be fitted with an appetite and an ability to eat and he would like to be able to share a meal. The Doctor landed and helped out the rebel movement and expected to be out of here in a few weeks but the Consensus realised that his technical skill would come in handy for their sun project. He only has access to his living quarters, his workspace and the guard quarters – it’s a wonder he hasn’t gone stark staring mad! From all the stories its easy to guess that he is insufferably arrogant, he is a man of legend, people still talk about him years after he has gone (or been hidden away in this case). The Doctor has been able to run rings around the Mercurials for some time but he’s never needed to before. He’s useful as a tool for propaganda, telling stories about his bravery inspires people to join the rebellion and having him return and not live up to his reputation would spoil things. Maybe he can live up to his expectations after all, considering the amount of time he has sacrificed to this project. What a clever sod the Doctor is, staging Chloe trying to kill him so she could escape because he had suspicions that this was a fake all along. Her job was to find out what was going on and report back to him. Because he programmed her himself he knows that she would never have come back armed with a weapon to murder the Mercurials so somebody else would have had to have got to her.

Standout Performance: Given all of her affecting developments this year it makes for a pleasant change to have Sheridan Smith in such a completely unpretentious role.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘This isn’t a prison of walls. It’s a prison of responsibility.’
‘They know how dangerous you are and that the only cell that can hold you is one that you will make for yourself.’
‘One death is more than enough to have on your conscience. So why not take on all those deaths on myself, save anybody else from having to take them on.’

Great Ideas: There’s a brilliant bluff at the heart of this story that questions whether the Doctor has actually been doing any good for the last six years or if it has all be an elaborate hoax to keep him as a prisoner of his own morality because the Consensus will need him again someday. Could you trust two billion lives to the word of one person? Any story that opens on what appears to be Lucie Miller trying to murder the Doctor has to be doing something right! The complex the Doctor is trapped in is in the heart of a volatile sun. This part of space used to be very feudal, claims over planets went on for decades, millions of lives lost for no good reason and then some brave people on one planet said no more and set up the Consensus and gradually put a stop to all the wars. Now they are paranoid about losing control and going back to the old ways and they tried to make the sun into the ultimate weapon that would deter people from trying to topple their Empire. Two inhabited planets, two billion people and the collapse of the sun would kill them all. Mercurials often hire out their services to do thing people cannot or don’t want to do. The shields are down and if there is another surge from the sun both planets will be consumed and the tracking station will be the first for the chop! The Consensus activates the auto destruct – just a voice trying to get the Doctor to leave. Chloe returns with a report that the whole scenario has bee a sham. The rebellion has driven the Consensus back and this system is their last outpost and Hagon was there to slaughter everybody on those two planets and end hostilities cleanly. The rebels didn’t even know of his plans, it was just going to be an accident.

Audio Landscape: Banging on the door, Lucie android coming online, sun alarm, the Doctor frying food, an approaching shuttle docking, gunshots, reconstituting mercury, auto destruct alarm,

Musical Cues: A typically swaggering Howard Carter score giving the story some real punch.

Standout Scene: The Doctor letting the auto destruct countdown to zero. What if he was wrong?

Notes: The silver reflected Mercurials look fantastic on the cover – I wish wee could see them on the move on the TV as I could imagine you could have some very nimble, slick action sequences with them. The Doctor gets a distress call from the real Lucie, asking for help and saying the human race is in real trouble.

Result: A very different take on the Doctor helping the rebels scenario with the Doctor working as part of the system and the rebels coming to rescue him and topple the oppression! The second half of the story gets blissfully complicated, everybody trying to convince the Doctor that he has to leave via various means but he comes up trumps seeing through all the deceptions but even I have to admit that for a moment I was convinced, which provided some real tension. It might feel a little lightweight compared to the fireworks elsewhere in the season buy this is a clever little piece, well written and well performed. In any other season this would stand taller but because the standard is so high here: 7/10

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Relative Dimensions written by Marc Platt and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: Christmas is a time for family, they say – which is why the Doctor has invited his grand-daughter Susan, and great-grandson Alex for Christmas dinner in his time and space machine. But who, or what, is the spectre at their yuletide feast? Venturing deep into the dark heart of the TARDIS, Susan uncovers her past, Alex is told his future – and the Doctor finds himself caught in a deadly dangerous present!

Breathless Romantic: There’s something magical about the Doctor wanting a family Christmas after all the turmoil of late and trying desperately to make it as normal as possible for everybody despite the odds with his mad lifestyle! Finds trying to negotiate the Christmas shoppers the equivalent of going into purgatory. He has lots to make up to Lucie after their last Christmas together so he promises no alien invasions, no windswept monasteries and definitely no hit and runs or flat lining. Moving doors – other people hoover! The Doctor doesn’t really know how to relate to Alex and doesn’t know what to buy him (it does make me wonder if the Doctor has a difficulty in getting on with boys – he had similar trouble to relating to Adric, Turlough and C’rizz). Couldn’t he always pilot the TARDIS? Even he knows that one is a fib. The TARDIS goes on and on…just like the Doctor! He hasn’t changed; he’s still as irresponsible as ever! The thought of the Doctor giving Susan her old room back as a present is an incredible gesture and proves that he is sweetest guy but also the most thoughtless – how could this present not bring back a torrent of amazing memories for her? Selfishly I think he was hoping that she would see it and throw herself into his arms and ask to travel with him again. Its not that he missed her so much that he turned her room into a shrine but he did put into storage on the TARDISes holding ring when she left just in case she ever came back. The Doctor selfishly asks Alex to join him in the TARDIS, wanting to show him the wonders of the universe without all the boring Gallifreyan education. There isn’t much that is permanent in his life so he kept his companions rooms as a reminder.

Luscious Lucie: Where’s the best place to do Christmas shopping? According to Lucie it is the January sales! Killer bargains galore! She deserves the perfect Christmas. There are wonderful scenes between the Doctor and Lucie putting up the Christmas decorations that quickly remind you that these two are made for each (‘Once the star is on top of the tree Christmas has begun!). Her family Christmas sounds rambunctious! She’s from 20th Century Blackpool – is that alien enough for you? You can imagine (whilst ducking fists) that Lucie is a great mediator back home in the Miller family Christmases because she steps in as soon as the Doctor, Alex and Susan start sniping at each other and orders them to ‘Open your presents or doze in front of the Time/Space Visualiser or whatever it is Time Lords do!’ And then she has an argument with the oven as the meat hasn’t cooked! Susan thanks Lucie for looking after him for so long. Lucie knows he is a plonker but of course she still loves him. Lucie wants to go and see the world with Alex; Rome, Paris, Florence – she always wanted to and now she has somebody to go with her, someone to share it with her. She’s spent so long away from home and she wants to explore her own back yard. Lucie can barely hold back the tears and tells the Doctor that she loves him as he heads off.

Simply Susan: They haven’t had a proper family Christmas since David left. She gets to see the same Doctor as last time, a bit of a novelty! Of course she misses their life travelling together but giving it up wasn’t exactly her choice. Wowza Susan has a total spaz out at her Grandfather when she realises that he has broken his promise and dematerialised the TARDIS, she’s quite a shrew when she’s in a bad mood these days! She wished the Doctor hadn’t given her her old room as a present because she didn’t need reminding and once it is all wrecked she is devastated (losing Alydon’s cloak given to her on Skaro). The places he used to take her.

Angelic Alex: Doesn’t know what to call the Doctor, its hard to label him when he’s family. Buildings are rooted in the Earth; Susan has had to accept that Alex is all too human, not telepathic or regenerative – just like his father. Susan doesn’t want Alex to go off in the TARDIS, they are still rebuilding the Earth after the Daleks nearly wiped it out and he has his own dreams at being a part of that. If the Doctor dies he wants the TARDIS to be Alex’s inheritance, it’s his birthright. One day the TARDIS will be his and he will have to travel with him first.

Standout Performance: I often praise the guest stars and companions (barely an eighth Doctor story goes by when I’m not singing Sheridan Smith’s praises and quite rightly so!) but I have just noticed I rarely compliment the most consistent performer in this range. Paul McGann gives possibly his finest performance yet as the eighth Doctor and its not giving big juicy speeches or facing up to armies of Daleks but simply trying to bring his family together at Christmas. He is an extremely personable Doctor and his charm and silky voices stories over Christmas dinner are simply divine. Given all of his ups and downs recently (and to come) it is wonderful to have the chance to relax with the Doctor and McGann plays his relationship with the three other performers in very different ways, a best friend, a naughty Grandfather and a nervous Great Grandfather. It helps that Marc Platt characterises him with a nostalgic touch that draws you to him (even when he misjudges situations) but McGann allows you closer to the Doctor’s feelings than ever before and its magical.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘A perfect Christmas. What could possibly go wrong?’ Someone has to ask that, don’t they?
‘Eight foot from jaws to tail, fearsome spines and quills!’ – Paul McGann makes that line sound like poetry!
‘Everywhere you turn its always Daleks smashing things up!’

Great Ideas: Marc Platt seems the perfect choice to write a Christmas episode, his stories are always rich and fruity with an air of importance and often capture the crackling fire (Ghost Light), snowy wastes (Frozen Time, Frostfire) feel of a good Christmas. With Relative Dimensions he gets to throw off the shackles of literate storytelling and gets to enjoy the spirit of a good family Christmas. Echoes of the Doctor screaming from the future trying to spoil his Christmas. The planet Ambrosia where everything smelt of spice…umm. The Flaydashrews swarm as the Doctor from the future appears wearing an insulation suit fighting with the fish. The fish is leaping about in space and time, destabilising the TARDISes integrity. They can’t change its future because it has already escaped (since it is with them already). Also known as a Ressurection fish due to long periods of hibernation, capable of producing powerful electric shocks, used for hunting and self-defence.

Audio Landscape: Barnaby Edwards is one of the unsung heroes of Doctor Who and he has directed some of my all time favourite stories. He sprinkles a touch of magic over this piece and really imbues it with the spirit of Christmas. Beep, beep go the cash registers, cash jangles in the draw, bicycle bells ringing, trolleys clanking, girls crying ‘Happy New Year!’, the Flaydashrews squeaking, a bubbling screeching scream, hover cars zooming by, missing the bus, rain hitting the TARDIS exterior, lovely bubbling vegetables in the galley, Lucie madly stirring her gravy, pouring wine, everybody scraping at their plates as they tuck into their dinner, the TARDIS losing power during a vital point in the Doctor’s story, the taptaptap of the fishes quills as it advances – it sounds incredible as it circles Alex and Lucie, Susan’s room dripping with water, smashes glass, the telepathic contact between the Doctor and Susan, throwing snowballs and running around in the crunchy snow.

Musical Cues: A huge burst of Christmas cheer opening the episodes on exactly the right foot! The choral theme laced through the present opening scene is gorgeous. As the Doctor has a plan and ropes Alex in the uplifting sweep of music suggests they would make a great team.

Isn’t it Odd: The one thing that really jarred was Susan goes from bellowing and condemning the Doctor in one and then on the very next track she’s telling him how incredible and wonderful and making a toast to him! But then she always did used to go off like an emotional firework!

Standout Scene: The Christmas dinner scene is a very special moment in the Doctor’s life, where he keeps his family enraptured with his story about the first Christmas. Given that I have already listened to the season this scene has eve more poignancy, the Doctor surrounded by his favourite people and them all enjoying each other’s company and a good meal. I think it will be a long time until we see him quite this content again. I loved the scene where they found the ring of rooms of all the old Doctor’s companions’ rooms – what a poignant idea that the Doctor keeps all of their rooms together to remember them by. I can imagine him during the quieter moments in his life walking along the holding ring and spending time in each room, remembering that person who travelled with him.

Notes: ‘We all take our lives in our hands just meeting you!’ Oh Lucie, how little you know. Never let it be said that Big Finish wont market their own merchandise within their own stories – the fish that is attacking them was bought for Susan on the planet Quinnis which just so happens to be the most recent Companion Chronicle starring Carole Ann Ford! Rather than being an annoying marketing ploy it actually enhances both stories. Lucie heads off travelling with Alex and we pick up their adventures in Lucie Miller where everything is not quite as smooth sailing as she would have liked.

Result: Get the duvet out, light some candles and settle down for a heart-warming Christmas with the Doctor’s family. Marc Platt deserves kudos for tackling what could have been a potentially horrific slice of soap opera and making it something special that develops its characters and creates a stirring emotional atmosphere. Relative Dimensions is the perfect Christmas treat, a slap up dinner, lots of presents, bickering, tall tales and real sense of family. Oh and a giant pan dimensional space fish as well. The music is very emotive throughout and there are some well-chosen carols to accompany scenes of family fun. A wonderful story and another gem in what is definitely proving to be the most consistently jewel laden season for the EDAs. What I will really remember this story for though is bringing Susan home and reminding us why we love the Doctor so much. Well done, Mr Platt: 9/10

Friday, 22 April 2011

The Ressurection of Mars written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: Deimos, moon of Mars – where Lord Slaadek's plans to revive the ancient Ice Warrior civilisation hang by a thread. Only the Doctor can stop him… but an old enemy, hiding in the catacombs, has an alternative plan. A plan that will test the Doctor's heroism to its limits. Just how far will the Doctor go to prevent the destruction and resurrection of Mars – on a day when his friends become enemies, and his enemies have right on their side?

Breathless Romantic: Is this the first time the eighth Doctor has acknowledged his previous self? It’s a wonderfully revealing moment where he explains that he used to be just like the Monk, a man with a masterplan, seeking out injustices and toppling governments all for the greater good. Evil starts with the ends justifying the means – what if you can save a million lives but ten have to die – but where do you stop and he wound up killing more people than he saved at times? He ended up travelling alone because he couldn’t trust himself anymore and it wasn’t until he got a new body and a fresh slate that from that moment he knew he would never again countenance the death of the single life – he understands how precious it is. Talk about digging for gold in the seventh Doctor’s character, it makes you wonder why any other writer hasn’t tapped this potential before. He hasn’t seen Lucie since Christmas past and he never thought he would see again. The Doctor would never, ever leave Lucie on the Moonbase to die. He doesn’t think he has the right to decide who lives and who dies even if it comes down to billions of lives at stake. When he asks Tamsin if his morality is a problem it actually sounds like he is asking if it is she can get off at the next destination. Does the Doctor change the rules to whatever situation suits him? The Monk says its not that the Doctor is ignorant to the consequences of his actions, its just that he is afraid to face up to them. He has an irritating ability of thwarting the Monks plans at the last minute. What an old ham, the Doctor seems to enjoy hissing it up pretending to be an Ice Warrior! As much of a Gallifreyan flunky as the rest of them, a victim of his own spurious morality! The destruction of Halcyon is one of the greatest tragedies but he cannot prevent it because the consequences for the Web of Time would be catastrophic. When Tamsin says he claims to be a moral crusader but all he cares about is keeping his friends alive you know she isn’t that far from the truth. The Doctor quietly understands why Lucie is undecided on travelling with him but begs for her to let him give her the Christmas he denied her at the beginning of the season.

Tasty Tamsin: It’s the end of the road for Tamsin and the Doctor just as they were starting to enjoy their time together. Rather than having a jarring about turn in her opinion of the Doctor the story spends a great deal of time showing that she had doubts even before the Monk showed her the results of the Doctor’s decision at their worst. By bringing in both the Monk and Lucie we get to see new sides to Tamsin, wide eyed wonder with the former as he shows her the paradise planet Halcyon and bitchy sisterly aggression with the latter as they butt heads over which Time Lord has the right approach. Its great that Tamsin knows her own mind and isn’t afraid to speak it and when she questions the Doctor about what is so special about Lucie when he willingly let Grenville die is a very good point. They would all be safe now if he hadn’t hesitated when he found Lucie was on board and Tamsin wont let him shy away from that fact. If it had been Tamsin on the Moonbase she would have wanted him to press the button and save the lives of thousands of people. Of course she doesn’t want the Doctor to die, she isn’t a monster but if that is the lesser of two evils that is the option she would take. She doesn’t want to travel with the Doctor anymore because he spends too long looking at the bigger picture that he fails to see the smaller consequences of his actions like the deaths of everybody on Halcyon. She wants to travel with someone who is prepared to make a difference for good and whilst I don’t think she will find that with the Monk it is a worthwhile sentiment.

Luscious Lucie: The story opens wonderfully with Lucie being fired by the Monk and having to find her feet on the Moonbase in the middle of a crisis (‘And you can shove your meddling right up the nearest black hole!’). ‘Uh-oh giant lizards approaching!’ – Lucie on the Ice Warriors! What is about the future that they always have to hide the doorknob? She had some professional friction with the Monk (‘Stop this TARDIS right now or you will get this Michelangelo where the sun don’t shine!’). She thought that answering the ad for a traveller in time and space would be just like travelling with the Doctor, righting wrongs and fighting insane computers. When they visited the planet Krestus and the Monk wanted to stop a dictator coming to power by going back in time and killing his parents in an avalanche, Lucie objected strongly because there is no point trying to avoid wars by killing people! Lucie is unsure whether she wants to go travelling again, its still too raw after what she found out about Aunty Pat. She’s such a sucker for Christmas she agrees to have one more adventure with him.

Meddling Monk: What’s interesting is that although the Monk is clearly trying to manipulate Tamsin into leaving with him everything that he shows her is the truth. He does put a dramatic spin on events and only show the worst excesses but you can’t argue with the facts – Halcyon would be decimated if the Doctor fails to act. The Monk admits that he was the one that put the advert for a companion in Situation Vacant – to be fair it is exactly the sort of lunatic scheme he would be involved in to find a friend! He wanted the ability to vet potential candidates. He’s such an old rogue he sends the Doctor and company back down to Deimos with a bump and then turns on the charm on a sixpence when Tamsin walks in the room suggesting he was just getting some provisions together! I would have loved to have listened to a spin with The Monk and Tamsin; I think it would have been a laugh riot! His TARDIS turns into a Punch and Judy booth! He has the courage to improve history, to make it happen. He believes in working for the greater good. Changing history is his main thing, according to Lucie.

Standout Performance: Once again Graeme Garden makes a huge difference to proceedings. He is perfectly charming in the first episode, taking Tamsin on a tour of the Doctor’s mistakes and then turns devilishly funny villain when confronting the Doctor in the second. I especially loved his ‘ooh! Ouch!’ running away from the Ice Warriors because it reminded me hilariously of Troughton’s second Doctor and plus I could just imagine Peter Butterworth doing exactly the same thing.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Everyone aboard this rocket is going to die because you had a ‘to be or not to be’ moment and you don’t think that is a problem?’
‘Mars 2, Halcyon Nil.’
‘And I would have got away with it too if it wasn’t for your meddling! Oh no wait…I did!’
‘The destruction of Halcyon is a part of the Web of Time!’ ‘Is it though? I mean really? Or is it something we Time Lords just say to excuse our policy of non-intervention?’ – Best line I have heard in ages! How many times throughout the Charley arc did we hear about the Web of Time – it’s about time somebody said baloney to its stifling rigidness. Yay the Monk!
‘A new dawn rising for Mars…’

Great Ideas: The Doctor was never going to let all those people die – he and Professor Schooner sabotaged the re-ioniser. The Monk takes Tamsin to the planet of Halcyon, a Garden of Eden that smells of paradise. He then pops forward one solar rotation and the atmosphere is poisoned, all their culture and science lost forever. After the Doctor prevents the Ice Warriors returning to Mars they have no choice but to seek a new home on Halcyon. They attack, destroy all life on the planet and make it their new home. There shouldn’t be Ice Warriors in this period of history – the Monk altered the settings on their alarm clocks for an earlier rise.

Audio Landscape: The Ice Warriors breaking through the door with their sonic weapons, I love the burbling hum of the Monk’s TARDIS, rocket thrusters firing dramatically, birdsong and night creatures on Halcyon, shimmerwings, the blistering solar winds on Halcyon one year later, the shuttle being torn to pieces by the re-ioniser,

Musical Cues: There’s a lovely Irish themed jingle on Halcyon. When the Doctor and Lucie reunite Howard Carter brings back memories of their emotional parting with a snatch of the beautiful Deep Midwinter theme.

Isn’t it Odd: There’s so much fantastic stuff going on with the two Time Lords and the two companions that the Ice Warriors get a bit of a bum deal, they were really the catalyst for the sizzling drama.

Standout Scene: The shuttle being destroyed is a real ‘oh shit’ moment because you know it could never have happened without the Doctor’s intervention. Suddenly all the character moments in Deimos between Margaret and Harold make perfect sense because their deaths clutching hold of each other facing the inevitable moment have huge impact on the listener.

Notes: I would have loved to have been able to experience some of the adventures Lucie reels off about her travels with the Monk; meeting bonkers Caligula, then off to see some wispy haired things called Sensorites that weren’t as much of a laugh, then the final of Thordons Got Talent where the singing Slithergee won… The Monk mentions he is going off to meet some old friends of the Doctor to see if they can’t join forces against him…which proves to be the most fatal error of judgement he has ever made.

Result: A blistering conclusion to the events built up in Deimos, The Ressurection of Mars is up there with the best of this season. The first episode is a mini tale in its own right with the Monk taking Tamsin away to show her the consequences of the Doctor’s actions and providing a commentary whilst he makes one of his biggest mistakes in years leading to a tragic, unforgettable cliffhanger. Hard decisions are considered and made and relationships are broken and forged in this impressive drama. The fourth season of eighth Doctor adventures comes to fruition here with all of the elements that have been bubbling under the surface coming to the surface and setting up events for the devastating finale. The moral dilemma that splits the Doctor and Tamsin works so beautifully because they are both right – if he prevented the destruction of Halcyon it could have catastrophic consequences but at the same time he could do something and it could be for the better. A blockbusting mid season spectacular and this conclusion is a riveting thrill ride that has real heart: 9/10

Deimos written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: Millions of years ago, the noble Ice Warriors fled to Deimos, moon of Mars, hoping to sit out the radioactive death throes of their home planet. When the TARDIS lands on Deimos, the Doctor discovers that the Warriors' ancient catacombs are now a popular stop for space tourists. But the Martian dynasties are more than history, and the Warriors are far from extinct. It's not for nothing that 'Deimos' is the ancient word for 'dread'…

Breathless Romantic: ‘I’m the Doctor, this is Tamsin and you’re about to be invaded by Martians…’ He loves testing out the moon buggy to reach the shuttle – he thinks they’re rather fun! You friendly crisis counsellor! For once the Doctor gets in way over his head, he marches into the shuttle all smugness and light and the Ice Lord murders him when his allies back at the museum tell the Ice Warriors he is worth nothing to them dead or alive so it isn’t worth taking him as a hostage. Tamsin is asking the Doctor to be a killer, to murder the Ice Warriors to save everybody on Mars.

Tasty Tamsin: To Tamsin the Ice Warriors are two legged man-sized turtle (‘Clampy pincers! Nasty!’) and she is surprised to learn that they had their day before her time. Loved her little gag with the Doctor pretending she has travelled in time before when she has just read the plaque in the museum. She once worked at the London Dungeon as a cockney drab who got done in by Jack the Ripper! Poor Tamsin gets in a right tizzy trying to make up stories of their trespass when the simple truth would do. I love Tamsin’s crazy ballet dancing to keep herself warm, she’s very funny at times. Refuses to be parcelled off like some kind of bimbo. Tamsin begs for Grenville’s life as the shuttle is about to launch knowing that he will be burnt alive in its blast and is astonished that the Doctor doesn’t even try to save him.

Standout Performance: I make it sound like something predictable but here we have another Barnaby Edwards directed story and another stellar cast assembled. You cannot mistake David Warner’s rich plumy voice, ideal for audio. He’s played an alternative Doctor, the deliciously dark and mysterious Steel and a host of other characters. Long may they continue to use him as a classical actor such as David Warner brings a great deal of gravitas to his stories. Tracy-Ann Oberman makes a good impression as well, miles away from her performance as Yvonne Hartman in the TV series. Nick Briggs deserves some kudos playing the Ice Warriors – he played a character with his natural voice in a story I listened to earlier today and his voice is suitably altered and authentic as the Ice Lord.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Move any closer and you’re baked Alaska!’
‘It was the Professor with the spanner in the Power Room!’
‘Which part of the word warrior didn’t you understand?’

Great Ideas: The atmosphere could no longer protect the Ice Warriors from the suns rays, the surface temperature rose and if they were to survive they had to evacuate Mars. They created great catacombs on the moon Deimos until Mars or Earth became suitable for inhabitation. The Martian terraforming process was brought to a premature end due to the advent of the great recession – a series of artifical suns would have been launched into orbit but it never got off the drawing board because it caused the great recession in the first place! Professor Schooner is the leading authority on the Ice Warriors and curator of the museum on the Moonbase. The ice Warriors want to use the atmospheric re-ioniser to make Mars habitable for them again. There are some more Ice Warriors dormant in the asteroid belt that will wake in a few centuries and go on to find a new home world. Professor Schooner is a poor deluded fool – he has spent his whole like studying Martians and now he has a chance to come face to face with them a literally study the past – but one seconds consideration for the creatures will mean the annihilation of everybody on the Earth. Imagine the subjects of your expertise waking up and telling you that your entire study of their culture is full of errors? He feels that the Ice Warriors have betrayed him by not being the honourable race he thought them to be. Grenville played explosives in the Moonbases fission chamber to destroy the Ice Warriors but the Doctor refuses to let them, even though there are 300,000 people who are in danger.

Audio Landscape: The story opens on a ridiculously dramatic scene between a pair of Ice Warriors discussing the evacuation of Mars and I thought the director has gone slightly mad until you realised it was a tourist amateur dramatics re-enactment! Hissing Ice Warriors, sonic blaster, the airlock opening, there are some real fireworks as the Ice Warriors take on the Earth Forces, the shuttle taking off.

Musical Cues: Howard Carter’s music is so exciting and bombastic you can feel testosterone vibrating across the sound waves!

Standout Scene: The cliffhanger really whets the appetite for The Ressurection of Mars, revealing the Doctor’s impossible dilemma and featuring the return of your favourite and mine…Lucie Miller!

Notes: I remember being pretty nonplussed by the trailer for this story as it sounded far too melodramatic and silly so take comfort in the fact that 90% of the trailer actually takes place in the pre-titles sequence!

Isn’t it Odd: I always find it a little tricky when a story is split into two like this ala the New Series because I always have trouble deciding whether to consider them two separate stories or to think of them as a whole. When they have different titles I am guessing it should be the former but when the story is purely built up in the first part and all the rewards come in the second half it leaves the scene setting story as the more forgettable of the two. Is this my way of saying Deimos disappoints whereas The Ressurection of Mars sparkles – kind of but only because so much is left hanging in this story.

Result: Dramatic and pacy but really just a scene setter for the second half, Deimos takes a little too long to get to its cliffhanging dilemma considering the Ice Warriors wake up in the pre titles sequence. The hostage scenario is played for real and there are plenty of opportunities for the Doctor and Tamsin to shine but again you feel that all the really juicy stuff is coming up. Strong direction and terrific performances hold this story together although the Ice Warriors feel less of a threat in themselves and more of a threat in the morally impossible circumstances they have trapped the Doctor in. But you just know all the juicy stuff is coming in the second half…: 7/10

Thursday, 21 April 2011

The Book of Kells written and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: 'Anyone who's prepared to kill for a book interests me.’ Ireland, 1006. Strange things have been happening at the isolated Abbey of Kells: disembodied voices, unexplained disappearances, sudden death. The monks whisper of imps and demons. Could the Lord of the Dead himself be stalking these hallowed cloisters? The Doctor and his companion find themselves in the midst of a medieval mystery. At its heart is a book: perhaps the most important book in the world. The Great Gospel of Columkille. The Liber Columbae.

Breathless Romantic: The Doctor seems to enjoy the role of Tamsin’s educator in history, figuring out their location in a dark room. A visiting bibliophile? The Doctor is worried about time eddies and Vortisaurs coming to Ireland through the vortex he was dragged through. He admits he has been monumentally stupid when he discovers the hidden Time Scoop and realises just who is meddling with time. Their paths have crossed before now and after now – in fact they are due to meet up in about 60 years time on the coast of Northumbria. I love how the Doctor continually corrects Tamsin on her language faux pas. How funny is it that the Doctor completely fudges the identity of the Monk and goes off on a rant about their history together to Brother Bernard and declares ‘That’s right! I am the Doctor!’ to which he gets a very unimpressed ‘who?’ Dear oh dear clearly the old fella is too used to the anagramical and obvious disguises of the Master…the Monk is a little too clever by half. Who else could ruin the Monk’s plans just at the moment of fruition! The Monk likes the Doctor’s wild hair, it suits him.

Tasty Tamsin: So much for his famous leisure world that the Doctor promises her…instead she gets covered in chalk and falls in shit! She reversed into something on her fourth driving test, possibly her fifth. Tamsin has a thingy on her whatsit! The Doctor suggests no one could be as stupid as Tamsin…joke! Unfortunately his latest assistant is not very adept in the art of subterfuge and when panicked by the arrival of people they need to be hiding from she knocks things over, gets herself dirty and generally makes a lot of noise! Olaf thinks that Tamsin, covered in chalk, is a ghost! During their stealthy pursue of him she falls in a dung hole and she can feel the Doctor’s smirk from a distance. Her Macbeth quote leaves plenty to be desired and she always-hated improvisation and proves it to by claiming to be Sister Mary from Salzburg! The book of Kells is just about the most beautiful thing that Tamsin has ever seen. She always hated sardines ever since Darren Green thought it was the perfect opportunity to show her his…and we never get to hear the end of that story! Thinks that the Doctor isn’t very gallant and that he should rush after Lucianus – Paul McGann and Niky Wardley are working together very well already. When she said she hated him earlier, she didn’t mean it – especially after he stops her from getting dismembered. Tamsin switches the pages and fools the Monk into materialising without the circuit – when all the posturing is done between the Time Lords it is the Doctor’s freshman who outthinks everybody.

Standout Performance: Graeme Garden is instantly something a bit special, charismatic and with a voice on audio to die for. I’m very pleased that the Monk is brought to life by another comic genius, walking that fine line between comedy and drama. I found his delight at discovering who the Doctor was charming, even though it means his schemes might come to an end.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The next thing I know I wake up in here with a deranged man talking about Egyptian volcanoes and people with two hearts!’
‘I see you’re calibre of companion hasn’t improved. Still travelling with the intellectually challenged…’
‘Goodbye Lucianus…and hello Lucie Miller!’

Great Ideas: Ooh who else wants to visit the legendary loquacious falls of Carisima Maxima? Someone is fishing in the time stream and has hooked them in like an expert angler. The stick the Doctor pulls Tamsin out of her dung hole is a bone. The unveiling of the Book of Kells, the great gospel is a powerful symbol of Irishness and even though it was not created there but that’s where it was created and it represents the soul of Ireland. A rudimentary time scoop made with the dematerialisation circuit of a mark four TARDIS. ‘Stonehenge, Leonardo Da Vinci, the Norman Conquests and now the Book of Kells…you just can’t leave history alone can you Thelonius?’ The Monk’s plan was to set up shop here and repair his TARDIS and in the meantime cobble together a Time Scoop to lure other time craft here to cannibalise.

Audio Landscape: Opens with a lovely taste if monks chanting, squeaky door, there’s a very painful scream that bleeds into the title music, the TARDIS sounds drunk, smoke hissing as the Doctor opens the door, the Doctor tips the bucket over, Tamsin’s awful phone ring tone, a horse galloping, an owl hooting, the sliding stone of a secret passageway, the Monk’s TARDIS goes kaboom with spectacular fireworks, the fizzing console.

Musical Cues: The Monks chanting when Patrick faints makes an atmospheric moment of horror.

Standout Scene: Tamsin falling fifty feet down a stone chute and landing softly, revealing a secret passage is a wonderful moment of audio comedy. Technically this story features the first rumpus between Tamsin and Lucie and she manages to overpower Lucie with her scrum half from the school rugger team. Their fights will get more and more dramatic as the season progresses.

Notes: I am such a numpty! I had no idea that Lucie was going to turn up in this story and in retrospect just listening to the first scene tells you everything you need to know! That is clearly Lucie’s accent and the character is called Lucianus! It’s hilarious how obvious it all is now but I was completely hoodwinked!

Result: Barnaby Edwards writes a terrifically entertaining historical exploit with lots of witty material for the four main characters. It is great fun having the Doctor, the Abbot, Tamsin and Lucianus all trying to out each other as imposters – this is precisely how The Mark of the Rani should have played out, having some fun with all these time travellers turning up in history. The Book of Kells is not the most famous historical document which makes this an educational journey and I really enjoyed how Edwards weaved these events of his story into history as it is documented. It’s a clear indicator of how the season is going to progress but makes for a delicious slice of pleasure in its own right. Make sure you listen to this story twice because once you have enjoyed the surprises a re-listen makes this a whole new experience: 8/10

Nevermore written by Alan Barnes and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: A bizarre manifestation in the Control Room forces the TARDIS onto the Plutonian shores of the irradiated world Nevermore, whose sole inhabitant is the war criminal Morella Wendigo – a prisoner of this devastated planet. But the Doctor and his new companion aren’t Morella’s only visitors. Senior Prosecutor Uglosi fears the arrival of an assassin, after the blood of his prize prisoner. An assassin with claws… There’s no escape from Nevermore, whose raven-like robot jailers serve to demonstrate Uglosi’s macabre obsession with the works of the 19th century horror writer Edgar Allan Poe. An obsession that might yet lead to the premature burial of everyone on the planet’s surface – wreathed in the mist they call the Red Death!

Breathless Romantic: There’s two types of man that’s not interested in women, ones a serial killer and the other is one who lives at home a loves his cat…and it’s nothing to be ashamed of! He has an infinity of worlds to show Tamsin. Nevermore quoth the raven, the red death…the Doctor is well versed in the works of Poe. Paul McGann has the perfect voice to recite Poe, silky and smooth and perfect to lull you into a false sense of security before hitting you with the macabre imagery and uneasy atmosphere of his work. He loves a locked room mystery although not so much when he is the most obvious suspect! A former protégé of the handcuff king himself! The Doctor was in Baltimore when his title was mistaken for a medical qualification and the Doctor caught sight of Edgar Allen Poe in a circle of inebriates talking of spectres and phantoms that walk amongst them – the Doctor saw the final words Poe had ever written before dying in the gutter. Personally he thinks Enid Blyton is the best author who has ever put pen to paper. The Doctor was responsible for pouring the last of Poe’s work into the gutter.

Tempting Tamsin: I would have thought it impossible to follow Lucie Miller but Tamsin makes an instant impression and has a great penchant for commenting dryly on the Doctor’s adventures without anybody actually realising she is doing it! What is interesting to remember is that Lucie and the Doctor didn’t exactly hit it off and yet Tamsin seems to find her groove with him (if not their adventures) straight away and whilst she enjoys throwing out witty retorts similar to Lucie she has a far more middle class way of doing it. I think this is going to be an interesting relationship to watch. Has a penchant for using pop culture references – ‘Animals do the funniest things!’ She’s not impressed by the drama of the TARDIS landing. Tamsin gets wobbly legs when she realises she is on an alien planet and refuses to let the Doctor abandon the icklewickle cat (‘I bet somewhere in time and space there is a lamp post with you picture on it.’). Does she lack intelligence or just a sense of humour? Morelli has gone 20 years without human contact and she is bored with Tamsin within seconds (‘Gosh somewhere there’s a charm school that ought to give out refunds’). Did a circus arts module at drama school and manages to slip free of her manacles when the Doctor completely fails to do so. She did contortionism but that was years ago before the invention of mochachinos so slipping away in a tiny crawlspace is impossible! Tamsin waking up in a coffin is genuinely disturbing, being trapped in tight spaces terrifies me and Niky Wardley plays that claustrophobia very well. They mistake Tamsin for a Time Lord and her one heart almost stops. She’d hate to think the future would always be quite this grim.

Standout Performance: Emilia Fox and Fenella Woolgar are two of my favourite actresses so I’m surprised that their gorgeous natural accents were disguised behind American accents! Another impressive guest cast but what stood out for me in this story were our two heroes, Paul McGann and Niky Wardley who have instant chemistry and both enjoy a fair size of the action.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Broom! Broom!’ ‘What’s the car impression in aid of?’
‘This was Edgar all over…never use one word when ten will do!’
‘Yes that’s kind of vague…’ – what do you expect Tamsin – it is based on Poe!
‘Sometimes all I am is a cat’s-paw…’

Great Ideas: The gymnasium in the TARDIS looks more like a torture chamber and a mile of Margate, greenhouse and sauna. The Doctor takes Tamsin on a three-hour tour of the TARDIS. Great big talking Ravens as prison guards! Once they called it Corinth Minor, a little diamond nestling amongst the rough in Cassiopeia, a popular holiday destination, the volcanoes showering with semi precious gemstones. It was Corinth Minor’s misfortune to become a playground for the rich and famous including General Verdeghast who was embroiled in a particularly nasty factional with another of the Cassiopeian colonies. A rival commander saw and opportunity to stage an assassination and detonated a bacteriological weapon in Corinth Minors troposphere. Faced with an outbreak of a flesh eating plague in such a densely populated region the galactic authorities sought the help of the Time Lords who passed the planet through a cloud of super violet radiation – a kill or cure approach. A few survived for a time but the red death held dominion over all. The authorities renamed Corinth Minor Nevermore as a reminder of the follies of war. Morella Wendigo unleashed the poison and was condemned to stay on the planet that she destroyed. The cat is the murderer! Uglosy’s torture of the Doctor is a fantasy being piped through his ears…but for a moment you do wonder. Why would the Time Lords be carrying out executions on Nevermore 20 years after it was sterilised unless they had something to hide? When the war was only six weeks old, a strange little man was brought before Uglosy’s court with a charge of vagrancy but claimed he could change the planets fate for the better, a time traveller. He was responsible for Wendigo killing Verdeghast and ending the arms trade – a class one temporal intervention. The Time Lords wiping out their own mess. Uglosi adopted Berenice, possibly as a penance but she was a mutant who leaches psychic energy from those around her feeding a shadow entity of some kind. A black cat all those years living inside Berenice, drawn to kill anybody who knows Uglosi’s secret and he orders the Ravens to kill his own daughter. The survivors of the Red Death latched onto the only living creature on Nevermore, Wendigo and are now living within her.

Audio Landscape: Footsteps, the beach with lapping waves and seagulls, greenhouse crickets, sauna steam, sleeping cat, hissing and scratching, the voices of the crows are unforgettable – they literally sound like somebody retching and talking at the same time, the have great clumping footsteps as well with a squelching finish, hissing mist, the blades of a landing craft, the Raven’s rendering the Doctor and Tamsin insensible sounds horrible, the sweep of the pendulum, the deliriously calming beach noises that suddenly cut away as Tamsin wakes up, the purring 12 foot long pussy, Berenice’s death is hysterical and messy.

Musical Cues: Love the dramatic stings as the ship touches down on Nevermore. There’s a wonderfully creepy piece that sounds like something crawling down your spine. It’s another unstoppable Jamie Robertson score - go listen to his foot tappingly exciting score when the Doctor explains what has been hiding inside Berenice.

Isn’t it Odd: The way Alan Barnes manages to weave Poe’s works into a Doctor Who location is very imaginative but I did find the continual use of quotes pushing the references a bit too far.

Standout Scene: Join Tamsin as she wakes up in a coffin and panics so much her heart almost gives out. If that wont warm you to the character nothing will.

Notes: Just who was this time traveller that prompted Uglosi to bring Nevermore into being? That’s the second story in the role that suggests mischievous Time Lord intervention…

Result: A story that definitely needs several listens to bring all of its riches to the surface. On my first listen I was confused by the insane deluge of crazy sounds and the incomprensibly dense storytelling but upon my second listen I was shocked to discover a very clever Poe inspired tale marbled with twisted ideas and an incredible soundscape and musical score. Nevermore wont work for everybody but if you like a touch of dark poetry in your science fiction and moments of genuine horror and surrealism you will definitely get a lot from Alan Barnes’ experimental piece. Some have commented that this wasn’t a great introductory story for Tamsin but I disagree, she gets to be funny, cute, sympathetic and appalled and sees the Doctor’s adventures close up for the terror they can bring. I have a few issues about disguising the incredible guest cast behind American accents but that aside I found Nevermore to be an engaging and brave story, for once trading a jolly adventure for something a bit more disturbing: 8/10