Saturday, 30 July 2011

The Ultimate Adventure written by Terrance Dicks and directed by Jason Haigh-Ellery

What’s it about: The Daleks have allied themselves with the Cybermen and a deadly band of mercenaries. The future of Earth depends upon a vital peace conference. And Mrs T knows that only one Time Lord can save the world. There are epic battles. There are betrayals. There is love, and there are even songs. Take your seat for... Doctor Who – The Ultimate Adventure!

Softer Six: How could Terrance Dicks possibly suggest that the Doctor would go on missions for Margaret Thatcher? The very idea turns my stomach especially when its the raving anarchist sixth Doctor! However if you think that this was originally supposed to be the Third Doctor and suddenly it all makes sense…I can just imagine Pertwee sliding in with anybody who is currently in the seat of power, sipping port in the Club and discussing politics. He can cope with most things in the universe from Daleks to dinosaurs but Mrs Thatcher positively terrifies him! The Doctor’s quirky saying in this stage play seems to be ‘Fortunately I speak the language’ and his hysterical squawking during the conference with the flying insects on Eltair 3 ranks as one of the most pants wettingly funny scenes of any Doctor Who story. After he shows off his fighting expertise Madame Delilah becomes quite enamoured with him and tells him he can have whatever he wants (maybe this is where all that snogging girls business started…). At any other time he would loved to make sweet music with her but he’s too busy with his (oooh-argh!) mercenary band! He enjoys dragging it up a little too much during the Revolutionary scenes…it has been my observation that the Doctor leaps on any opportunity to dress up in women’s clothes! Even a renegade can do some good in the cosmos and Madame Delilah proves that by standing between the Doctor and Dalek extermination blast. The Doctor thoroughly enjoys his Dalek mimicry and proves to be a little better at it than the first Doctor was in The Space Museum. To be strictly accurate Houdini studied from the Doctor. He laughs in the face of adversity and tells the Emperor he isn’t defeated until he’s dead. There’s a genuine moment of character depth when the Doctor mentions that he has had many companions over the years (and even mentions Evelyn), that they travel together for a while and then they head off to find their own happiness. And he misses them every single day. One of things he likes about humans is that they are seldom predictable.

Maquis de Jason: Noel Sullivan has to put on a dreadful cod French accent for this role which is a shame because when you strip away the accent he’s actually a pretty good foil for the sixth Doctor. He was acquired when the Doctor recently visited revolutionary France which was fortunate for Jason because he was about to lose his head! He’s quite an amorous young man, even covering Mrs Thatcher’s arms with kisses. When Crystal follows Jason into the TARDIS the Doctor mistakenly thinks that he is up for a night of rumpy pumpy once they have saved the universe. The Doctor would try and make friends with any new creatures they meet so when Crystal and Jason are beset with giant insects he gives them a friendly wave! By the end of the story he is singing love ballads with Crystal and head over heels in love with her and when she goes back to the nightclub he pines after terribly. Fortunately for him she decides to travel with them so think of the sweet love they could make whilst travelling the time continuum?

Crystal: Claire Huckle has great fun playing up the hysterics of Crystal (what a name!) and if you remember that this was supposed to be a large scale panto rather than an audio play her histrionics probably sounded a lot less shrill from a distance! She barges her way into the TARDIS, demands explanations, moans about how the Doctor has ruined her career…yes that’s right, its an American Tegan! ‘You patronising chauvinist oaf!’ is about as strong as she’s allowed to swear although she does do a rather funny impression of the theatrical, bombastic sixth Doctor showing off! Her main function is to scream (it is a Terrance Dicks script…strapped to the circular saws and all that!), overreact to the simplest of things and prove to be generally a bit useless.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Its liquid dynamite!’ ‘Its probably more of a mans drink…’
‘Please Madame Delilah, I appeal to you!’ ‘You certainly do!’
‘I’ve known lots of darkest hours like this one…but there is always a dawn.’
‘We’ve got a lot to do and very little time to finish it all!’

Great Ideas: Forget the bitching match during Doomsday, this was the first epic coming together of the Daleks and the Cybermen and they are working together for a common cause…the conquest of Earth! This time the Doctor is part of his plans. Nice to see that Uncle Terry hasn’t forgotten any of the old stand bys from the Pertwee era and so we have the most important peace conference ever to be held (since the last one, obviously) in Downing Street. There is the promise of mutual disarmament and lasting world peace and without the American envoy the talks cannot take place. Imagine this dying agent drowning in his own blood but still managing to squeeze out that he had gotten on the track of the plot of the kidnap of the American envoy, that he would be kidnapped, the conference sabotaged (blown to smithereens on the opening night!) and that the danger came from beyond the Earth. Once he had gotten all that exposition out he croaked it. I would have loved to have seen the insects of Eltair 3 (I can’t say that planet name enough) attacking the Cybermen…I bet it was dreadful. Come to Bar Galactica for all star mercenaries…the most notorious pleasure spot in the galaxy but you have to do to get by is snarl and go ‘arggggh!’ and they’ll know you’re a tough sort! The Daleks are a bit fed up with the Doctor constantly getting into the way of his plans and capture the TARDIS to get rid of him once and for all. Fortunately a handy meteor storm confuses them for long enough for them to overpower the Daleks! Daleks should never tinker with the TARDIS but they can totally discombobulate the oojamaflip! Don’t you just love the devious Daleks who don’t want to pay the bounty on the Doctor’s head and so tell Madame Delilah that they will take the credit…just because they feel like being a bit evil!? The we get scenes of the Daleks trying to choose which one of them is the imposter! Rather wonderfully the Doctor knows precisely what the Dalek Emperor’s greatest embarrassment is – his failiure to invade the Earth over and over again! The Cybermen and the mercenaries are the Daleks’ dupes only there to be blamed for the destruction of Earth by the Galactic Council.

Audio Landscape: The first few seconds of this production are pricked with nostalgia from the gorgeous 60s Dalek Emperor voice, the 80s Cybermen deep sea diver voices and the Dalek heartbeat noise. Daleks chant ‘exterminate’ as is their wont, Cybermen blasts, explosions, the lush and verdant planet Eltair 3, chirruping insects, Zog purrs and chirrups, a bar fight of epic proportions, electrifying a Dalek, heads being chopped off very messily.

Musical Cues: Well what can I say about the three songs that pollute this release? They’re fabulous aren’t they? A more horrific pastiche of eighties pop I have never heard in my entire life! As soon as I heard the opening lyrics of Crystal’s ‘Strange Attractor’ I was up and dancing around the flat…wishing that I had some kind of crazily coloured feather boa to shake about as I grooved on! One part Bananarama and two parts Tiffany…it’s a spectacularly catchy and dreadful song that made me laugh my head off. Add this to the list of releases that needs to go on whenever I am down (along with The Chase and Time and the Rani). The lounge style music of ‘Business is Business’ wouldn’t seem out of place in the Chicago musical and is much more subdued, reasonable affair but its just as insanely fun. ‘Sky High’ is such a dreadful Kylie’n’Jason number it can stand tall next to other delights such as ‘Especially for You.’

Isn’t it Odd: It’s a bit shite but for once it doesn’t really matter.

Standout Scene: See Musical Cues!

Notes: You can actually find a badly filmed but vital visual representation of The Ultimate Adventure stage play on You Tube and it is amazing how close to the original they have managed to stick to it in the audio version. Shockingly Colin Baker says the lines with the exact same inflection – its like he hasn’t aged in the last thirty years! Imagine my shock when I saw a Vervoid in the line up in Bar Galactica! I cannot believe that Big Finish have commissioned a further story for the Doctor, Jason and Crystal…I can’t wait to hear it!

Result: How on Earth can you live up to a title like The Ultimate Adventure? Daleks, Cybermen, alien planets, intergalactic mercenaries, evil politicians, dodging asteroids, the French Revolution and preventing an assassination with a pot of tea…that’s how! I’m starting to believe that Colin Baker has the same acting gene as his earlier surnamesake in that he can take any material no matter how insane and make it sound plausible. He trots through this story with a wink at the audience and a smile on his face and it does the sixth incarnation no harm whatsoever to be seen having this much fun. Is The Ultimate Adventure a load of horse shit? Yes it is! Does it matter one jot? Not in the slightest. This is an audio that is perfectly happy with its camp identity and can happily join the legions of doom on my shelf – stories that are so pleasurable to experience that they need to be on standby in case misery strikes. Other stories include The Chase (of which this story resembles with its loose plot hopping from one insane set piece to another) and Time and the Rani (of which this story resembles through its pantomime performances and daft plot devices). On standards of quality writing, characterisation blah blah blah (all the things we fans get ourselves in a tizzy over) it would score very low but simply because I adored every second of this lunacy it cannot get lower than: 8/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

Friday, 29 July 2011

Kingdom of Silver written by James Swallow and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: The Doctor arrives on Tasak in search of refreshment, armed with nothing more than a kettle. But this is a time of crisis for a civilisation about to enter an industrial age. Mindful that a devastating war is only recently over, the wise and revered Magus Riga will do almost anything to save his people from the follies of the past. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And the planet Tasak is host to ancient powers buried deep and long forgotten. Can visitors from another world avert disaster or will their intervention drag this innocent world into the Orion War?

The Real McCoy: The TARDIS picked up the output scans from the city so the Doctor lured Temeter too him like a mouse scurrying after cheese. He thinks that people find him quite agreeable when they get to know him so perhaps he has been away from people for too long! He didn’t come to Tasak looking for the energy trace he was just on a stop whilst he was on his way to find some tea. When people don’t believe him he says that that really isn’t his problem but again it usually is. Sylvester McCoy sleepwalks his way through the first episode as if even he doesn’t know what is going on but as soon as the Cybermen get a mention that is something he can grasp hold of and suddenly his performances rockets somewhere into the stratosphere. The Doctor is panic stricken and desperate to make the people understand the danger of the Cybermen. It’s so nice to see somebody upping their game and letting rip some emotion even McCoy’s hilariously hysterical ‘You’re making a terrible mistaaaaaaaakkkeeee!’ is fine. He suggests he is far from in the employ of the Earth military…but he was once – he’s full of fibs in this story! The Doctor firmly believes that you cannot domesticate Cyber technology. Why is it always so much worse than he originally thinks?

Standout Performance: Don’t get me wrong I think that Terry Molloy is a fantastic actor and he has recreated Davros for audio in such style as to own the role now…but my God could they have given him a duller part in this story? I also hate it when they get actors to double on roles and play extra parts with daft accents and his northern drawl as the train guard does not disguise that this is the same person. This is one of the first examples of Nicholas Briggs turning up in a bog standard role (this time as trooper) – keep an ear out for his voice because like Gary Russell he will pop up all the time.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘A statue carved from steel!’

Great Ideas: The silver is a curative compound, which has been made available in recent months. After spending an episode with Temeter I was ready to suggest that he was the dullest one off companion ever and yet the surprise that he is android does explain his monotonous behaviour. There are android agents scattered across the galaxy scouring space for Mondasian relics and the Earth military are scavenging Cyber technology to use against the androids in the Orion Wars. Tasak is a Cyberman tomb world, one of the thousands spread across the galaxy. Reger’s new machines and medicines are scavenged from what remains of a Cyber tomb.

Audio Landscape: Clock chiming, a kettle whistling, a train chugging along a the tracks, the Cyberman hypnotic noise from Wheel in Space, great clunking Cyber footsteps, steam discharge.

Isn’t it Odd: Is it my imagination or does the first episode of Kingdom of Silver sound an awful lot like an audio recording of The Dominators? A bunch of pacifists who have learnt their lesson in war discussing nothing in particular and all with ridiculous names? ‘We’ve grown beyond such things. What the heart offers us is our true future based on knowledge, science and advancement.’ There’s even an island a few kilometres off the coast – just like the radiation island on Dulkis! And the island is volcanic! I’m not sure if it was because I couldn’t recognise anything in any of the characters or because the planet was sold to me in chunks of awkward exposition but I just couldn’t get a grip on this place. It never really comes alive and as such I didn’t really give a damn when the Cybermen were revealed. Frankly they couldn’t make this populace more emotionless automatons than they already are! Why do they insist on keeping the appearance of the Cybermen under wraps and then package their involvement into a twist at the end of episode one when there is a great smiling example slapped on the cover? Some of the dialogue is shockingly clunky: ‘We truly live in a silver age, Doctor!’ ‘The road to hell is paved with good inventions.’ The second cliffhanger features a Cyberman breaking from a tomb and saying ‘You will become like us…’ – we’ve moved on from The Dominators, now we’re in Tomb of the Cybermen! Then as we head into the last episode it is like scenes out of The Age of Steel from the new series with pneumatic drills converting away in a Cyber factory. Add in the androids and you have a large dose of Sword of Orion and not a great deal of originality.

Result: Frozen Time, The Dark Husband, The Death Collectors and now Kingdom of Silver…that’s four below average to terrible McCoy releases in a row. I’m starting to wonder if the McCoy renaissance isn’t because his stories become especially good (although naturally I will reserve judgement on that until I listen to them) but because his Doctor finally starts yielding some consistent quality! The last story I would suggest needed a sequel would be Sword of Orion (still hard to beat for sheer dullness) and Kingdom of Silver is infected with that stories drabness and lack of humour but also adds a tediously generic Doctor Who planet into the mix as well. This is Ken Bentley’s sophomore directional effort and it isn’t any more impressive than his debut, quiet and ineffective in the first two episodes before unleashing a torrent of noise and actors shouting in the last. I have heard some of his later McCoy efforts and I know he becomes one of Big Finish’s standout directors but these are faltering first steps. Spare Parts worked so well because Marc Platt managed to create a believable family and showed us their horror as one of them was converted but none of the characters in this story register so it is hard to give a damn if they do all get converted. I’m not the biggest fan of the Cybermen so perhaps I’m not the best person to appreciate this story but as usual they seem to be include because rather than to add anything to the races mythology. Kingdom of Silver plunders the Troughton era for its material and there is nothing original of note: 3/10

Keepsake written by James Swallow and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: Sifting through the technological junk of Reclaim Platform Juliet-November-Kilo, the Doctor discovers evidence of a personal tragedy involving some friends of his. Where will the story of their fate lead?

Standout Performance: Terry Molloy is far more effective when he plays villainous characters and his even, emotionless delivery in this tale is terrifying because of how controlled it is.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We couldn’t stop it. They opened us up like books. Read every word of us in the time it took to take a breath. We belonged to them’

Great Ideas: The TARDIS can be high maintenance at times but that is all part of the joy of travelling with her. The Doctor suggesting that when you start browsing in shops you end up with loads of things that you don’t want and forgetting the very thing that you came for is perhaps my biggest retail curse! The amount of times I have done that! Ever since humanity has been using Cybermen technology they have been on the offensive. They built the androids in their image and since they have rebelled they have tried to destroy them and since they have began integrating Cyber tech into their own bodies it seems like they are more human these days. Temeter and Sara are covert deep cover operatives used for long duration assignments in the Orion conflict zone. The Cyberman base on Tasak was a key military base with the war against the Earth. It’s fascinating that their android masters do not consider saving billions of human lives by preventing the reactivation of the Cybermen a worthwhile goal…perhaps they were infected by the Doctor’s humanity after all? They took Sara apart and plugged her remains into a basic shell and put it to work on menial tasks. The holographic representations are all she has left of her old life – what a terrible way to go just for feeling for another person.

Audio Landscape: ‘With a single Command they switched off all his warmth, all his emotions, all his…humanity’ – the relationship between Sara and Temeter is much more interesting in this tale because we get to see how such emotional attachments are considered acts deviancy. Having you feelings snatched away so suddenly is an act of emotional rape and its horrific to experience.

Isn’t it Odd: I wouldn’t have bothered using the Doctor in this story at all – his brief scenes don’t add anything to the story and the ‘companion chronicle’ approach with Sara proves to be gripping enough to hold up the piece on its own.

Standout Scene: The revelation that Sara has been stripped of her consciousness and trapped inside such a menial device is heartbreaking and exposes the lack of feeling amongst her superiors. They truly are androids and they only have time for one thing – to kill the humans that created them. Anybody who takes on the emotional behaviour of a human is punished accordingly.

Result: We’ve had a three parter and a one parter that have been directly related before (The Wishing Beast) but this is the first time a writer has thought to take characters from one story and give them more depth in the one part coda. Its probably the best approach yet although I do find it disheartening that once again a lot of the best material has been saved for 25% of the release to the detriment of the other 75% Telling the story from the point of view of Sara was a wise move because it really allowed us to understand their insignificant lives as tools for a war that should never have taken place. The final twist is heart wrenching and it’s almost enough to make me want to go back and listen to Kingdom of Silver again to re-evaluate the relationship between these two characters: 8/10

Thursday, 28 July 2011

The Doomwood Curse written by Jacqueline Rayner and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: Curses and tombs, revenge from beyond the grave - and Dick Turpin! England, 1738. On the trail of a lost book, the Doctor and Charley arrive at the beautiful country estate of Sir Ralph and Lady Sybil. But all is far from idyllic. There’s a murderer on the loose, and the nearby woods are the haunt of the notorious highwayman Dick Turpin. And that’s not all. Something else has journeyed here. Something that could destroy the very fabric of reality. The Doctor and Charley have just forty-eight hours to solve the mystery before the whole world succumbs to The Doomwood Curse…

Softer Six: You would be hard pressed to figure that the Doctor and Charley have only had one adventure together since they already have superb chemistry that is very easy on the ear. The Doctor sighs her name in the way that he reserves for only his best of friends and he trusts her enough to rifle through his library and take four-hour baths! Rather wonderfully Charley leaps into action when she realises that the Grel are going to burn books…and he tries to remind her that he is the one who comes up with all the clever plans but she’s already gone. I think these two are going to get on splendidly. He doesn’t find gothic romances like Rookwood the epitome of literature like he used to and by the time he came to read it he had past the stage when such a thing became desirable. The way Charley describes it leads the Doctor to believe it is a most edifying tome. It’s always great to see the ultra arrogant sixth Doctor embarrassed and being shoved inside a coffin whilst the perpetrator sits on the lid definitely ranks! However he has been at this melodramatic lark for far to long to be beaten when it comes to ham theatre and he cries, ‘The bones are moving! Grasping me to them in an embrace of death!’ – I was laughing my head off at this wonderful nonsense. Since he begun his audio adventures there has been a more intimate side to the sixth Doctor that we rarely saw on TV and his attempts to get John to surrender to his grief and not hide away in fiction is another great example of how sensitive and tender he can be. He is shot square in the chest and should have died (or regenerated) but fiction demands that he survives to allow the story to continue. The Doctor trusts that one day he and Charlotte will be the best of friends.

Edwardian Adventuress: Charley is still trying to get the hang of this ‘travelling with an earlier incarnation’ lark and she can’t help but let slip her astonishment that the TARDIS has gotten them where they want to be for once! She tries to sound as naïve as possible when asking the Doctor that surely there must be some laws of time to bound his adventures…forgetting to mention that she is a direct violation of them twice over! Ever the romantic Charley finds the whole notion of curses and tombs, revenge from beyond the grave, gypsies and dashing highwaymen highly desirable and she is certain that Rookwood is a correct interpretation of Dick Turpin. In their short acquaintance the Doctor was under the impression that Charlotte was not the sort of person who would fall to pieces at the mere hint of the macabre but she is spooked by the idea of an exit from a tomb! She’s already got a key and has to bite her tongue from mentioning it when the Doctor gives her a spare for the TARDIS. Ironic for Charley that she has spent her recent past pretending to have forgotten her past and now she genuinely has! Charley is forced into whatever role the story needs of her so she hops from fluttering bride to be (a role that seems to suit India Fisher really well!) to daredevil criminal Gypsy Charlotte (in which Fisher adopts a very cute country aaaccc-cent!).

Standout Performance: This is exactly the sort of script that actors hungrily accept roles in Doctor Who for. Expertly written parts that allow them to indulge in melodrama and enjoy the fact anything could happen in the story. It’s hard to say who had a better time on this story because you don’t need the extras to tell you that they were enjoying themselves! I especially enjoyed Geraldine Newman’s villainous Lady Sybil who delights in murder and revels in chaos and has her plans foiled by the Doctor at every turn (She manages to sound deeply concerned when she stumbles on Charley’s death that she has arranged only to discover that she alive…and her deadpan ‘Oh!’ made me howl). She is all sinister asides and mocking laughter, exactly what the novel demands of her. John is the character through which we see all these changes in narrative take place and John Firth has the nigh on impossible task of having to continually convince the audience that this is how its always been every time characters take on a new role. Nicky Henson has exactly the sort of rough edged romantic voice that was needed to bring Dick Turpin alive…and he sings a nice song too!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We better go…to Rookwood!
‘I assure you this yawing sepulchre contains no bones!’
‘That world you were in before it was a world of words and words on a page however skilfully written can never convey the reality of losing a loved one.’
‘I don’t think anyone is all bad Charlotte but Turpin came closer than most.’

Great Ideas: The Factualiser is a Grel Device to destroy bad facts – it is the modern equivalent of burning books if they come across diametrically opposed facts that do not correlate! Rather than let Charley guess the end of the novel the Doctor decides to take her back to the time of William Harrison Ainsworth and find another copy for the TARDIS archive for her to finish. In a story that has more than a touch of Sleepy Hollow about it there is gloriously sinister flashback to Turpin forcing his way into a house, beating the owner and stealing his goods. The Doomwood Curse: ‘When a bough is found I trough, beneath its shade to lie, heir son will rise twice in the skies and a Doomwood sure shall die!’ The curse of the Doomwood family states that if a bough should fall from the Doomwood tree it heralds the death of the eldest Doomwood. For a second the story has you believe that Charley has been killed in the middle of this gothic romance only to discover that it was the chambermaid in her wedding dress. Hilariously Charley smashes a window and jumps free…but following the melodramatic trappings of this story there is a horse there to catch her fall and ride her away to safety! The Grel never wanted to destroy the book, they wanted to turn fiction into reality (or turn a bad fact into a good fact in their lingo) and whatever was in their machine (nanites) when it exploded got to work on the remains of the book along with whatever they had to hand…Charley! They brought the particles with them in the TARDIS and their doing their best to fit the story together coherently. They’ve turned Charley and the rest of the people here into a plot device, whatever they need to string a story together. In Rockwood Dick Turpin kills his partner and in this reality that partner is Charley! The narrative rules that the Doctor must get to the next set piece as soon as possible and so just like those three little asterisks that suggest the passing of time a quick scene in a tavern away from his travels suggests that they have been travelling for a whole day. Nobody feels hunger or thirst or asked any questions – they are literally shoved from one exciting bit to the next and the time in between (the boring bits) is taken for granted that it happened. If you choose to live in a world of fiction where grief isn’t real then you will never again experience true happiness either. Even the Doctor succumbs to the narrative at a vital point where he could have saved Charlotte. The particles spread and infect wherever they find volumes of narrative and in the early 18th century, the birthplace of the novel and literary giants and every home will soon be possessed by a novel. The only character that is both real and fictional, Dick Turpin, turns out to be the carrier for the particles and he channels the Grel so he can reshape the world in his own design.

Audio Landscape: I read on Martin Johnson’s website that he goes to some lengths not to use a library of recorded sounds and likes to create all the sound design from scratch on his releases. That approach really works when it comes to a historical release like The Doomwood Curse and the story comes alive in unexpected ways with his evocative sound design. Grel rifling through books, the Factualiser explodes with a rather hilarious bell ding, whispering voices in the tomb, sweet birdsong on a spring evening, banging on the door and Turpin forcing entry, a tree snapping and hitting the ground, whispering voices herald the changing of details to the story, squeaky door of the crypt, crackling fire, ripping Charley’s clothes, smashing the window, Dick Turpin firing his gun, horses galloping, when the flowers do their work the whole story stretches to a halt.

Musical Cues: The music is perfect for a rip-roaring yarn with curses and highwaymen and Johnson manages to whip up an air of romantic excitement with the soundtrack. I love the melodramatic stings at the end of episode one as the curse finally takes hold of Sir Ralph. There are ominous rumblings playing throughout the story that suggest that no matter how bad things are…they can always get worse! Bombastic drums accompany Charley as she rides to safety. My feet were tapping away with excitement as Black Bess scales a wall with two on her back such was the dynamism of the music. In kick the vocals as Bess approaches York to give this melodrama the conclusion it deserves.

Standout Scene: The Doctor and Charley recounting opposing facts about Rookwood to bring down the Grel is not only a devilishly clever ending but sees Colin Baker and India Fisher cement themselves as the Big Finish pairing of the time. They’re fantastic here and it is great to see the risk of their pairing paying off so soon.

Notes: Finally the Grel make it into a Doctor Who story after being exclusively used by the Bernice Summerfield range for some time. They were first created by Paul Cornell in his New Adventure Oh No It Isn’t but they have been helping (The Glass Prison) and hindering (The Grel Escape) Bernice ever since! I find them hugely amusing creatures…they are obsessive bibliophiles, a cephalopodan species who exist to find more facts from literature (‘Fact: It was the best of times! Additional Fact: It was the worst of times!’). Jac Rayner knows exactly how to bring them to life with some verve and the Doctor’s mind teaser and Charley’s ‘pen is mightier than the sword’ quote has them tied up for long enough so they can damage their machine and scarper!

Result: ‘Reality is still there beneath this gothic patina!’ Exactly what we needed after their dark and dank debut, The Doomwood Curse is a delightfully melodramatic affair with a sweet aroma of imagination and a hint of literature. What I really like about this tale is how it keeps innovating itself – we land in Rookwood and discover the curse in the first episode, the Doctor guesses that they are within the pages of the book in the second before we learn the truth during the cliffhanger which leads into a narrative defying second half. Whilst we are enjoying all the fun character parts and atmosphere we are kept guessing as to the very nature of the story. Colin Baker and India Fisher continue to produce riches together and at the same time enjoy their own fun in their separate narratives through the course of the story and Barnaby Edwards has once again assembled a stellar cast that has great pleasure bringing to life this passionate material. The way the Doctor has to piece together a fiction out of the interpretation of Rookwood Charley relayed to him at the beginning of the story is very clever and I love all the narrative trickery that Rayner indulges in. I also enjoyed the various depictions of Dick Turpin that we hear before the various cast members relay what the historical records say about the man giving the story a pleasing educational touch once the fiction has been wiped away. For once a reset is very welcome – its not the sort of happy ending the sixth Doctor and Charley will experience for long so lets enjoy it while we can: 8/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The Wasting written by Iain McLaughlin & Claire Bartlett and directed by Nicola Bryant

What’s it about: A deadly flu-like infection is sweeping the planet. Its first cases appeared in Britain but now millions are infected worldwide and there is no sign of a cure. The emergency services can't cope with what the press have dubbed a plague… Under attack from all sides, UNIT in Britain is in disarray. It faces a stark choice - to close its doors and concede defeat, or to fight back, whatever the cost… and the injured Colonel Emily Chaudhry knows UNIT has never backed down from a battle… If UNIT is to fight back, it's going to need the services of its missing commander, Colonel Brimmicombe-Wood, and the experience of the Brigadier, who can never refuse when duty calls…

Chap With Wings: Alistair is paranoid about ISIS surveillance and doesn’t like to be in one place for a long time. Back in his day Mike Yates was very good at paperwork and Benton was extremely adept at filing anything that looked like a waste of time in the nearest bin. When told he has friends in high places (Harry in NATO) he also comments with some pride that he has friends in low places too. The Brigadier admits that he has no official standing and by asking the UNIT soldiers to resist the orders from the Ministry they will be breaking the law. They will never have a UNIT scientific advisor like the one he had and he accepts the post as the scientific advisor to Chaudhry’s new UNIT.

Colonel Chaudhry: She is more than happy to have the Brigadier around to shout the orders because her world has been turned upside down after the deaths of Dalton and Hoffman and the panic that has gripped the country. She trusted Wood so much and his betrayal cuts deep. She gets her best ever moment when she kicks the crap out of Wood and tells him that they would have followed him into anything and not because they fancied him…and she tells him he’s not in her league just as she knees him in the nuts. She knows she is worthy of the post as the new CO of UNIT.

Colonel Dalton: He wasn’t in UNIT for very long but long enough to make him one of their own and he had a full ceremonial funeral.

Standout Performance: Its wonderful to see Nicholas Courtney getting a larger share of the action (who knows what the Brigadier was doing in Time Heals?) and by his presence alone does he makes this story a massive step up from the others in the range. His warm handling of Chaudhry and the way he commands the loyalty of the men without even trying proves that he hasn’t lost his touch. I also have to applaud David Tennant’s awesome Brimmicombe-Wood who never seems to get the amount of air time he deserves but provides riotous entertainment every time he turns up. Its such a different role from the Doctor that you would wear it was a different actor playing the part but it just goes to show the versatility of the man. Imagine a face off between the tenth Doctor and Wood? I would play big bucks to see that!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘if that takes off I’ll tear everyone of you a new arse!’ – its great to have Wood back!
‘I am placing you under arrest for murder, attempted murder, hijacking, treason, terrorism and being the biggest arsehole on the planet!’
‘Odd to think that an explosion could save the world.’

Great Ideas: ISIS has picked a fight with UNIT and kicked their arse all over the country, almost had Sir Alistair killed, undermined the government, attacked Chaudhry’s troops… Their mentality is Britain first and sod the rest. There is an outbreak of an virus that had become international but it is not a strain of Sars as was originally suspected. Currie makes a good point that when the country goes to the dogs they will have plenty of material to build their career on. The patients of the virus have become aggressive and are eating people. UNIT has always been a politicians football, they aren’t liked but when there is nobody else to clean up the mess they are their best friends. The flu symptoms are the first stage of the virus, followed by skin blotches, then the skin takes on the texture of rotting meat and the patients become violent and losing the ability to think clearly. Its like they are decomposing while they’re still alive. In a moment of utter naiveté from the British press they think that UNIT soldiers are cocking their rifles to control a cornered crowd of virus infected citizens and open fire and murder the lot of them. Its all staged by ISIS and filmed by Currie as the final indignity for the military taskforce. An artifical alien virus that alters human DNA and metamorphoses them into… Martial law is announced and a curfew is enforced. The gas released from the stolen spaceship rewrites the chromosomes of certain human beings and mutates them into something more palatable. The ship was sent to Earth to turn the human race into rotten meat so the occupants can turn up and harvest the population later…yuck! That’s really yucky! Wood turning out to be an enemy agent turns out to be the best concealed surprise of the series and completely floored me. He is the CO of ISIS and has been for years, all the time he was working for UNIT he was reporting everything back to ISIS. He thinks every other country out there is doing everything they can to protect themselves and that Great Britain shouldn’t be any different. With the Silurians help they came up with something that would stop the mutations. It becomes a race against time to get the missile in the air and spread the antidote. Because they saved the world UNIT has been exonerated and have been given increased manpower and funding.

Audio Landscape: Wind and rain at Dalton’s graveside, windows smashing, virus victims lurching onto the streets like zombies, fake UNIT soldiers shooting into a crowd, panicked crowds, the Brigadier’s car exploding, running footsteps, a scraping door, gunfire and grenades, the helicopter taking off and soaring overhead, there’s an impressive dogfight in the air, the missile exploding in the air,

Musical Cues: What a fabulous militaristic score as the Brigadier tries to getaway in his motor!

Isn’t it Odd: Nicola Bryant puts on a terrible upper class accent for a quick cameo. Winnington turns up like a cackling witch at the end of the story and I was desperately hoping the Brigadier would put a bullet in her skull. Unfortunately he only aims for her hand and lets her live.

Standout Scene: Its interesting that the best moment in this entire series comes when Harry Sullivan phones the Brigadier and he promises to meet him for a beer. It takes you back to the olden days when UNIT was a vital part of Doctor Who…and reminds you of how badly they pulled off this revamp that the most touching moment comes during a one side telephone call.

Result: With two regular characters dead and ISIS closing in on UNIT finally I was interested enough to care about what was going on. UNIT being set up to fall and its soldiers going rogue is such a juicy idea it is a miracle that nobody has thought to try it before. Having three stories pretty much run in real time before this one has shown that a life in UNIT is a idiots game, it reminds me of the realisation the Torchwood crew came to – no social life, losing your friends and constantly considered the enemy. The Wasting doesn’t try and do too much like Time Heals, isn’t slack like Snake Head and reins in its melodrama like The Longest Night failed to do…there is a pleasing claustrophobic feel to the material (because there is literally nowhere else for the show to go now over half the cast has been killed and the public image of the organisation has been shattered) and even a couple of great twists at the climax. Suddenly Siri O’Neal wakes up and gives the sort of attention grabbing performance we needed in the first story but then surrounded by heavyweights Nicholas Courtney and David Tennant she definitely had to up her game. As far as I am concerned the UNIT series has been a massive flop because it has struggled to find an identity, lacked characters worth investing your time in and (most heinously) failed to produce any decent stories but at least the series retains some dignity and goes out with a hurrah in The Wasting. I’m glad we never had a second season, I don’t think this series has the legs to support it: 8/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The Longest Night written by Joseph Lidster and directed by Edward Salt

What’s it about: ‘We interrupt this broadcast…' Having survived a day at the seaside, Robert Dalton and Emily Chaudhry are enjoying a few pints… Having spent the day answering the phone and praying for some action, Will Hoffman is enjoying a night out… Having signed a controversial new European treaty, the Prime Minister is on his way back to Downing Street… Having survived yet another day, the people of Britain are settling down to eat dinner, stay in, go out, spend time with their friends… '… we're receiving reports that…' It's just another ordinary evening in the United Kingdom… '… a bomb has exploded in Central London…’

Colonel Chaudhry: I just don’t buy the relationship between Chaudhry and Dalton and I have been racking my brain for a reason why. It could be because I don’t believe in the characterisation of Chaudhry who is super spy UNIT operative one minute and one of the lads the next. It could be Siri O’Neal’s performance which errs on the side of naturalism but then loses it completely when she starts talking about aliens. Or it could be that their relationship simply hasn’t been convincingly written enough for me to care. All three are probably a little harsh but if you take a fraction from each and put them together and you have a dynamic that fails to come alive for me. The first time I felt something real for Chaudhry was when Hoffman called her up after being caught in the explosion and she tries desperately to keep him talk as he bleeds to death. Strangely she finds the idea of mind control via a help line ridiculous and paranoid and yet when it comes to vampires from Kosovo she was convinced all the way!

Great Ideas: An explosion rips through central London and proves to be the catalyst for all the events that take place in this tale. I really like the idea that this follows on directly from Snake Head showing that the lives of UNIT employees keep going even after you think you’ve completed your assignment. People dressed up as police officers on the scene of the explosion using that front to get people to trust them and then gunning them down when they make themselves apparent. That’s horrible. There is an exciting feeling that events are completely out of control with terror attacks happening in quick succession over London and as soon as they have made to one and start trying to limit the damage another takes place. You feel that UNIT is really out of its depth and that’s where this series should have been in the first story. They call situations with paranormal leanings ‘John Smith scenarios.’ Chaudhry does have a good point…if you want to manipulate the people then you have to show them something to make them angry. You don’t have to hurt them personally as long as you give them something they can see that they want to fight against.

Audio Landscape: The chimes of Big Ben, explosion, police sirens, train pulling into the station, reporters clicking their cameras, the burbling conversation of Downing Street.

Musical Cues: Given the melodramatic nature of the script David Darlington has loads to work with this week to make the score as grandiloquent as possible and he does a superb job.

Isn’t it Odd: Killing off Hoffman is a bold move because he has appeared in the first two stories…but that is part of my problem with his sudden (and dramatic dispatch). We haven’t had the chance to get to know him long enough to care. Its just another UNIT grunt who has fallen in action and that’s kind of sad. I probably would have saved his death for the finale and then at least UNIT could have gone out with a bang. The curse of the otherwise very good use of real time drama is that there is no time to deal with deaths during the course of the story. There is a general lack of subtlety to this story that has plagued the rest of this series – I was hoping the parallel with September 11th wouldn’t be made (it was) or that the religious extremist wouldn’t be calling it Judgement Day (they do). Gary Russell makes a less than convincing news reporter and one of the ‘this is for my people!’ suicide chants sounds like the woman is about to burst into laughter! ‘A female Indian Deputy Prime Minister…if only you were a lesbian in a wheelchair you’d fill all of Europe’s minority requirements!’ – dialogue like this pushes things too far. Who would say a line like that? When Mina takes a call it is obvious that she has been brainwashed before the script lets us know. The hypnotic phone line is another moment where I was shaking my head with the transparency of the writing (‘Its not racism. They’re different from us…’). Can you imagine who could possibly be responsible for all this race hate and disaster? Could it possibly be the left wing politician from a racist party? Father of the notorious Angela Winnington no less and when it comes down to he orders her shot because she failed him in her task! And naturally the whole thing has to end on an explosive cliffhanger and a scream. I don’t know if I have the will to listen to the last story after this nonsense.

Standout Scene: In a story full of bombast it was the scene with no overblown dialogue that impressed me the most…I was all ready to start complaining that Dalton was singing in his car in the face of all this devastation, panic and murder but it turns out that that was a clue that I missed out on completely. So whilst I was drowning in despair at the melodrama of the piece Lidster managed to slip one twist by me.

Notes: Wood gets a mention in this story (his kidnap was completely forgotten in Snake Head) and we learn that Hoffman practically idolises him.

Result: Its all a bit much which is shame because the premise of having UNIT deal with a real time emergency has some terrific potential. I’ve always enjoyed Joe Lidster’s willingness to push things in the Doctor Who universe to extremes and he seems to enjoy mixing emotional drama and horrific incidents to stirring effect. Here he is let off the Doctor Who leash and unfortunately his script sinks under the melodrama of too much controversy. There’s several terrorist attacks, racial scapegoats and slurs, sexism, hypnotic smoking help lines, religious Armageddon, kidnapping the Indian Deputy Prime Minister’s children and forcing her to commit suicide on the steps of Downing Street (‘She was making the place dirty!’), prisoners on the loose, riots (‘This one’s a sympathiser! Get him!’), soldiers on the streets firing into the crowds...someone even says ‘Think about the children! Do you want your children slaughtered by them just for being British!’ I desperately wanted to like this story because it least grabs hold of an idea and goes for it full throttle but unfortunately where most other dramas would put on the breaks at some point The Longest Night just keeps on going and by the end I was laughing at the absurdity of it all. Rather wonderfully one of the tracks on my MP3 Player is called ‘You bitch!’ which was exactly the sort of melodrama this story revels in. If you want to see this story played out much more effectively go and listen to LIVE 34. I can’t buy into a world quite this ridiculous which is a shame because this story features some of Ed Salt’s best ever direction: 4/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

UNIT: Snake Head written by Jonathan Clements and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: A mobile phone call to the emergency services, a body found on Government land and an ancient burial site unearthed at an archaeological dig all point toward an odd mystery by the coast… UNIT's new commander, Colonel Robert Dalton, and its political officer, Colonel Emily Chaudhry, investigate strange goings-on in Southend. What is out there on the beach? What happened to the recently found savaged body? And what of the man who's just been smuggled in to the country? Is this just a simple case for the local police or, as Chaudhry suspects, is there more to it than meets the eye…?

Colonel Chaudhry: Chaudhry seems far more relaxed in this story and as a result a lot more likable. As soon as she realises they are heading for the beach she wants to check out the local attractions. Poor Chaudhry is mistaken for an immigration officer and is given the guided tour of Kevin’s flat and offered the chance to sniff his sheets to prove that he and his wife live there!

Colonel Dalton: He has never had a cockle in his life and he doesn’t intend to start now! He realises quite quickly that his UNIT pass opens more doors than he is used to. I do like the fact that Dalton doesn’t automatically jump to the supernatural explanation because there must be times when it is an entirely Earthbound menace but he does seem remarkably stubborn when refusing to face clear evidence that points him towards alien involvement. Dalton describes ISIS as a Gestapo charm school run by the Keystone Cops. He was expecting some evidence after hunting down a vampire ands when he thinks he has been taken for a ride he furiously turns on Chaudhry because it was her belief in this mythology that kept him wading through water at all hours of the night.

Standout Performance: Toby Longworth is always good value and it impresses me whenever I look at the various parts he has played and the sheer versatility of his range. Ian Hayles was far less convincingly as Kevin who plays the restaurant owner with a really irritating whiny voice that grates after a minute.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Not everything happens inside the M25!’

Great Ideas: When the radio announcer reads out an email for the Professor some clever dick writes in and calls the Saxon body another immigrant! 32% of all paranormal events are caused by disturbances of the Earth. A Saxon grave has been unearthed and cockle pickers are dead and Chaudhry automatically puts two and two together. Hoffman has been manning the phone and trying sift through the Time Lords from the time wasters and one caller swears she has seen Jesus’ face in a potato! Snake Heads are illegal gangs where they wind up doing the menial jobs the average British citizen doesn’t want to do. Albanian superstition says that Vampires break your bones and suck out your marrow…and particularly enjoy munching on fingers. They are terribly difficult to catch because they are invisible and you are only safe if you have an orthodox priest in the family! Their other habit is girls who they enjoy taking advantage of. Peasants like easy answers and curses are easier for them to understand than viruses and cancers and when something goes wrong in their world they are ready to believe it is a malicious spirit. Whenever people are ready to believe in these things there is always somebody about ready to take of advantage of it and there are reports of men staging fights with evil spirits, smashing houses up and claiming their troubles are over with his reward. Science fiction being used as a smokescreen to cover what is actually a very nasty world that we live in – now that is an angle this series could have taken.

Audio Landscape: Crows screaming, phone ringing, seagulls, wind whipping, wheezing kettle, eating in a Chinese restaurant with cod exotic music playing in the background, rain battering down, thunder rumbling, footsteps, unlocking a car, water lapping, scattering the birds with a bullet, wet footprints, the vampire attack is nicely done with Chaudhry breathing manically close to the camera as the creature screams in the background, police sirens.

Isn’t it Odd: I still have no idea who this series is supposed to be aimed at. With other spin offs from Big Finish’s main range you know exactly what you are going to get after the first story (temporal politics from Gallifrey, atmospheric infernal investigations with Jago & Litefoot, intimate tales by various assistants from the Companion Chronicles) but the UNIT series seems to want to appeal to everybody at once and as a result I feel it is falling between several stools. The first story was a camp and overblown James Bond thriller and the series could work if it took that angle (probably not for me because Bond films are so dull) and Snake Head tries to mix hard hitting themes of immigration (again an approach that could work and would certainly be followed up in the next story) with mythological horrors and winds up an awkward mess because the two don’t gel in the slightest. Or at least they don’t gel at this slack pace with no danger or action. Is this a contemporary thriller series? Science fiction with an edge? Dumb action adventure? Doctor Who has a suitable plot device that can allow all these genres to play out and for it to still be the same show but all that holds this range together is two sketchily drawn characters and it feels like we are in a completely new series with them each week. Shockingly even the climax where the terrifying invisible vampire attacks Goran we are left completely in the dark as to why we should be scared – there is nothing at stake, we don’t know who the vampire is or what his motives are…its just an invisible presence with invisible credibility. At the end of the story everybody is laughing and joking and ‘lets hope once people realise they have been manipulated all the riots end.’ Oh please.

Standout Scene: I was very happy when the vampire did show up and start killing the very dull guest cast.

Result: Snake Head seems to be trying to capture some of the success of Ultraviolet by placing vampires in a decidedly modern setting of illegal immigrants and takeaways but it lacks the menace or the subtlety to pull it off. When compared with Doctor Who’s own Project Twilight it is a pale imitation because the parent range knew that to make this sort of thing work you need a strong villain, some heavy science and some disturbing violence. This sanitised version sees Chaudhry and Dalton checking out some foreign mythology and interviewing a local scientist and takeaway owner – it’s a really dull approach to the material. The story does try and make the very nature of the threat ambiguous but we’ve been with UNIT for far too long to accept a story without an alien menace. There are some reasonable atmospherics at the climax when the vampire finally rears its head but that is about 2% of the overall story. The fact that even during the scary moments people are standing around eating prawn crackers says everything you need to know: 4/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

Monday, 25 July 2011

UNIT: Time Heals written by Iain McLaughlin & Claire Bartlett and directed by Jason Haigh-Ellery

What’s it about: The UK branch of UNIT is under threat. The Government wants its own military investigative organisation, one under its sole control. The public want answers to the strange things that have been happening recently. When the division's commanding officer goes missing whilst transporting a dangerous cargo, Colonel Emily Chaudhry, UNIT's political officer, is thrown in at the deep end. Things are not helped when a series of accidents show a bizarre pattern. The Brigadier, meanwhile, is trying to enjoy his retirement but it seems it is time again for him to come to the rescue.

Chap With Wings: The press are writing up the extra terrestrial activity at his retirement do as ‘man in a rubber costume.’ He feels like he is old news already and that’s a role he is quite comfortable with. Setting himself up as a sacrificial lamb and sitting in a car for all hours of the night…he knows exactly what Doris would think of all this subterfuge!

Colonel Chaudhry: I’m not sure that Emily is a particularly likable character despite the fact that the story goes to some lengths to point to her being the hero. She seems to talk in clichés an awful lot (‘what a mess’) and her cynical approach to her job might have been written as dry wit (‘don’t call the corpses stiffs, its tacky’) but it sounds an awful lot like Siri O’Neal wants to be elsewhere. I’m not sure that by the end of this story that I had any idea who her character was than I did when I first put it on. Rather than trust that Dalton is a man who has been drafted in to help Chaudhry checks up on his file. Not exactly the best way to form a bond with your new boss. When she suggests that UNIT needs somebody in charge who knows how they work I couldn’t disagree more – look at the list of disasters they have failed to prevent doing things their way. What they need is somebody like Dalton who can bring a fresh pair of eyes to the problem and counter all the usual UNIT nonsense and get straight to sorting things out.

Colonel Dalton: Dalton is a far more enjoyable character but I think that has more to do with Nicholas Deal’s warm performance than anything in the script. Rather than try and do something interesting with him the writers decide that he is going to be the Scully to Chaudhry’s Mulder and challenge all the science fiction elements of the range. He’s been told the sum total of sod all, just that he is taking over from Wood whilst he was being torn from his latest mission in Syria. He hears that UNIT is a law to itself, waves two fingers at the rules that the rest of them have to stick to and it has the highest mortality rate of any department in the British Army. He doesn’t like the secret squirrel nonsense that is festering at the heart of UNIT.

Standout Performance: I’m not certain the casting choices on Time Heals were thought through very well. Stephen Carlile is supposed to be representing a sinister underground organisation but sounds more like a fey politician. Plus his character his this odd function of talking to himself and telling the audience what we already know ‘Thanks Professor! Kept them busy long enough for me to get away!’

Great Ideas: UNITs CO is missing and just to make things worse they have lost an alien spaceship. Just about every foreign government in the world wants to know what Colonel Brimmicombe-Wood knows…but I can imagine after half an hour of his potty mouth no amount of secrets could be worth the torrent of abuse! Another train appears from nowhere on one of the London lines and causes a devastating collision. UNIT used to have better facilities until the government slashed their budget because they didn’t their policies on Europe or defence.

Audio Landscape: Cameras snapping away in media frenzy, helicopter landing, cars honking, cricket on the telly, a plane losing velocity and crashing with destructive force, taking a shower, seagulls, lapping waves.

Musical Cues: David Darlington’s theme music for this series is pretty unmemorable all told – I would have gone for something very modern and militaristic, a bit like the theme tune for the first two years of Torchwood. Instead it’s some more akin to lift music.

Isn’t it Odd: Honestly Emily you know saying ‘Could today get any worse?’ is tempting fate! The opening of this story is far too fractured for its own good with several storylines being stacked up (Wood’s abduction, the missing spaceship, the train crash, time going squiffy) – none of these plotlines feel as though they belong together, its like the writers have decided to set up the series in as blatant way as possible rather than weaving them into a narrative that feels like a story in its own right. There doesn’t seem to be much subtlety in the writing either with one character saying ‘you know exactly what kind of people we sold ourselves to’ being a particularly clunky moment of exposition and ‘it’s a scene of near biblical carnage’ describing a train accident. Naturally the government is pointing the finger at a militant Muslim faction. How many ways are there to say ‘this is the most profound breakthrough in science!’? The two scientists stand around bigging each other up in some hysterically overwritten scenes. Nobody has ever asked for a transfer out of UNIT? I find that very hard to believe. There is a scene between Chaudhry and Dodds where they discuss their love lives that manages to be as cringeworthy as listening to somebody scraping their fingernails down a blackboard in slow motion. Its not just that it isn’t funny or sexy (or that once again the dialogue is horrendous: ‘Chicks love uniform!’), the worst thing is the two actors have no chemistry and sound really awkward trying to suggest a long term friendship. Kelly is so obviously not who he seems to be (the way he talks behind his fellow scientists back as soon as he is out of earshot lets us know that) and I was just waiting for the ‘how could you betray me?’ me scene with crushing inevitability. By the end of Time Heals you’ve had a train crash, a plane crash and a near explosion of a nuclear submarine…we get it, these experiments are bad business. Just one of these disaster dealt with appropriate seriousness and depth would have been enough. There’s a wonderfully dreadful moment when Kelly looks out the window and goes ‘Oh no! UNIT! Scarper!’ Okay he doesn’t say that exactly but that’s exactly what his tone implies when he cries ‘UNIT!’ We don’t even get to the end of his introductory story before Dalton is willingly sacrificing himself for the greater good.

Result: The UNIT series has some real potential, a gritty contemporary thriller series with science fiction touches and some nods to the past. Unfortunately you wouldn’t think that listening to Time Heals which is one of the most awkwardly written audios with a script that is made up of the worst clichés imaginable (‘Instantaneous matter transportation wont belong in Star Trek any more!’) and crowbars the series’ running arcs with little delicacy. With Dalton turning up halfway through the story it never settles down to mark its own identity, it feels like it is jumping about all over the place with no time for its characters. The best thing you can say about this story is that Nicholas Courtney is involved but since he is pushed to the sidelines throughout it is hardly a screaming endorsement. Siri O’Neal fails to make a decent impression, coming across more as a patronising jobsworth than a quick thinking foil for Nicholas Deal’s Dalton. Too much spectacle, too little coherence - opening the series on a story this clumsy (‘It will make Chernobyl look like a wet firework!’) was a huge mistake and I was bored before the end: 3/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

The Empire State written by Eddie Robson and directed by Edward Salt

What’s it about: A remarkable city once stood on a desert moon between six colony worlds: an entire city contained within a single vast tower. In honour of another great feat of architecture from an earlier age, the human pioneers who built the city christened it the EmpireState. The phrase 'once stood' would seem to imply that the city isn't there any more, and until yesterday it wasn't, having been destroyed almost a century ago. Indeed, Bernice Summerfield has reluctantly left behind a Braxiatel Collection in turmoil and launched an expedition to excavate the site of the EmpireState, and noted archaeologists like her rarely concern themselves with things that haven't been broken, ruined or lost. Yet now the EmpireState has reappeared as if the last century never happened, and the members of Bernice's expedition have been scattered throughout the city. One member in particular proves difficult to track down, which is awkward as Bernice believes that she may hold the key to what's happening at the EmpireState - and the means to save the Braxiatel Collection.

Archeological Adventuress: All eleven drinks that Bernice has had this evening had alcohol in and as a result she falls off her stool. Even she admits that she isn’t supposed to do this sort of thing anymore and act like a grown up these days. She never causes trouble, it just always seems to happen near her. Oddly Bernice seems to have the power to bring people back from the dead, fix broken glasses and generally wind back time. What has happened? Why did she want the stone? Because its got a lot of history behind it – what other reason do you need? She spends her life trying to rescue little pieces of the past before they are lost forever. With her new abilities inherited from Maggie she has to learn that it is not about bringing things back the way you want them but about bringing them back the way they were. Jason wasn’t quite what Bernice expected her husband to be like but sometimes it is good to get things you don’t expect. Everybody is relying on Benny to find Brax which is a lot of responsibility for somebody as irresponsible as she is. Bernice always imagined Rand to be a sad imbalanced loser who didn’t know what point he was trying to make and that is exactly what she created – hence his contradictory motives throughout that tale. Clever sod, that Robson.

Jason (bloody) Kane: I was howling with laughter at Jason’s attempt to get a reply from his ex wife when he sends her a message – pretending that war has broken out on the Collection and that he was cut up by bullets! ‘Did that get your attention?’ His third message to her is in the middle of a continuity shift and requires a temporal interpreter to make sense of it!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘And tell them what? That he killed everybody and they all came back to life? We might come up a bit short on evidence!’
‘If we don’t look at the reason these things happen that means they just happen again.’
‘All hail the galactic hide and seek champion!’

Standout Performance: Doesn’t Phillip Edgerty sound like Stephen Fewell?

Great Ideas: Everybody is being freaked out by the crazy stuff that is going on in the Collection; Jason was trapped in an infinite corridor in the Masionhouse, people are going missing and not always the same when they are returning, the artefacts are changing and the Draconians are getting more aggressive in their bid to own the Collection. The Empire State, a dig that Bernice was supposed to excavate has made a surprising comeback! The State is one big tower which goes from half a mile underground and reaching all the way up to the lower atmosphere – what a great setting for a Bernice story! It is sad but true when the bartender tells Benny he is more likely to have noticed Maggie if she was good looking. Bernice came here for the Stone of Barter, it was a symbol of trading prowess and the big myth around it is that a trader asked a shaman to transmute him into the stone – that it had the power to trade their internal qualities as easily as they would exchange material goods. You could trade knowledge, skills, emotions and even paranormal abilities. It was found in the ruins of the city of the Empire State…which just so happens to be standing again. This place had been destroyed for almost a century and Bernice thought she had travelled back in time but its not her…the city has travelled back in time. When Bernice found the stone she absorbed something from it that somebody had given it centuries ago and the result is the city rebuilt itself. The Empire State was a refugee centre during two wars and during the interim period it had a renowned philosophy school. When Bernice brought everybody back she also brought back the man who blew up the city in the first place. He infiltrated the generator room and threw them out of balance and because the city keeps coming back he thinks he has failed so he tries over and over. Maggie touched the stone and was hoping to steal it and it took her powers and transferred them to Bernice. Maggie is a home made temporal physics experiment made from genetic material of her ‘father’ with fixer abilities hardwired into her DNA. She was made to clean up her fathers messes for him. Braxiatel planted his location in the stone a long time ago and Bernice needs to find him in order to fix all the crazy things that are going on on the Collection. Rand is well on his way to being the greatest mass murderer of them all although I’m not sure if killing multiple versions of the same people counts. Saf is the Watcher of the stone and of all the people who have had that job his watch as been the cushiest. The moon orbits the six planets and the city rotates to face them as it goes past and when Maggie is in the observation level at the highest point of the tower she uses the planets observation magnifiers to focus the good emotions on the planet, spreading them amongst the colonies. When she brought the Empire State back to life it wasn’t an accurate version of it but a hotchpotch of Bernice’s idea of it. Everybody is succeeding, ignoring the fact that everybody is contradicting each other. A long time ago Braxiatel paid an aesthetic an extremely rare talent to transform him into a crystallised lump of consciousness and he’s been hiding there for practically the whole of recorded history.

Audio Landscape: The story opens on a massive explosion that seems suck the blast back in and reverse! Burbling chatter, the bustle of the space port,

Standout Scene: Once Bernice has ingeniously figured out the real nature of the Empire State she realises there is only one person who can be the terrorist. It’s a bleak and inevitable ending and unexpectedly powerful.

Result: Bad things are brewing on the Collection, war seems inevitable between the Draconians and the Mim and Bernice is off trying to find an artefact that could save them all – Simon Guerrier has taken a weakening series and given it such a fantastic shot of adrenalin. It was a chore to get through the last season but I raced through this one such was the quality of the individual stories and my addiction to the ominous running narratives. And looking at the writers on board the next season looks like it could be even better. Eddie Robson cleverly weaves in scenes of Maggie and Rand that seem to have no relevance to the plot until you discover who was responsible for the terrorist act and it makes you want to go back and start the story again. The story opens with Benny (with super powers) standing in the resurrected city that should be in ruins and manages to find a highly engaging way of explaining it all. In some ways this does remind me of the earlier series with its economical cast forcing the writer to find surprising things about each character. Even the bar is ultimately important to the plot. The Empire States is Eddie Robson tossing out creative ideas like an imaginative firework and it might get confusing for some before the end but this is another Big Finish tale that it is worth figuring out to reap its rewards. The true nature of the stone is a genuine surprise: 8/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Oracle of Delphi written by Scott Handcock and directed by Ed Salt

What’s it about: 430 BCE. Greece is in turmoil: Athens is at war with the Spartans, the Athenian women possessed by a horrifying cult... and then Bernice Summerfield strolls into town. Benny's on a desperate mission to save the Braxiatel Collection, millennia in the future. But she's only gone and lost her husband - last seen skinny-dipping somewhere near Delphi. She needs help, and it comes in the shape of a talkative bloke called Socrates. Together they must find Jason, survive the fate awaiting Athens and ensure that the future is saved. But divine powers are at work in Ancient Greece. Powers the archaeological record neglected to mention...The Oracle will see you now

Archeological Adventuress: Only Bernice Summerfield can say with some degree of accuracy that Socrates hit on her once! She should no better than to warn an important figure like Socrates of the oncoming plague that is about to hit Peloponnese. Even when she tells him that it is written in the future and cannot be avoided it was still a massive gamble. Benny grumbles that you have to have a willy to vote these days which really gets up her nose so she heads to the all male assembly in a terrible disguise and a really gruff voice. Her bloke name is…Testicles! Bernice likes to think that the reason she was exposed as a lady was because of her potent feminine charms, fine figure, razor sharp intellect and pert bosoms when (as Socrates points out so succinctly) it was actually that she was a bit gobby. She’s told she’s a strong woman and exactly how women should be in the future. She learns that Braxiatel thinks she is important – just what part does she play in his future plans?

Jason (bloody) Kane: Unfortunately they are 2000 years from the nearest bottle of sun block! The irony is that Benny swears that Jason will get her killed one of these days when the truth of the matter is quite the reverse. Trust Jason to stick his nose into history rather than just keeping his gob shut – he suggests that they let the Spartans into Athens which the leaders take to be a brilliant idea. Let them in…and slaughter them! Jason has a habit of getting involved where he shouldn’t and Benny wonders if that was how they wound up marrying each other. He winds up the property of the Mistress Megaira which might sound like an appealing prospect but she finds his hangdog expression more wearisome by the day and cuffs him about a bit if he speaks up without permission. Socrates orders them away to fight their own war and tells Jason to protect Bernice and if necessary avenge her.

Standout Performance: I love it when one off performers come into a range like this one and are so effortlessly good that it feels as though they have always been around. Paul Shelley is a great example as Socrates, not an easy role to play but he pulls it off by acting like any other bloke on the street and a very sweet and polite (if occasionally randy) ally for Bernice.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Sorry, you’re just learning to be civilised…’
‘Bollocks!’ – the last thing I ever expected to hear Socrates say!
‘Haven’t you seen any of the tragedies? You can’t change fate!’
‘When did a democracy ignore half of its people?’

Great Ideas: Recently Lady Megaira has been welcomed into their community and she has set up a female only cult (one which many of the male folk would desire open access!). Female infiltrators cannot be allowed to destroy their peaceful democracy. Poor Socrates, first he thinks he’s in with a chance when Benny tells him she is after a man (turns out it is her husband) and then when he reveals that he only has one bed (so she asks where he is going to sleep then). Some philosophers get no luck. There is a war coming that will make their flap look like a scrap between two fluffy kittens and the only way Benny can stop that is to find the Oracle of Delphi and get the answer to a very simple question. The Plague kills everything it comes across (‘We’re screwed then’ says Socrates). Braxiatel is described as ‘the tall man who holds time itself in his hands. A God protecting you.’ Megaira is a Spartan spy whose father was killed by the Athenians and her and her mother were dragged off to entertain the troops. She found something out in the desert that gave her the power of prophecy, a smooth stone that when touched ripped through her eyes and ears. To see the future nearly killed her. Her ceremonial wine contains a vaccine that contains immunity against the plague – Megaira will ensure that her Sisterhood are given a voice when she is the only person who can save their lives. The question of a cure defeating an historical event is out of the question and Bernice suddenly realises why – its not a cure, its an inoculation. It only works on people who haven’t been infected.

Audio Landscape: Birdsong, bubbling brook, Bernice falling down a rubble strewn hillside falling apart, squeaky door, crackling fire, there are some hysterical and supernatural ceremonies amongst the Sisterhood, flies buzzing around a corpse and a dog whimpering, coughing.

Musical Cues: Every time there is a musical score that makes itself very apparent by being so memorable I look at the sleeve and nine times out of ten it is composed by David Darlington! He understands exactly what a story of plague prophecies and philosophical diatribes requires – bombastic, ominous music which suggests the horrors that are coming.

Standout Scene: A moment that came out of nowhere but really surprised me – Bernice realises that Jason is Megaira’s lapdog and as usual begins emasculating him until she realises that she has complete control over him. Megaira forces him to hold a knife to Benny’s throat and she begs him to let her live for her sons sake and pleads that she does love him. The way the tables are turned on Benny is unexpectedly powerful, how it twists to strip away all the bolshie pretence and get to her real feelings.

Result: One thing that I am very much in favour of is diversity within a series – I don’t mind a formula that a series adheres to as long as they try out different styles along the way. Series seven of Bernice Summerfield has really made an effort to show how far the format of the range extends and attempted some hard SF, a gothic mystery, a riotous parody of itself, a bawdy sex comedy and now it is an apocalyptic historical drama! Coming after a season of stories that were heard to tell apart this is the most refreshing change. The Oracle of Delphi is massively endearing to listen to and the mixture of modern day storytelling in an ancient setting proves to be a recipe for success for newcomer Scott Handcock. The relationship between Bernice and Socrates is strikingly written and it is terrific to experience the meeting of two great philosophers of their respective times coming together to solve this latest adventure. I love how this entire story has been written to set up the next one but manages to be a thoughtful, engaging story in its own right. There is a real impetus to this season that is extremely appealing, the writing is of a very high standard, the productions buoyed by some strong direction and atmospheric soundscapes and a running story which is slowly eking its way to the surface. Whatever changes Simon Guerrier made worked a charm and one of his strengths has been to bring in new writers to the fold and Scott Handcock is a great example. His eye for quirky dialogue and memorable characters is a gift and I’m pleased to see he will be writing for the ranges 12th season: 8/10

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Saturday, 23 July 2011

The Summer of Love written by Simon Guerrier and directed by Ed Salt

What’s it about: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the hottest summer on record and the last summer before the war. It was the one time Bernice Summerfield had a use for her otherwise useless boyfriend. But Jason Kane is away on the far side of the galaxy. The Braxiatel Collection has always been an odd place to live. A perfect replica of the Palace of Versailles, stuck on a smallish planetoid, hanging in a much disputed sort of space. The weather's all over the place, the neighbours gathering armaments… And now everyone's shagging like rabbits. Everyone except for Bernice

Archeological Adventuress: Peter is living with his father and Bev now because Bernice thought that he could do with the stability considering the hectic nature of her life. When Doggles suggests that he and Benny have a racy night in she thinks that he is taking the piss! He doesn’t wash, he’s insufferably rude and he spills things down his top all the time…and she was supposed to be flattered? He didn’t even offer dinner! She’s been thinking about the last year (Brax, Clarissa and Wolsey all gone) and the future too and she is starting to think that things didn’t work out the way they should. The first time she drank champagne was in the middle of a riot. When Bev tries to take charge Bernice reminds her that they got shot of Brax because he was manipulating them all and they don’t need anyone else doing it. Bernice can offer some rare and beautiful and much more exciting than a gangbang – the truth!

Jason (bloody) Kane: Jason and Benny are monogamous when they can be but they have been through too much in the past to take a totally pragmatic approach and she knows that if he plays away (which he inevitably will) he still loves her and will be coming home to her. Poor Jason, the one time when a sex virus hits the Collection and he is off world! Then when he does turn up all he wants to do is curl up with her and cuddle because he’s tired. I often forget that Jason is bisexual and he has apparently visited Hass in the past and tickled his fancy bits in some research for his alien pornography!

Brilliant Bev: She cannot recall a time when she was happier. She’s running the Collection now and in a relationship with Adrian – it’s the most stable she has been for a long time. When Adrian makes Bernice promises not to tell Bev that he has been shagging Doggles naturally the first thing she does is pop over for a gossip! Adrian’s is tearing himself up because it is Bev that he wants and having to resist other women is the hardest thing he has ever had to do. Adrian tries to tell Bev gently that despite her public persona they don’t want another Braxiatel.

Standout Performance: I was rather impressed by Sam Stevens’ handling of Doggles because the character as written is thoroughly unlikable and he doesn’t really do anything to change that. This is exactly how I would expect the dirty, slimy, horndog to sound like.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Whatever you were talking about you can share with the class. Come on, out with it!’ and Minko unzips his flies!
Adrian: ‘I don’t know what’s got into me Benny!’ Doggles: ‘I do!’
‘Watch out for the Gell Guards!’ is the end of a dream Bernice is having!

Great Ideas: Bernice gets to fly about inside one of Brax’s pocket universes where Hass goes to escape from everybody when he’s not tending to the gardens. The Draconians have put on their fighting shoes which is a very important mention for the next season. Even poor Joseph is infected with this amorous virus and tries to give Bernice a sensual massage in exactly the same method Jason uses (rubs your shoulders for five seconds before going exploring). Joseph and his drone mates have been recording all the sex and passing it on to the men folk of the Collection (don’t worry Bernice gives him a thorough purging!). Time jumps are buggering up the spread of the virus (‘Oh great I was nearly finished!” cries one person when his companion vanishes ‘Can someone finish me off?’). Unsurprisingly as soon as people start having it off with each other like rabbits the applications to leave the Collection (which were starting to worry Bev) cease. The Collection is pining without Brax and falling about at the seams – that’s what the time jumps are all about. Hass told Bev that the ground is literally breaking up beneath them and advised planting Simpson’s thinweed all over the place so it can tangle through the soil and keep them together. Hass accelerated the growth cycle because he didn’t know how long they had and the pollen that has been released in the air has made everybody as randy as rabbits!

Audio Landscape: Crickets, taking a shower, birdsong, heaving breathing with two students in the missionary position, fizzing champagne and tinkling glasses, lots of groaning and kissy noises, Joseph communicating with his fellows.

Isn’t it Odd: With Doggles and Adrian trying it on with Benny and the good Professor herself suggesting that she and Jason aren’t always faithful I started to wonder if I had stumbled into an episode of Torchwood – home of loose morality! Listening to Benny and Bev getting down to some heavy snogging really doesn’t appeal (don’t get too PC on me – the thought of Doggles and Adrian doesn’t exactly float my boat either!).

Standout Scene: Bernice finally gives in when she realises the antidote is going to take so long…and she chooses Doggles!

Notes: This is the first appearance of Doggles and Hass in the audio series. Doggles first appeared in the anthology Something Changed where he caused some damage to the timeline with history machine. He is a brilliant man but lacks social graces and has a particular penchant for a certain Professor Summerfield… Hass is the Martian gardener who has taken over from Mr Crofton who died during the Axis Occupation. In one of the alternative realities created by Doggles’ history machine he was turned into a Yesodi and when things returned to normal he retained that appearance. He now has to wear a pressure suit at all times but can come out of it in Brax’s secreted pocket universes. Bernice is still singing ‘butterflies and cake’ from the last story.

Result: Gay sex, straight sex, lesbian sex, alien sex, multi-generational sex…there’s certainly plenty of sex in The Summer of Love! Its odd that I have been clamouring for a story on the Collection and as soon as I get one it happens to be the weakest of the season. This is like an episode of Are Being Served where the staff of the Ladies and Gents Departments actually are talking about sex and wind up having an orgy in the Grace Brothers canteen! Its all a bit sleazy and puerile and like deciding to swallow leaves a bad taste in your mouth. I can understand what Simon Guerrier was getting at in penning this script; he’s trying to make the Collection a fun place to be but I’m not sure if adopting the lowest possible tone was the best idea. What really works is the emergence of ongoing regular characters from the novels that have been completely ignored in the audios so it is terrific to see Bev and Adrian’s relationship brought to light and Doggles and Hass make memorable first appearances. And once again Guerrier characterises Benny herself really well. The Summer of Love is a tawdry affair but it does have its moments. Lets have something with a bit more depth next time: 5/10

But it from Big Finish here:

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Worst Thing in the World written by Dave Stone and directed by Ed Salt

What’s it about: The Drome was set up with the best - or at least the most blatantly venal - of intentions. A self-contained planetoid-community, wired with microcams, designed to pump out product to the GalNet media-stream twenty-six hours a Galactic Standard Day. But now the Medium is rotting minds and turning them to murder. The machine is turning out brain-dead zombies, setting them to stumble through the twists and turns of some inhuman and unguessable plan - and Professor Bernice Summerfield, and her ex-husband Jason, are caught in the middle of it! Now Benny finds herself in a desperate fight for her life. A fight so desperate that she will be forced to do something she has never done before, a horror that she never imagined she could bring herself to commit. The worst thing in the world

Archeological Adventuress: Does she prefer things that are up her street or down her alley? Bernice has responsibilities now and cannot just go blundering off to investigate every murder that she happens to hear about. Benny was expecting the Drome to be something bigger and more impressive than it is. She hates meaningless soulless television that makes no sense and so she opts for a costume drama because nothing happens in those that you haven’t seen a thousand times before. This could be the only story where Benny could get away with the line ‘Time to be off investigating various plots and what-nots!’ as a parody of her own adventures!

Jason (bloody) Kane: Xenomorphic bondage slaves Part Thirty Seven is Jason’s latest holovid porn work of genius!

Standout Performance: All the performers acquit themselves wonderfully in the TV show parodies and it gives Lisa Bowerman and Stephen Fewell a chance to have great fun playing some very un-Benny’n’Jason roles.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘If all else fails we simply let the camera crews wander around and put out the footage as a fly on the wall docu-soap!’
‘You know I never knew that worms actually couldn’t cower.’
‘How could you even think that the worst and most product hungry cable channel would pick up something like that?’ – obviously Benny hasn’t spent much time channel hopping during her visits to the 20th Century!

Great Ideas: The opening gives us a snatch of the daytime soap Squatsaboullon Street and it seems that there is ‘drama’ out there that can manage more outrageous plot twists than Eastenders: ‘I’m having a baby! And it isn’t mine!’ Ex pop artist Mandy Tee talks about her new daughter Pixie Astroflash (somehow the Beckham’s naming their latest child Harper-Seven like some 2001 A Space Odyssey robot makes this celebrity piss take even funnier!) and her latest single is ‘Pumping out your baby of love!’ The Drome is a self contained ecosphere dedicated to holovid entertainment products in a concentrated form. Its an entire self contained community populated with performers and technicians under contract living in homes that can double up as sets – what an creatively appalling concept! The amount of slots to fill is phenomenal and there are so many opportunities to roll over the existing archive material (are you listening BBC?). We hear about shows as exciting as Frock and Fanny (a period drama) and Whose Stool Is This? A transputer system runs everything and the Drome in effect is just something for this awesome system to do – it could be the basis for the first true God grade artificial intelligence. Things are breaking down and the actors are taking their parts too far, in a Life on Mars parody the Gene Hunt character kicks the shit out of Jason and in the Pride and Prejudice style period piece the Darcy and Elisabeth Bennett characters literally rip each others clothes off and have full on penetrative sex! People in monsters costumes are actually becoming monsters and fake cables are becoming live! A cookery/gardening show reveals how you can make good use of dismembering somebody and using the various parts a ingredients and compost! The Infinity Division is still running but the production values haven’t improved over time as they’re going for the camp value and wobbly scenery sort of nostalgia! When a parody of a Bernice Summerfield adventure becomes a fly on the wall docudrama (‘Jason’s been stabbed!’) things are getting very clever indeed. Can you imagine anything more terrifying than the Feminist Lesbian Alliance Against Derogatory Stereotyping (or FLAADS for short)? A singularity hit the planet Earth in the 21st Century and radically altered the way the reality was perceived. The self enclosed nature of the Drome has replicated that process, reproduced those same condition in microcosm and something has taken control of that process. The actors and technicians are being fed subliminal messages and controlling them like puppets. Marvin is a sentient entity that has been getting creative and using his influence to control people, he is literally the first God grade artifical intelligence and he is living up to his function to provide entertainment even at the cost of human life. The story has to have an ending otherwise Marvin wont be satisfied and so Benny figures the best way to force a climax is…with a closing number! So just when you think the story is going devolve into a normal Bernice Summerfield adventure complete with slavering zombies she bursts into song! What would a parody of any Big Finish adventure be without a cameo from Gary Russell at the end! If you are exposed to too much television you never think that there is a wider world outside.

Audio Landscape: A shuttle landing, a chain saw, polite applause and rapturous applause!

Musical Cues: This story is less about the sound effects and more about the music which does far more to indicate the sort of genres we are switching to. David Darlington gets to have great fun creating a large number of theme tunes for the outrageous shows being shown on the Drome. His daytime soap theme is lift muzak in the extreme whereas the detective drama Wembley is pure 70s sleaze. Cod instrumental music opens the latest period drama and there is a xylophone and glockenspiel in evidence to open a patronising kids comedy. A clichéd alien b movie score introduces the retro sci-fi and an appalling jingle indicates the latest quiz show. Bombastic (almost militaristic) music kick starts a cultural affairs show (‘Does the portrayal of simplified characters on the holovid screen contribute to a rise in culture of dehumanisation?’).

Standout Scene and The Worst Thing In The World: It's the song that gets the most praise here too: a piece of horrific chirpiness that shatters your faith in humanity the first time you hear it and yet gets stuck in your head for WEEKS. Shockingly, after a couple of listens you start to enjoy it. Annoyingly, you start to sing it around work. People ask you why you keep singing a song about butterflies and cake. You lose friends. You spend your life in misery and despair. Thanks Dave. No I'm kidding... it's great. A truly shocking piece of entertainment. And God Bless Lisa Bowerman who sings it with such skilful enthusiasm.

‘Well I really have to say, as I wembed my weary way, through the world I find the going really hard…’
‘And that's the truth!’
‘All the people that I meet, filled with lies hate and deceit are forever trying to cheat with a marked card…’
‘Say it ain't so!’
‘But whenever I'm low and despair were to go, there's just one thing sure to pull me through…’
‘What's that then?’
‘With a little bit of luck and not a little perseverance there is something that anyone can dooo-ooooo’
‘Yes we're putting our face, in a happy place filled with butterflies and cake!’
‘(And cake!)’
‘Yes we're putting our face, in a happy place filled with butterflies and cake!’
‘(Yes Sir!)’
‘Faced with diseased rats and people puking in their hats... it's really not the kind of place to be! (No! No!)’
‘My advice, if you want to keep things nice and fill the world with jollity and glee!’
‘Yes we're putting our face, in a happy place filled with butterflies and cake!’
‘Yes we're putting our face, in a happy place filled with butterflies and cake!’
‘And if we're obliterous and just well kind of fluffy just think of the fun that we could make?’
‘And we're never gonna kill some poor sod with a big hammer 'cause you know just what we'll do’
‘Yes we're putting our face, in a happy place filled with butterflies and cake!’
‘Yes we're putting our face, in a happy place filled with butterflies and cake!’
‘Yes we're putting our face, in a happy, happy place!’
‘Yes we're putting our face, in a happy, happy, happy place!’
‘Yes we're putting our faaaa-aaaace, in a happy, happy, happy place!’
‘Yes we're putting our face, in a happy, happy, happy, happy plaaaaaaaacccccceeeeee!’

If you dare listen to the track, it can be found here:

Result: ‘I think we could all do with a fun adventure that doesn’t really relate to anything else!’ A welcome change of pace from the first two adventures and a scathing commentary on the sheer tediousness of the television media as it stands that just happens to be hysterically funny in the bargain. The concept behind the Drome is frighteningly prescient (can anybody say Welsh Drama Village?) as well just plain frightening, the actors are clearly having a riot and the parodies of various shows (and Stone’s commentaries on them) had me laughing my head off! It’s the best kind of comedy because its smart and it all leads up to Bernice grabbing a microphone and singing an unforgettable number that subdues some zombies and turns them all into backing dancers! The basic moral of the story is that people should be people and not plot functions within a fictional reality I cannot imagine a better moral than that! If this season continues with the sort of quality it has displayed so far it will be the strongest year for Bernice Summerfield yet. Go on, put yourself in a happy place filled with butterflies and cake: 9/10

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