Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Terror of the Zygons written by Robert Banks-Stewart and directed by Douglas Camfield

This story in a nutshell: Oil rigs are being smashed, doppelgangers are more dangerous than ever and there is a spaceship hidden beneath Loch Ness...

Teeth and Curls: Wow, what a transformation between Revenge of the Cybermen (where Tom seemed a little wobbly and unsure in the role) and this. By all accounts he received some feedback on his performance in the first season and flew off the handle at the comments (according to an interview with Nicholas Courtney). It seems to have put him in a massive grump and what materializes is the brooding, menacing fourth Doctor of seasons thirteen and fourteen. Perhaps the definitive fourth Doctor for most. He storms in on he Brigadier dressed up for the occasion, demanding answers and making a mockery of his investigation so far. The softly softly approach of the latter Pertwee tales has long past. It takes the Brigadier to remind him that men have died for him to stop being so curt and fatuous and get on with the job at hand. This is the story where Baker starts using his eyes as a weapon, several scenes feature him staring boggle eyed off camera, alien, unknowable thoughts racing through his head. Watch as the Doctor reveals his theory that the Prince Charlie oil rig has been torn apart by a set of giant molars that can chew through steel as easily as paper, he looks as terrifying and ominous as any of the villains he has ever faced. Rather than sympathising with Sarah when the air is sucked out of the room he tells her to shut up and save her breath. When he hypnotises her, the Doctor is the most frighteningly alien thing in this story. You can see everything coming together for Tom Baker's Doctor in the final episode as he shares moments of sarcasm and intensity with Broton. Suddenly this Doctor can mock his enemies and turn on a sixpence to absolute horror in a second. The switch of moods is effortless. The Doctor seems to blow the shit out of the Zygon spaceship because that is the way he rolls these days. And what an explosion it is.

Investigative Journalist: Is there anything more glorious than seeing the Doctor, Sarah and Harry walking out of the TARDIS? With this team you are guaranteed a good time, some fun banter and sense of camaraderie that you don't see with every set of regulars. It's especially nice that we have another minute of two of fresh material from the trio that has been unearthed and slipped back into the story on the DVD. You can see precisely why Sarah made such an excellent journalist, coaxing ghost stories out of Angus, grafting in front of a typewriter when she could be travelling through time and space and generally asking a lot of questions throughout the adventure and poking her nose in where it is not wanted. It almost gets her killed several times but that just makes the story all the more exciting for us. Watch the giggles between the Doctor an Sarah at the Brigadier's expense, there is such a depth of friendship between these two. There are too many times when I love Sarah Jane Smith during her tenure that it would take me a day or so to list them all but they can be epitomised in her scenes at the castle where she dumped by the Doctor and forced to rifle through dusty shelves. She's sardonic, witty, insightful, inquisitive and displays bags of personality. These could be the most tedious of scenes but with Sarah on the case that was never on the books (poking her tongue out at Caber is glorious). Even better are her moments with Harry; affectionate, hilarious and natural.

I Say: What a shame for Harry to depart on the story that gives him some of his best material. Whilst I wouldn't do anything to change the period that the Doctor and Sarah spent alone (there are few runs for a Doctor/companion team than match what takes place between Planet of Evil - The Hand of Fear), I do wish we could have enjoyed some more time with Harry all the same. The bumbling fool of The Ark in Space has all but vanished and he has been replaced with a thoroughly reliable, professional, good-humoured chap to look after the Doctor and Sarah. Back on Earth (he hasn't been home since Robot) his skills as a Doctor are useful again and he gets straight back to work as though he had never been away. After playing the bumbling simpleton for a year, who knew that Ian Marter had it in him to turn Harry into such a threatening character? It makes you wonder that we might have been denied a lot of the potential of this actor when he can deliver something this terrorizing when called upon. I was sad to see him go but his departure does seem like something of an anti-climax. When an irritating little squit like Adric can gain immortality with a death that put him in the history books it seems unfair that Harry should depart with a quick one liner and then return a few stories later for an even more ignominious departure in The Android Invasion.

Chap with Wings: Proud of his Scottish heritage, the Brigadier sports a very fetching kilt. Under Camfield's watchful eye the bumbling, comical figure from Planet of the Spiders and Robot is gone and replaced once again with an assured, authoritative figure. Whilst it is always nice to see Courtney playing the part with a twinkle in his eye we haven't seen him this focussed and confident since The Daemons (with the exceptional of The Green Death, possibly). Just as Harry is about to get to the truth of what has happened to the rig he is shot and left for dead by the Caber, a shocking act that really highlights the difference between Letts' and Hinchliffe's approach. Under the previous administration it would have been made perfectly clear that Harry was okay but with a scalp wound leaking blood we are left hanging as to the nature of his fate. His reaction to an off screen Zygon is one of horror and hysteria - it is a great moment because we have yet to see one of the creatures and this truly suggests they are a grisly sight. I love the Brig sympathising with the Duke over his scepticism, it reminds us of how far he has come in his time on the show. His stiff upper lip in the face of the (female) Prime Minister is another golden moment for the character. Nick Courtney wasn't always given the best of material to play but he made the most of every single moment on the show. I'm pleased that in his last regular appearance he was treated to such wonderful scenes.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Oil an emergency, hah! It's about time you realised that reliance on a chemical slime just doesn't make sense!'
'It suddenly came at us and smashed the rig to pieces...'
'You have to come out on the balcony and wave a tentacle, if you'll pardon the expression.'

The Good:
*   I was very struck by the quality of the modelwork in this story, especially during the dynamic opening sequence where the oil rig is smashed to pieces by an unknown aggressor. The shot of the rig blowing against the silhouette of the moon is especially dramatic. Douglas Camfield knows how to drag you into the action and just over a minute into the story I am already hooked.
*   Proof if ever it was needed that parts of Scotland look very much like parts of the rest of Britain as Camfield shoots his story in parts of Sussex and it convincingly doubles for it. He's renowned for his exceptional location work (stories such as The Invasion and Inferno are given a huge boost thanks to his action on film) and Terror of the Zygons might be the best example yet of the atmosphere and filmic scale that Camfield can bring to a shoot. Shots of the rig worker being washed ashore are very effective; the sun glistening on the sea as at gathers around the victim, stumbling to his feet as he tries to make it to the shore. The sequence where Harry discovers him and is shot down by the Caber takes place almost entirely without dialogue, expertly told through visuals. The pace and realism that Hinchcliffe wanted to bring to the show is in full swing now, we haven't witnessed action sequences quite this graphic and well paced since Inferno (tellingly Camfield's last stint on the show although to be fair season seven is full of gripping action).
*   It is not so much subverting cliché when Camfield takes some well worn material and makes it work. It's more like watching a magician at work, treating the material so seriously that something as corny as Angus telling an old wife's tale of missing boys on the moor becomes chilling, especially when it is intercut with shots of a Zygon's eyes observing their conversation. Camfield can build an atmosphere like no other and he can toss in all kinds of clichés to pull it off.
*   In another directors hands the Zygons spaceship would still be an exciting piece of design work but filmed without it care its organic detail would be wasted. Camfield wastes no time getting up close on the fleshy technology, featuring cross fades of the creatures fondling the protuberances and revealing that we have never seen anything like this pulsing, breathing equipment before. The veins that run through the scanner screen are novel too. It feels like the designer and the director are completely in sync with each other and know exactly what look they are going for with the Zygons and their spaceship. There have been impressive monster costumes in Doctor Who before (the Mutants, the Draconians) but we've never seen anything quite like the Zygons before. So bizarre looking and yet so scary, they are a unique creation and it astonishes me that it took as long as it did for them to make a return appearance. Such attention to detail is evident; the veins threading through the skin, a segmented face, fluid glistening on the flesh, pustules and suckers that spread the length of their body. Not only is the design superb but the direction adds so much to their effect, the whispering voices in particular going against what you might expect from a creature this grotesque. Their raison d'etre, the fact that they can steal your identity and infiltrate your life, is especially chilling and used to menacing effect throughout the story. You don't know who you can trust when anybody could be a Zygon replica. The icing on the cake (this shows you how spectacular the creatures are realised because the performance is often what sells the aliens in Doctor Who, it is rarely the finishing touch on something so perfectly brought to life) is John Woodnut's stunning turn as Broton, not a bog standard alien character but a character in his own right. He's petulant, sinister, humorous, aggressive, twisted and thoughtful. The Zygons really are as good as it gets when it comes to Doctor Who monsters.

*   I have mentioned before that there are individual episodes of Doctor Who that can be held up as an example of the show at it's absolute best, even when the story at large has some faults. The Invasion seven. Inferno six. The Daemons four. Caves of Androzani four. Terror of the Zygons episode one can be comfortably added to that list; thick with atmosphere and chills, a great mystery, the introduction of shocking aliens and packed to the gills with great characters and dialogue (it is also before the Skarasen turns up and reminds us this good old Doctor Who). You will not see a better example of how to build to a cliffhanger in this person than the Zygon assault on Sarah and Harry at the cliffhanger.
* Hauntingly evocative and eerily beautiful, we have never heard anything quite like Geoffrey Burgeon's score before. Listen to the screaming stings as Harry attacks Sarah with a fork or the violin plucks as the Skarasen emerges over the moors. I have the soundtrack to Terror of the Zygons and The Seeds of Doom (also by Burgeon) and have listened to it ad nauseum and wept for the fact that he never had the chance to score any more stories beyond Camfield's participation (or lack of) in the show.

The Bad: The Skarasen has come in for a lot of flack in the past but the truth of the matter is that there are far worse Doctor Who monsters out there. It is simply that highlighted against the success of the rest of the production it fails to meet the same standards. As a stop motion creature it does everything it is supposed to do. The problem is that whilst they had a success in the cinema before the advent of more impressive visual effects, stop motion animation isn't a particularly convincing method of realising a titanic creature like the Skarasen. Douglas Camfield uses lots of techniques to try and make the cumbersome lummox of a dinosaur work, including POV shots, melding the animation with live action and CSO but he is fighting against some pretty ropey animation in the first place and cannot overcome the odds. I dread to think how this would have looked in the hands of a lesser director. It is a good thing that Broton is on the rampage in the final set piece at the Energy Conference otherwise we would be relying on the glove puppet Skarasen popping his head up the Thames in a particularly unimpressive climax.

The Shallow Bit: Check out Ian Marter's arse as he climbs the ladder in the barn. Phewie!

Result: Terror of the Zygons was the first Doctor Who story to seriously frighten me. I first became a fan at six years old when my friend Paul who lived two doors down started telling me a lot of the backstory of this insanely exciting show. The first video I had bought for my by my mother was Death to the Daleks (another reason it holds such an affectionate place in my heart despite being a bit rubbish in places) but the next was Terror of the Zygons. I can still remember watching it sitting on the carpet at my mums feet as she fell asleep in the chair on a winters night - it was the afternoon and it was dark early. I devoured all four episodes, alone and terrified and riveted to the spot. I had never been allowed to watch anything quite like it before, something this terrifying and bizarre. Moments that stood out for me as being particularly terrorizing were: Sister Lamont and her crazy eyes and the dark blood that runs down her arm, Harry's murderous eyes as he waits in the darkness of the barn to skewer Sarah, the intense weirdness of the Zygon technology being fondled and groped by sticky, webbed hands, Tom Baker's sibilant performance as he hypnotises Sarah, the swivelling deer eyes watching all in the pub, that insidious feeling that nobody can be trusted, the dying shriek of the UNIT soldier who is strangled to death at the conference and Tom Baker's piercing scream as he is electrocuted. Even the Skarasen's snapping jaws and unearthly roars were intimidating to an eight year old. Doctor Who had been handed to me as a show with so much potential but never in a million years did I imagine it could be so fearsome. It went from a mild curiosity to an addiction across these four episodes and I was soon begging for more videos (and despite the extortionate price, my mum soon relented). I wanted to capture that feeling of terror and that I was doing something naughty watching the show again and found across the Hinchcliffe years in particular that that hunger was satisfied. Some Doctor Who fans will tell you that this story is a load of old wank, comprised of hoary old clichés and stereotypes but for that eight year old boy it was the gateway to world of so much excitement and terror. Even as an adult as I pick apart the production and story there is a manifest of things to enjoy; terrific dialogue, warm interaction between the characters, a stunningly atmospheric score, ample evocative location work, shock moments, effective model work and a great cast of regulars. If you were looking for the quintessentially excellent Doctor Who story, I think you might have found it. It even has a rubbish monster thrown in too which in some strange way makes a very good story absolutely perfect: 10/10

The Caves of Androzani written by Robert Holmes and directed by Graeme Harper

This story in a nutshell: The only story where the Doctor is trying to make no impact whatsoever and as a consequence makes the biggest impact of all...

Fair Fellow: Doesn’t it make you mad that this is how good the fifth Doctor could have been throughout his tenure? One of my biggest complaints about Davison was that on his less impressive stories he look as though he had just given up, stories such as Terminus, Arc of Infinity, The Kings Demons and Time-Flight (how it pleases me that I have reviewed three of these four!) he walks through like something of a beige blur. Colin Baker, bless his very few stories, at least made every story count because he convinces that there is something truly dramatic happening. Here the fifth Doctor is a fascinating character throughout and Davison gives his most compelling performance in the series. He’s simply extraordinary to watch. The Doctor is observant, intelligent and not a pain. Did he get a merit badge for tracking when he was in the scouts? ‘It's probably quite harmless’ – hah, not if you want to turn into Colin Baker! Despite his walk through some very dark stories in his final season it still feels wrong for the amiable fifth Doctor to walk into a room and discover a consignment of gas bombs; its like a collision of two worlds, the joyful wandering fifth Doctor and the filth of the universe. He’s sarcastic (‘Well done sir’) but as soon as he is aware of the dangers he becomes fiercely angry and focused. I adore the painful look he gives Peri when she states the obvious. Davison’s blazing eyed protestations give him a lovely glow, an inner fire that we so rarely get a chance to see. He doesn’t find any form of death enticing. Curiosity has always been his downfall and he apologies to Peri for getting her into this mess. There’s a blissful moment of arrogance when Sharaz Jek admits the sight of beauty is so important to him and the Doctor gets right in his face. He is appalled that Jek suggests his intelligence is equal to his own, the very idea. What a suicidal nutter, he walks in front of an armed android playing the odds. When the Doctor is casually grazed by a bullet it feels deadly serious because the atmosphere of paranoia and death has been so expertly rammed down the viewers throat. Because Doctor Who doesn't hurt its characters like this normally it feels as though anything can happen. The torture continues with the Doctor almost having his arms torn from their sockets. The Doctor asks to be left to die. He is always on the periphery of the story, slowly dying, mistaken for a gun runner, a government spy and a presidential mole, never before has carefree wandering felt so dangerous. This is a desperate man on the run trying to save his friend. The Doctor’s insane recklessness crashing the ship into the planet is a deservedly celebrated cliffhanger. It's touching how enemies Sharaz Jek and the Doctor work together to save Peri’s life. His victory is saving his friends life at the cost of his own. It warms your heart that he is comforted by his friends on his deathbed and chills you that the Master turns up just before he changes to taunt him. It’s possibly Colin Baker’s finest minute in the TARDIS where he gets to be witty, charismatic, a total slap in the face. 

Busty Babe: Remember what I said about Peri being able to surprise you in a way Ace never could? In Caves of Androzani she is the best companion we have ever had, pivotal to the drama, important to the two lead characters and the reason the Doctor regenerates. It is very odd to see the fifth Doctor getting on so well with his companion, after the abrasiveness of Tegan for nearly three seasons (here’s a hankie if you want to weep) and it is thrilling to have somebody who finally compliments him rather than simply butting heads with him for no reason. Some part of me wishes we could have reversed the situation and had Peri throughout the Davison era and Tegan throughout the Baker era. In In a Fix with the Sontarans Tegan compliments the sixth Doctor extremely well because she is strong enough to out shout him and it makes him softer as a result. I love Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant together but it does make you think. Sarcasm is not her strong point. She is the first person to ask about the celery in his lapel rather than accepting it as a quirk of eccentric behaviour. Whilst it would become the norm next season it was quite unusual to have a companion lusted after quite so violently and this is probably the best example of how chilling it can be. Jek’s advances truly frighten Peri, he plays with her hair and touches her, it is such intense lust its practically psychological rape. In the later episodes Peri looks really ill and tired – it really is a frightening introduction to the Doctor’s travels. We are treated to the best every companion scream where Peri unleashes her horror at Jek’s features, it is a scream loaded with meaning. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The public want their Spectrox, Morgus…’
‘Do you want to know why? You? With your fair skin and features. D’you want to see the face under here? DO YOU!?’
‘Your excellency’s safety is my soul concern…’
‘Is this death?’

The Good Stuff: The approach to Androzani, the TARDIS landing on the foggy sands, the voiceover, the long shot with the mountains in the distance…this story makes an instant impression. The camera tracks the Doctor and Peri from behind the sand dunes giving a simple dialogue scene a real sense of pace. The Doctor and Peri are both brought to the edge of death by Spectrox which Peri falls into and he touches before they even enter the plot, it's such a casual accidental moment. Morgus’ direct addresses to the camera are very dramatic, even if they were a complete fluke. John Normington is perfect for the role, delivering quiet menace and an almost robotic, detached delivery. His is the voice of a schemer who is willing to waste lives in order to stay in power. Death under the red cloth is a military procedure that sees your ashes wrapped in the red cloth of execution and disposed of as per your instructions. It's a detail that tells you all you need to know about this time period. Androzani is such a beautifully fleshed out world (Holmes at his best), steeped in politics and violence and the story is pitched at such a serious level it feels like a real place. Milky Spectrox holds back age, it’s a terrifying restorative that acts as a catalyst for war. I love the blink and you’ll miss it solution to the end of part ones cliffhanger as the android slides in behind the Doctor and Peri’s cell. Graeme Harper is one to watch, directors on Doctor Who during this period aren't usually this savvy. The Doctor and Peri being gunned down in a hail of bullets is the shows best ‘how they fuck are they going to get out of that?’ moment. Morgus is closing plants in the west and opening them in the east and forcing unemployed labour, an expolitative move that has more impact in this day and age of political evasiveness and cynicism than ever. Poor Ensign Cass is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Has Doctor Who ever been as darkly violent as the scene where Krelper is taken to the edge of a mountainous precipice by knifepoint and forced to swallow a suicide pill? You wouldn't want Doctor Who to be like this every week but every now and again it is good to see how far the envelope can be pushed. Jek is an unstable psychotic character but is afforded real depth by Christopher Gable who makes this revenge drama something special. Like Enemy of the World this is the story of two men and their pathetic rivalry and all the innocents that are dragged into the wake of their conflict. Morgus’ half-minute silence for the men he had killed tells you everything you need to know about this evil bastard. Robert Glenister’s dual roles are dramatically contrasted; one a cold eyed icily logical android and the other hysterical, half deranged soldier. To show how much Graeme Harper cares about his debut he even manages to coax a decent score out of Roger Limb who poisoned most of season 20. The androids are typical of Androzani’s simplistic yet frightening design. Harper employs some dizzyingly dramatic handheld camerawork and striking silhouette lighting. The sight of the burning android is unforgettable. I’ve always loved doppelganger stories and Androzani goes one better by letting the duplicate not be one of the regulars (I love the super creepy moment where android Salateen stares through the wall at the real Salateen silencing Peri). Morgus shoves the President down a lift shaft after warning him that his life could potentially be in danger – is there no depths this bastard wont sink to (‘Have the lift engineer shot’). Gable plays Jek’s torment so well you get a real chance to understand his previous existence as a privileged, self-important fellow who mixed with the highest in the land. Scenes of the Doctor dodging bullets amongst the sand dunes are the most exciting action the classic series gave us; it really feels as though he is on the run for his life and it is breathlessly exciting. Salateen being blown backwards by bullets is so brutally casual it comes as a total shock. Has a final episode every felt this dramatic and climactic before? Chellak’s reaction to Jek’s face and his death by mud burst do not disappoint, you might need to pause for a moment to get your breath back. Krau Timmin smugly deposing Morgus is the one moment of justice in all this sickness but even she fails to display any heroic qualities. She's as exploitative as everybody else. A bell tolls towards the end of episode four, signalling an important death. Holmes saves the reveal of Jek’s face for the momentous confrontation between him and Morgus, which could only end with both characters reaching a painful end. Returning to the TARDIS has never felt so vital, so desperate. The regeneration is visually dramatic which is nice after the off screen one in The War Games, the gentle transformation in Planet of Spiders and the spellbinding merging in Logopolis. 

The Bad Stuff: The TV remote is really obvious; you can see the volume and brightness symbols. A shame the view outside Morgus’ window looks so flat but I appreciate they were suggesting his status by having him work so far above the city. The Magma creature spoils an otherwise flawlessly realised story.

The Shallow Bit: Poor Peter Davison upstaged in his moment of glory by Nicola Bryant’s incredible attributes. 

Result: Climaxing the fifth Doctor’s era with style, this is Doctor Who at its most devastating, violent and dramatic. Caves of Androzani is the most powerful classic Doctor Who story and features Robert Holmes’ tightest script with razor sharp characters, a frantic pace, dialogue bristling with confidence and a stunningly satisfying last episode. Graeme Harper makes it his personal mission to make this story as stylish and dynamic as possible and he kicks off his astonishing run of stories with blissfully high production values. The highest praise needs to go to Davison though and he takes hold of this awesome opportunity to show his audience everything he was capable of. He’s astonishingly good. This has been touted as the best Doctor Who story of all time and whilst there are a handful I would say are personal favourites it is so good I can completely buy into its reputation. Another example of how blisteringly good eighties Who could be when it pulled out all the stops:10/10

Monday, 30 March 2015

Big Finish licence renewed until 2020! More great stories...spin offs!

Bernice Summerfield:

Oh No It Isn't!: A delightful introduction to the world of Bernice Summerfield on audio. This is still one of my most listened to audios (along with The One Doctor, surprisingly…what do those two have in common?) because it cheers me up every time I listen to it. You have a fantastic cast who are clearly having the time of their lives with the witty, imaginative script and that enjoyment extends to the audience in waves. Paul Cornell has written a surprisingly thoughtful discourse on the nature of pantomime, looking at its conventions and (lack of) imaginative limitations whilst making us laugh until our sides hurt at the same time. Jac Rayner has cleverly taken all the best bits of the book and cut away all the flabby padding. The best fiction is clever, thoughtful and thoroughly entertaining and Oh No It Isn’t! scores on all three. At the heart of this play is Lisa Bowerman playing Bernice as we always imagined her to sound, funny and sweet, commanding and flawed, entertaining and easy on the ear. She has that Tom Baker ability of making any dialogue sound utterly convincing. Very few Doctor Who stories have given me as much pleasure as this one.

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/02/oh-no-it-isnt-written-by-paul-cornell.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/11-Bernice-Summerfield-Oh-No-it-Isnt!

Just War: Hard-hitting and dramatic, if you have any doubt that the Bernice Summerfield series could not deliver the goods than go and listen to this story now. What you have here is a polished script written with drive and bursting with great character scenes and a director who allows the story room to breathe at a relaxed pace to bring out some extraordinary performances from his cast. Bowerman and Fewell do their best work from series one here, Benny and Jason have never felt more like real people and their reunion never more touching. The stifling atmosphere never lets up and the story manages to sell the idea that the Nazi’s might win the war, one of the most hackneyed ideas ever. On audio this is a superb production, never letting you forget where we are and what it means. I’ve heard this story ten times and every time I have come away astonished at how good it is. Extremely scary in places.

Full review here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/02/just-war-written-by-lance-parkin.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/15-Bernice-Summerfield-Just-War

Death and the Daleks: An epic, personal, unforgettable finale bringing together four seasons worth of audios, countless novels and assembling the impressive cast of the Bernice series and giving them all great material. The idea of kicking off this story with the gripping anthology Life During Wartime is inspired, giving the situation a great deal of depth as a novel before rounding off the story with numerous surprises as an exciting audio. There are lots of wonderful kisses to the past but Paul Cornell also manages to cement the latest develops in Bernice’s life as something that is unmissable. There is a wonderful drive to the story and no easy answers and lots of intriguing character threads to picked up in later stories. One of the highpoints in the Bernice Summerfield range.

The Judas Gift: Events on the Collection have not been this enthralling since Death and the Daleks and Nick Wallace taps it’s a rich seam of characterisation that sees Bev, Adrian, Brax and Benny getting some of their best ever moments. The Draconian/Mim conflict has been building for some time and now it explodes into warfare and the Collection finds itself in the middle trying to stay in one piece. We’ll be saying goodbye to the Collection at the end of the this season and it is fitting that its best storyline was saved for last. Everything that is great about this series comes into play – the regulars are on top form (Bev’s history allows the Draconians to gain a foothold on the Collection) and treated to some scorching dialogue, there is an intriguing archaeological mystery to solve, the universe building is first class and the running storyline is given some dramatic momentum with some heart-in-mouth twists forcing developments. If you are invested in these characters and this universe, The Judas Gift is about as riveting as it comes.

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/10/judas-gift-written-by-nick-wallace-and.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/82-Bernice-Summerfield-The-Judas-Gift

Jason Kane: The End of the World: Dave Stone is another standout writer in the Bernice Summerfield range and here he does the audience a huge service by intelligently tying up years of plotting into Jason’s investigations of Braxiatel. It is entirely appropriate that the Jason’s creator should write his final story and tie in lots of continuity that has weaved in and out of his story over the years and remind us just how far he has come. This is the point of no return for Braxiatel – he has lied, manipulated and cheated his friends but murdering Jason because he has gotten to close to the truth is one kick in the gut too far for Bernice and Brax has stepped over the line from uneasy ally to enemy. And the fireworks haven’t even begun because she doesn’t know…yet. This is a beautifully written piece and that sees Jason at his intellectual and emotional best and allows Stephen Fewell to give one last, triumphant, performance. Lisa Bowerman’s direction is sublime because she understands that this piece needs to be all about Jason and so she strips away any sound effects during Fewell’s monologues to give them maximum impact. The last scene of this play is one of the most vital moments in any Big Finish production and I was slack jawed throughout as all the answers came spilling out of Braxiatel’s mouth. Spellbinding drama and the end of a very important chapter in Benny’s life.

Ressurecting the Past: ‘We’re changing the future…’ Exciting, epic and bringing so much of the last ten years of adventures up to date and relevant again, Resurrecting the Past had a massive amount to achieve and it succeeds in pretty much all of its goals. You might think that this would wind up being a box ticking exercise but this is anything but. We’re planet hopping, privy to Braxiatel’s machinations, dodging BPM’s, reunited with this ranges brilliant cast and introduced to a spanking new menace. It has that wonderfully dizzying Army of Ghosts/The Stolen Earth/The Pandorica Opens feel of pulling together many narrative threads into a cohesive and fulfilling opening act of a finale without any of the messy business of having to tie it all up at the end. The pace is relentless and its such a joy to be in the midst of adventure with Adrian, Bev, Hass, Joseph and all the others. I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t missed them all. Robson very cleverly manuveres everybody into a position so the plot can finally be spelt out but via three different speakers so Brax, Doggles and Robyn it feels less like exposition and more like an exquisite masterplan that is reaching fruition. The story is also injected with real wit and creativity and the cliffhanger promises exciting things to come. On every level this is the Bernice Summerfield range firing on all cylinders, aiming high and shooting off into the stratosphere. I’m foaming at the mouth for the conclusion.

Escaping the Future: ‘Bernice your brilliance has cleaned up my mess admirably. You have been remarkable…’ Unpredictable and seeded with great ideas, the conclusion to this two hour blockbuster wasn’t at all what I was expecting and is all the better for it. What’s great about Escaping the Future is that it doesn’t go down the obvious path of telling a war story (the anthology Present Danger has already filled a lot of the messy, violent blanks during the Deindum invasion plus we have already explored a war setting on the Collection in the Life During Wartime/Death and the Daleks double bill and it was hardly going to better that) but instead uses its time to spoil us with long overdue confrontations, the joy of seeing enemies turn into allies and experience this team working together to create a plan of monumental importance to defeat the Deindum. What I thought was going to be a depressingly shallow combat tale instead becomes a hugely imaginative and triumphant piece about these characters we have come to know and love triumphing against all the odds even at the cost of their lives. There’s exciting moments (missile alert!), performance pieces (the riveting Bernice/Braxiatel confrontation which sees Bowerman and Richardson at their best) and a real atmosphere of doom as the entire population of the Collection try and provoke a conflict between two evolutionary stages of the same race and manipulate the timelines. They are literally playing God. It’s a story where Bernice gets to scrub an entire war out of history (it might be one that could have been avoided but that is a moot point now since it has happened) and even as she puts her plan in motion she understands (as do we) that it will mean consequences. Consequences for her and consequences for the range. This two parter has been triumph in both re-igniting interest in the series and polishing off over ten seasons worth of storytelling. It has managed to be epic and intimate, exciting and involving, clever and creative. Its all the things I have come to expect from this range at its best with the added excitement of knocking down the house of cards once and for all. Who knows what the future will hold but at least we had the chance to play with all these wonderful toys one last time. The last scene is brilliantly climactic and unforgettable.

The Bellova Doll: Alan Barnes has written an extremely intelligent script which cleverly takes a supernatural premise of a man rising from the grave and then plots a story with cunning details that convinces the reader it is genuinely so before revealing how we have been hoodwinked with a magicians flourish. Much like The Mahogany Murderers the pair of intrepid investigations regale us with their individual but equally compelling tales, they approach storytelling from very different angles but together make a very fulsome tale. The direction is faultless, never shying away from the terrifying reality of the Club and its member’s deception and the production values continue to shine (especially the music which really gives these stories a style of their own). The Bellova Doll provides an hour of shocks and thrills and another exemplary piece of entertainment with our two chums.

The Theatre of Dreams: Innovative and unpredictable, Theatre of Dreams is a surreal and inventive piece of character drama that kept me guessing until the last scene. Its brilliant to be able to explore Jago & Litefoot’s dreams and nightmares because it allows us to get even closer to the characters. Jonathan Morris deconstructs the reality of theatre and makes insightful observations on the nature of dreams. It’s the standout story of this consistently excellent season and the best the series has been since The Bellova Doll. Expertly put together by Lisa Bowerman who keeps things gripping and unreliable whilst guiding us to the truth with some judicious editing. Subversive storytelling at its best, Theatre of Dreams is packed with great imagery and is one of the most audacious audio productions Big Finish have released. 

Beautiful Things: Beautiful Things is an example of business as usual in the world of Jago & Litefoot but I don’t mean that in a negative way because this is about as perfect a representation of this series as you could find. It’s a gorgeous homage to The Picture of Dorian Grey which starts out resembling the SJS audio The TAO Connection (a sick man, his male companion and young men dying by supernatural means) but soon becomes an enthralling mixture of labyrinthine concepts and artistic criticism with some delicious Sapphire and Steel ideas thrown in for good measure. What makes this so Mary Poppins (that’s practically perfect in every way) is that the essentials of this series are so strong and well realised by writer John Dorney they simply add the finishing touches of sublimity to an already sensational script. You’ve got the joyous coming together of Jago and Oscar Wilde, Claudius Dark making his presence felt more keenly, Leela continuing to shine in this setting with her animal instincts at their sharpest and Litefoot back to his investigative ways showing off his deductive skills and brilliance. The dialogue throughout is acuminous, the interplay between all the characters had me howling with laughter and imagination that has gone into creating library that eats peoples imaginations has to be applauded. The inclusion of Wilde ensures there are some intelligent comments about his work and reminds us that this period of history had its own memorably famous characters – I wonder which one the intrepid investigators will look up next? It’s a confident, polished production that could happily have slipped into any of the first three seasons with a little tweaking but that isn’t a bad thing. Thisisn’t generic Jago & Litefoot and yet Beautiful Things is the epitome of why the series continues to shine.

Point of Entry: Wow. Astonishingly mature storytelling and the pinnacle of the lost stories season; Point of Entry combines theatrics and devilry to create an unsettling, dark mood with moments of genuinely chilling horror. This is the story of Marlowe bewitched by the Devil, looking for a sinister muse to shape Faustus and bringing an alien menace to fruition that is laced into Earth’s bloody history. Marc Platt has written his best script yet, an ominous historical atmosphere of storms, screams and sacrifices and John Ainsworth direction offers moments of spine chilling terror. Barbara Clegg’s pitch was the perfect change of scene for this science fiction heavy season and gives Peri her best material yet. People have bemoaned that this story is too long but I wouldn’t lose one second of its brooding piquancy.

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/02/point-of-entry-written-by-marc-platt.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/106-Doctor-Who-Point-of-Entry

Farewell Great Macedon: A great loss to the TV series but a huge gain to The Lost Stories range, Farewell Great Macedon is a stunning six-part epic that only the format less Hartnell era would attempt. Like Marco Polo the story takes place on an impress canvas with months passing during the episodes and visiting some extraordinarily vivid locations. A huge round of applause should go to William Russell, Carole Ann Ford and John Dorney without whom this blistering tale would not be brought to life so vigorously and the mixture of narrators (I especially love how scenes are cut up dramatically with different voices) makes this a heady, memorable experience. I just happen to find the Hartnell historicals the pinnacle of Doctor Who’s televised achievements so this feels as though it has been made specifically for my tastes. The regulars are treated to some great material, the Doctor is grumpy, morally ambiguous and gets the wonderful sequence of walking on hot coals, Barbara enthuses about being able to experience history and enjoys a strong and affecting relationship with Alexander, Ian is the picture of bravery and protects his friends to the nth degree and Susan emotes like an emotional firework. Lisa Bowerman has been one of the standout directors to have emerged from Big Finish in the past few years (A Thousand Tiny Wings, Jago & Litefoot) but her work on this story is nothing short of masterful. She extracts all the sensuality and emotion from the script and encourages the blissful performances of the cast. Her work should be recognised for its incredible consistency and quality. Honestly at some points during this story you will think you are listening to a wiped story recording, that’s how authentic it feels.


A Blind Eye: How could Alan Barnes and Gary Russell be responsible for perhaps the greatest travesty in the Doctor Who canon (yeah you know I’m talking about) and then follow it up with something as intelligent, clever, twisted and heartbreakingly climatic as this? It beggars belief! A Blind Eye ends a nourishing first year of Gallifrey on a real high dishing out brilliant twists that prove how intricately this season has been plotted. What’s more it gives Lalla Ward, Louise Jameson and India Fisher the chance to really impress with some top dramatic material. I’ve always thought there was a great story waiting to be told in the Doctor Who universe set on a moving train and it proves to be as atmospheric as I imagined. I loved the spoilt bitch fascist Sissy Pollard. I loved the timey wimey madness with the two Torvald’s. I loved Romana’s bossy, angry tirade. And I really loved the truth about Andred. I was gripped from the first moment to the last.

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/09/gallifrey-blind-eye-written-by-alan.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/14-Gallifrey-A-Blind-Eye

Renaissance: A fascinating listen and pretty much everything I have wanted since the end of series three. Renaissance provides a foothold back onto Gallifrey Prime in a way that keeps everybody happy; those who wanted the series to pick up after series three can pretend that series four and five never happened because that is pretty much what this story does. And yet those who did like the two interim seasons have their faith justified because we witness the devastation on Gallifrey Prime and see that it was absolutely necessary to leave for a time to escape a terrifying fate. Win/win. James Goss is rapidly becoming one of my favourite of the current Big Finish contributors because he seems to understand the audio medium perfectly, that this is a world of dialogue (of which he has a good ear for memorable lines) and ideas (his imagination seems to be boundless). These were always Gallifrey’s strengths as well so handing him this assignment seems to have been the perfect union of series and author. Justin Richards is the other perfect Gallifrey writer, a man whose creative juices have been flowing in the Whoniverse for nearly two decades and guess who is writing the finale? Goss also understands that we cannot have an emotional connection to the concepts without relationships that appeal, excite and frustrate and characterisation is tops too. Leela and Romana haven’t been written this well in many years. Renaissance is the first opportunity to experience the new Romana that Big Finish are introducing and I am pleased to report she is a delight. Freshly played by Juliet Landau and hugely different from her predecessors, Romana III is a tactile and slightly kooky incarnation and all the more intriguing for it. With kisses to An Unearthly Child, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Three Doctors, The Face of Evil and Logopolis and daring to look forward to the Time War, this is both nostalgic and innovative. It builds to a climax that gave me goosebumps in a move that promises to change the fate of one character forever. What is so sad is that after flouncing around for two season that Gallifrey is coming to end in the next story just when the range has really found it’s groove again. Still at least they can say they went out on a high. Finally the events mean something again. 


Auld Mortality: Proof that not all stories set on Gallifrey have to be stuffy political dramas; Auld Mortality is one of the most sensual and emotional dramas yet. Bristling with imagination and intelligence and taking the idea of ‘what if?’ to its most extreme (what if the Doctor never left Gallifrey?), I was impressed how this unique production sucked me in so completely. The potential for this to stretch into a series of adventures is irresistible with the gorgeous Geoffrey Bayldon giving a beautiful performance as the Doctor and accompanied by Carole Ann Ford who gives her best ever performance as Susan. The line between fantasy and reality is one that we all have to face and I have rarely seen it handled in such an optimistic and creative manner. The last scene splits the drama two ways that really shows that the possibilities truly are endless and it remains one of the best scenes in Doctor Who. Ever.

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/auld-mortality-written-by-marc-platt.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/auld-mortality-362

Deadline: What if Doctor Who never made it to the screen? One of the boldest, most subversive scripts to bear the Doctor Who logo which also rather brilliantly takes the time to insult the hell out of me. There are so many spine tingling breaths of genius to the writing it would impossible to list them all but as usual Rob Shearman has put a lot of thought into his material and ensured that there is much to think about after you have turned it off. Big Finish should be proud for producing something that is so clearly going to divide opinion and a lot of the continuity is used as a weapon that knifes you in the gut over and over. Want to hear the Doctor swearing at Susan? Want to listen to Barbara talking about her scummy ex Ian Chesterton? Want to imagine Doctor Who as the work of a failed man who cruises through life treating people like shit for the sake of his art? Want to hear the brains behind Doctor Who mistakenly appearing to molest a young boy in a cupboard under the illusion of taking him for a trip into time and space? Maybe not but I suggest that you do. This is button pushing at its best and practically every line is a gem. I can understand why I used to hate this story but now I love it and oddly its for exactly the same reasons.

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/deadline-written-by-robert-shearman-and.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/deadline-366

A Storm of Angels: Marc Platt has always enjoyed injecting a touch of poetry into Doctor Who but in A Storm of Angels he ups his game and conjures a story full of enchanting romantic imagery and ideas. A Steamship in space, cut treasures containing an alien intelligence, a tidal wave of flying Angels, an Elizabethan space station in orbit of the Earth, a man with a skin of jewels – yes its easy to fall under the spell of this dreamy brew of graceful creativity. Whilst the plot itself is quite thin there are simply a wealth of goodies to unearth; Geoffrey Bayldon’s masterful performance as the Doctor, Ian Hallard’s morally indignant Zeuro, gorgeous dialogue, stellar direction, an affecting musical score, dazzling imagery and set pieces and a hungry desire of what could have been. Every few minutes there is a moment that will take your breath away. It’s the rarest of things but A Storm of Angels is less of a story and more of an experience and it is best to switch off your critical faculties (because you wont find anything to feed on) and simply luxuriate into the beguiling atmosphere of the piece. Another favourite of mine. 

Dorian Gray: 

The Twittering of Sparrows: Speaking as somebody who is estranged from his sister and has experienced a great deal of hassle from her, a lot of this really resonated. I cannot believe that that is a Gary Russell script. Its tight (although typically the longest of the season…but I wouldn’t have lost a single word), restrained, atmospheric and to the point…it’s a gorgeous piece of writing from a man who I have always admired far his work as a director. The pairing of Handcock writing and Russell directing has always worked out rather well but reversing the roles is even more effective. The heavy narration is dumped in favour of a full cast drama (or as full cast as you are going to get with this series) and its refreshing change of scene. It’s the warmest portrayal of Dorian in this set of stories, contrasting him against his twisted, withered sister makes him even more personable in nature. The chance to explore a little of his family history is essential to his development and the scenes between Vlahos and Manning are loaded with tension, bitterness and ultimately affection. There’s something about sibling rivalry that brings the worst out in us and as this story continues we enter some very disturbing waters. This tops Beautiful Chaos as the best piece of writing to ever spring from Gary Russell’s pen and it pleases me to finally award something he has written full marks. It more than deserves it.

The Heart That Lives Alone: A vampire love story between two immortals…if you think you’ve crossed intoTwilight/Buffy territory then you are very much mistaken. Tobias is a mesmerising bloodsucker for Dorian to become infatuated with and their relationship walks that passionate line between fear and intimacy. You’ll never experience a romance quite like this again, one where we are privy to the romantic thoughts of both parties. In a way the audience is an almost voyeuristic third party to their liaison, experiencing all the emotional highs and the crashing lows that come with the curse of falling in love. Easily the horniest Big Finish drama I have ever listened to and one of the most tragic.

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/the-confessions-of-dorian-gray-reviews.html

The Immortal Game: 'This is our immortal game…’ Beautifully written, directed and performed, The Immortal Game is the highlight of season two thus far. You know with Nev Fountain you are always going to get something a bit special and out of the ordinary and for once he has discarded his trademark humour and produced a riveting half hour drama based around a game of chess and a terrifying sibling rivalry of the most unusual kind. It grips from the first scene, indulges in some dark games and fires one knockout line of dialogue after another. A have to make a quick mention of Scott Handcock’s direction of this series, which is exceptional. It must an impossible task to try and realise a story told in half an hour and make it unique enough to stand up in its own right and he manages to pace these narrative vignettes perfectly so they never feel rushed and yet at the same time get to the point quickly enough to fit everything in. Both Fountain and Handcock have outdone themselves in that respect here; and it is the most fulsomely structured and satisfying release of the season and yet comes in at several minutes less than the others. The twist ending is brilliantly handled, and yet well signposted for those in the know but it doesn’t stop the moment running up and down your spine thanks to Vlahos’ delivery and the stirring music. I would suggest you buy the entire run of Dorian Gray but if you were only purchase one from season two, this should be your choice. 

Running Away With You: ‘I want to be your friend again…’ Clever title. Clever story. I thought I knew exactly where Running Away With You was going from about ten minutes on and I couldn’t have been more pleased to have been wrong. With ten extra minutes to tell his tale, Scott Handcock writes a dazzling drama that takes a probing look at its three characters, one seemingly to come out of nowhere and yet brilliantly foreshadowed in the play. There are only three performers in this play but they all give a masterclass in acting on audio; Lalla Ward takes an outwardly clichéd character and gives her lashings of depth, Vlahos impresses with a dual performance as Dorian at two stages in his life and Geoffrey Breton aces quiet malevolence as the ace up the sleeve. Should this serve as the last regular story for Dorian Gray then Handcock marks the moment in spellbinding fashion with a flashback across the last two seasons, highlighting the moments that have led to his climactic actions in this story. As we reach the last act you come to realise just how much you have grown to care about this character, as flawed and as malevolent as he can be. A dark, unforgettable place to leave the season. Sublime, I want more.

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/the-confessions-of-dorian-gray-season.html

Dark Shadows: 

The House by the Sea: Flesh creeping terror brought to courtesy of Colin Baker, James Goss and Joe Lidster. Let's deal with each of these individuals in turn. Baker is one of the shining stars of Big Finish, a man who has taken his scant reputation with the majority of Doctor Who fans and has managed to become the most popular actor to play the role in this medium. He tackles The House by the Sea with unrestrained gusto, giving an extraordinary performance that tops some of his very best in the Doctor Who range. He kept me on tenterhooks throughout. James Goss is slowly becoming the most reliable pair of hands writing for Big Finish, his works have all been gripping, surprising and really get under the skin of the characters in an intimate way. The House by the Sea is magnificently written and characterised with some deft and chilling moments. There wasn't one point where Goss wasn't leading me on like a dog hankering for a stick. Finally we have Joe Lidster, the man responsible for this range and who encouraged me to give it a try. I'm truly pleased that he did. I have been hankering on about missing his subversive style of storytelling in the main range for some time now but what I didn't realise was just how skilful he would turn out to be in the directors chair. As a piece of audio, this is a fantastic piece of work with some stunning editing that had me lurching for the light switch as I sat here listening in the near dark. It's very easy to assault the listener with a variety of scary noises but it takes much more skill to send subtle goosebumps up the spine, to make you feel as if there is somebody in the room behind you, to make you wonder if those sound effects are in your headphones or somewhere in the far distance... Lidster has a bright future ahead of him in the directors chair if this is the sort of horror he can produce on audio. This is a slow burn mystery that gets under your skin and sinks deeper as the mystery thickens and the terrors emerge. This is exactly the sort of bone gnawing dread that I expected to experience with The Phantom Bride and its ghostly apparitions but there are number of important differences. The House by the Sea is an intensely personal experience and told from the point of view of somebody teetering on the edge of a breakdown, the attacks are far more subtle and thus make much more of an impact and the direction truly pulls you into the mystery of the house, allowing us to experience Gerald's foolishness along with him. That mixture of visceral thrills and psychological terror is a winning, horrific formula. Definitely do not listen to this one in the dark. You might just cack your pants. The ending is unforgettable. 

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/the-house-by-sea-written-by-james-goss.html

The Flip Side: 'You dance like a dead woman...' I love stories like this when the central character of a series is targeted for terror tactics. The New Avengers mastered it with Dead Men Are Dangerous. DS9 scored a winner with The Darkness and the Light. Doctor Who redefined the idea in Midnight. And now Dark Shadows has it's own masterclass to add to the list...and the target isn't even who you might think it would be. How awesome that Dark Shadows has the elasticity to take on massive science fiction concepts such as alternative realities and run with them. It's something that was played about with in some depth in both the New Adventures (Conundrum and Blood Heat aced the concept) and the EDAs (The Last Resort and Timeless took the idea to some imaginative and sinister places) and so you might think that I would be exhausted by the concept by now. Not a bit of it, The Flip Side shows that there are still stories to tell within the alternative universe format and that there are substitute versions of the Dark Shadows characters that are well worth exploring further. Many of my favourite stories in any franchise have been those that scale away the massive casts and focus on a couple of characters and explore storytelling possibilities in a highly intimate way. Cody Quijano-Schell has done a superlative job of that here, highlighting both Carolyn and Jonah as vivid, multi-faceted characters and using their history (both in this universe and others) to paint a much larger picture of the Dark Shadows universe. It's expertly done. Add to this melting pot a number of philosophical questions to ponder, the best acting you could ask for and the events of this story having a huge impact on potentially the most important character in this range and you have as close to a perfect Dark Shadows release as I have listened to so far. Sublime.

Full Review Here - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/the-flip-side-written-by-cody-quijano.html

Beyond the Grave: 'It's going to make us do horrible things, Maggie...' Do not, I repeat, DO NOT listen to this in the dark on your own if you are of a nervous disposition. Beyond the Grave is a terrific culmination of many of the Dark Shadows stories I have listened to so far, a chance to gather all the characters inconspicuously in one narrative and bring their stories together. It also manages to have a smart and original story of its own that exploits the audio medium to its full potential and provides many skincrawling scares. That is a fine achievement. To be honest you can tell, even on a first listen, that this is a script that has been crafted with great care. I make it sound so precise which isn't the case at all whilst listening, Beyond the Grave sports a fun Most Haunted style scenario with a presenter visiting Collinswood and poking his nose into all the sinister goings on...and suffering the consequences of that. Mad Jack (for that is the name assigned) is the most disturbing nasty that this series has come up with yet, a genuinely terrifying presence that I'll probably be seeing in the mirror now. There are elements of the cult classic Ghostwatch in this story and lots of clever narrative jiggery pokery that comes with a found footage tale. There might be three directors helming this tale and they all deserve a round of applause because this much have been an absolute nightmare to put together into a cohesive story. The fact that they manage to put the pieces together in such a riveting fashion and have time for so many chilling atmospherics is worthy of some kudos. Beyond the Grave is genuinely innovative storytelling wrapped up in that insidiously creepy Dark Shadows atmosphere, it breaks my heart to think that thousands are buying Big Finish's less challenging ranges and are ignoring where the treasures lie. If you want to experience something more demanding than a nostalgia rush, pick up this experimental horror.

Full Review Here - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/beyond-grave-written-by-aaron-lamont.htm

And the winner is...

It's time to choose the winner of the CD competition...

...the link here will lead you to a YouTube video and a very old school method of selecting a winner!

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Big Finish Licence Renewed Until 2020! More great stories...

Continuing the celebration of the fantastic news that Big Finish has had its licence renewed until 2020, here are some recommendations of stories from the first four Doctors...

The Transit of Venus: For fans of the Hartnell era of which I am a massive aficionado it doesn’t get much more authentic than this. Returning us to the dangers of the unknown and the remarkable characterisation of the regulars in the first season, Jac Rayner has written a powerful and involving script that gives Ian the rare chance to stand centre stage. There’s a pleasing amount of history thrown in and after listening I looked a little more into the voyages of Captain Cook and Joseph Bank’s debt to botany – I love it when Doctor Who piques my interest in times past enough to get me to read up about it. Nigel Fairs directs the story delicately, never letting the terrific atmosphere of the piece pull us away from the central relationship between the Doctor and Ian and the mystery surrounding Banks and the answers when they come prove satisfying and build the characters. A superb snapshot of the past written with care and performed beautifully, Transit of Venus restores my faith in this range and then some.

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/04/transit-of-venus-written-by-jacqueline.html
Buy it From Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/37-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-The-Transit-of-Venus

The Guardian of the Solar System: Guardian of the Solar System is less of a story in its own right and more of a continuation of the previous two Sara Kingdom stories but as a conclusion to the trilogy it proves to be very satisfying. Simon Guerrier has struck on such a winner with his Sara arc and there really isn’t a weak moment in all three exceptional stories. The story of Robert lacing through all these memories links the trilogy and the format of the Dalek Masterplan makes the vignettes of stories feel as though they are the perfect length. What’s more he has managed to take an is she/isn’t she companion and turn Sara into the definitive article for me and adding a number of wonderful stories to what I already consider to be a Doctor Who masterpiece. None of these achievements are easy and Guerrier’s skill with both the first person narrative and running arcs should be applauded. Lisa Bowerman’s direction has never been better than in this remarkable trilogy, nothing is rushed and yet there are still moments of great tension and drama and some incredible shocks and the performances she coaxes from Jean Marsh and Niall McGregor are extraordinary. Somewhere in the depths of Doctor Who’s arsenal of storytelling lie three Sara Kingdom companion chronicles and they contain some of the finest drama, moments of poetry and philosophy and represent this crazy little series at its most meditative. Breathtakingly good. 

Find and Replace: ‘We’re going back to the seventies!’ Jo Grant at her dazzling best, Iris Wildthyme making me laugh myself silly and the return of Huxley who made such an instant impression in Ringpullworld – Find and Replace has all the ingredients to make me one very happy chappy! The sense of nostalgia for the Pertwee era that Paul Magrs conjures gave me goosebumps for much of the second episode and left me grinning from ear to ear. This is a brilliantly funny play with a very touching reunion taking place and lots of delightful characters to spend your time with. Of the stories I have heard it is still Lisa Bowerman’s best ever direction as far as I am concerned and the music brews happy emotions with exactly the same skill as the script. With the two working together you don’t have a chance of resisting this companion chronicle. This is everything the best Doctor Who audios should be - imaginative, pleasurable and filled with great lines and performances. Easily my most re-listened Big Finish of recent years and one of the stories I grab for automatically when I am in a bad mood. It never fails to make me laugh and to cry and love Doctor Who.

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/09/find-and-replace-written-by-paul-magrs.html
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/503-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-Find-and-Replace

Peri & the Piscon Paradox: A magnificently written comedy masterpiece that probes deeply into Perpeguilliam Brown and ultimately has some very deep things to say. Peri and the Piscon Paradox is my favourite companion chronicle because it takes the format of the range and turns it on its head brilliantly, not only breaks down the fourth wall but obliterates it and walks through to shake your hand (the sixth Doctor notes he is an underrated performer!) and offers more surprises, cheats and twists than a whole series of stories. The dialogue sparkles for its entire running time with too many laugh out loud moments to mention but what really impressed me was when the comedy was stripped away and we focus on the awful realisation of what has happened to the older Peri. Some of my most favourite Big Finish scenes occur during the course of this audio and they brought to life with absolute conviction by Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker who once again prove themselves to be one of the strongest pairings on audio. Few stories can claim to tie up messy continuity threads from twenty years ago with this degree of success but we finally hear what happened to Peri after the Trial and Fountain pleasingly leaves all the alternatives untouched. Imaginative, clever, silly, serious, hilarious and thought provoking, Peri and the Piscon Paradox has it all.

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/11/peri-piscon-paradox-written-by-nev.html
Buy it From Big Finish Here: http://www.bigfinish.com/507-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-Peri-and-the-Piscon-Paradox

The Rocket Men: This is an example of the companion chronicles at their very best. John Dorney seems to have the Midas touch, his script for this story is bursting with romantic ideas, gorgeous character development, a superbly sketched setting and an authentic tone for the period. His descriptions of the regulars shows that he has shown great observation watching the actors in their televised stories as he gets all their quirks and characteristics spot on. The dialogue is memorable and dramatic and the unconventional story structure gives the story another boost. Lisa Bowerman steps in with some of her best ever direction (those who know how good she can be will know that is high praise indeed) and she fills the exciting story with some real moments of triumph and beauty. I hope we get another sixties story from this writer/director team because they clearly both have an authentic flair for the era and for an hour this morning I was whisked away to the most exciting time in Doctor Who’s long run. I never thought we would get a story where Ian confesses his love for Barbara but it is something I have always wanted to happen and thanks to The Rocket Men I am left blissfully happy at their romance. Performed with real passion by William Russell who makes these companion chronicles come alive so vibrantly, The Rocket Men is a standout adventure that manages to capture its era and do something innovative with it.

Full Review Here: The Rocket Men
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The First Wave: As soon as I see that writers name next to that director with those musicians and I add in the words ‘first Doctor era’ I know I’m in for something very special. Some people might moan about the fact of two Simon Guerrier scripts in such close succession but when they are of the quality of The First Wave and The Memory Cheats that argument just doesn’t hold up. Oliver’s inclusion in the range has been a fascinating experiment of an all male TARDIS crew and a handling of some intriguing historical (and sexual) politics and my only issue with it has been that he did not have a longer run. Guerrier does a massive service to Doctor Who fans by bringing back the Vardans not as some ridiculous in joke but as a genuinely malevolent force that wants to subdue the planet. Their spine tingling electric crackle and blink of an eye powers really works on audio and they make an impressive enemy. Like all of Guerrier’s companion chronicles director Lisa Bowerman injects an unsettling atmosphere to the proceedings, a spell of anxiety that sets my teeth on edge waiting for the moment when everything goes wrong. What starts as a an investigation into their own involvement in this period ends with a futile race against time to prevent the Vardans from attacking the Earth and I was literally on the edge of my seat as the Doctor’s friends defied all the odds to oppose these flesh crawling nasties. There’s real momentum to The First Wave, wonderful dialogue and complex characterisation – its another masterpiece for season six. Simon Guerrier can write all of the chronicles for all I care if he can keep this standard up.

Full Review Here: The First Wave
Buy it from Big Finish here: The First Wave

The Last Post: ‘My name is Liz Shaw and I’d like to stop the end of the world…’ How would you react if you received a letter telling you when you are going to die? Witty, creative and nostalgic, The Last Post is a superb final story for Caroline John. Weaving a narrative through the classic adventures of season seven is a terrific idea (so good David Bishop had a similarly memorable shot at it in the novel Who Killed Kennedy) and the whole idea of portentous letters making targets of the scientists that featured in those stories is inspired. The events of the first episode leading up to the prediction of the apocalypse are beautifully handled and the ideas feel fresh and involving. I’ve listened to an awful lot of Big Finish adventures now and have always been impressed by their increasingly stylish production values and thought I was pretty much taking for granted how these adventures sounded. However the immersive sound effects and stirring music in The Last Post really impressed me and captured my attention completely. It’s a fitting final hurrah for Caroline John who was able to reveal brand new facets to the character of Liz Shaw but even more importantly had the opportunity to thrill us one last time with such a memorable reading of such a inventive story. I will miss her companion chronicles very much; Big Finish has lost a fantastic actress, Doctor Who has lost one of its greatest companions and John’s family and friends have lost a magnificent woman. It seems fitting that the final Liz Shaw story to be released celebrates so much about what made her era great – wonderful storytelling, smart ideas and complex characterisation. A big hurrah to all involved. I’d like to blow one final kiss to Caroline John.

Full Review Here: The Last Post
Buy it from Big Finish here: The Last Post

Return of the Rocket Men: Listening to the first ten minutes of Return of the Rocket Men I could have sworn that it was written by Simon Guerrier. Its that good. Whilst I would never take away from Guerrier’s obvious scripting abilities it becomes clear that much of the atmosphere of his best companion chronicles is the work of director Lisa Bowerman and sound technician and musician extraordinaire Howard Carter. This is Matt Fitton’s third script for Big Finish and its his finest work yet, proving that he can mix the intimate and the exciting with genuine potency. Big Finish has had a good record of discovering strong scriptwriters during their experimental anthologies and Fitton has emerged as the strongest of late and I am really happy to see his name cropping up more in the schedules. The first Doctor companion chronicles remind me just how perfectly formed the characters were back in the monochrome pioneering days of Doctor Who and Steven once again emerges as someone very special. There’s a Colony in Space feel to the first episode but its told with far more fluidity, personality and exhilaration whilst still capturing its essence. The Rocket Men make another unforgettable appearance and I hope the chat about a third story to feature them in the interviews at the end wasn’t just a throwaway joke. They come with a real sense of danger and a promise of violence, intimidating in a way that so many Doctor Who villains fail to achieve. All these treats and another astonishing turn from Peter Purves who once again eases you into the story with consummate skill and provides many dramatic and personal moments that absolutely hit the mark. This range continues to deliver and Fitton’s sequel proves to be more than worthy to follow in the footsteps of John Dorney’s original Rocket Men tale.

Full Review Here: Return of the Rocket Men
Buy it from Big Finish here: Return of the Rocket Men

The Scorchies: 'It’s time for death all over the world!’ Absolute madness and a complete joy to listen to, The Scorchies sees the companion chronicles letting their hair down, camping it up and heading out for a rave on the town. James Goss is starting to make a name for himself, having penned two of the best third Doctor adventures for this range and two of my favourite adventures in the last year. Whilst this is a joyously anarchic adventure that doesn’t just not play by the rules but also makes a mockery of them, there is something truly sinister about a TV programme that is apparently so light and fluffy that is inherently evil and sadistic. I think this is the sort of tone that The Celestial Toymaker was aiming for but was too stuffy to truly aspire to whereas The Scorchies pushes that sinister playfulness right in your face until you are gagging on its gooey goodness…of Death! Rather gloriously we take part in the action, playing the part of a catatonic television audience slaved to entertainment shows (shouldn’t be too much of a stretch then) and watching the events unfold on screen. The story is beautifully plotted so that as Jo attempts to use their own rules against them to break free and save the day in the present, we experience flashbacks from her point of view showing how she became embroiled with them in the first place and further flashbacks from the Scorchies point of view explaining why they do the things they do. By the end of the tale the seemingly inexplicable opening scene that introduced us to this world feels like it has been placed entirely in context. The script is hilariously funny, imaginative, post-modern, energetic and full of great characters. Katy Manning and Melvyn Hayes deserve kudos for their efforts and for making the story come alive so effervescently and Ken Bentley once again proves why he is one of company’s most prolific of directors…because he is just so damn adaptable to whatever genre or tone they throw at him. The Scorchies might not be your cup of tea if you like the Pertwee era po-faced and militaristic (say, The Mind of Evil…mind you I love that one too) but if you’re in the mood for a Paul Magrs’ style of post modern insanity then snap this one up. I promise you’ll have great fun with it.

The Library of Alexandria: Talk about making a rod for your own back! Although I don’t recall ever seeing this particular roll call of credits coming together before the three main contributors to this story (William Russell, Simon Guerrier and Lisa Bowerman) have become synonymous with the highest quality of companion chronicles and so the expectation to deliver something spectacular is stacked up against them before I even pressed play. And a historical to boot – my favourite genre! Nobodydisappoints. William Russell could read a dull old textbook and make it sound like the most gripping story ever told but grappling with Guerrier’s exceptional writing he produces more of his indefinable magic. Bowerman has directed too many of these companion chronicles to make any silly mistakes now and paces the story expertly, allowing us to sink into the atmosphere of the setting in the first part before all hell breaks loose in the second. Guerrier is one of the ranges most prolific writers and his oeuvre has become more dense and idea packed of late, which I think is perfect for audio. In a medium of sound you can knock about big, intelligent ideas where there are no visual distractions and The Library of Alexandria mimics the historicals of the time, favouring strong, educational dialogue. It means you have to pay attention more than usual but the rewards if you do are mind expanding. It’s not to say that this story scrimps on spectacle though, episode twos action seems barely perceivable on the budget of the time but in my head the harbour is torn to shreds in blockbusting style as the Mim attack. It might feel as though I give too many of the companion chronicles full marks but I gauge that score not on the story being absolutely flawless (if you dig hard enough there is always a flaw to be found somewhere in every story) but on my own personal reaction to the material. When it excites me, thrills me with its possibilities and makes me drift off completely to another time or world I will offer full marks and so many of this range score on all three counts. It is adventures like The Library of Alexandria that add to my devastating reaction that the companion chronicles are soon to come to an end. It’s a story that captures the early days of Who, does something innovative with it and flatters your intelligence at the same time.

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-library-of-alexandria-written-by.htmlBuy it from Big Finish here: http://bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-library-of-alexandria-753

Second Chances: 'Nobody gets a second chance in life...' This is not where I thought the Companions Chronicles would park themselves for the time being, the decision to bring them to a close with a second Doctor story quite surprising. Keeping me off guard right until the end, just as they always have done. I imagined a powerhouse first Doctor story would take this slot, probably read by William Russell or Peter Purves since they have been the strongest of the range. The second Doctor entries have been far more varied in quality, the Zoe stories especially so (Fear of the Daleks and Echoes of Grey did nothing for me whilst The Memory Cheats and The Uncertainty Principle were both superb) but they have been building a mini arc of their own for some time now (in the same vein as the Sara Kingdom and Oliver Harper arcs) based around the idea of Zoe and her inconsistent memories of the Doctor and Jamie. John Dorney scores a double whammy in Second Chances with both storylines proving to be a gripping draw; the framing narrative coming to an unforgettable climax and the space station based disaster movie utilising Zoe's skills in a riveting race against time scenario. Brilliantly he finds a way to tie up the two stories, bringing the horror of Zoe's haunting memory into the present and having some intellectual playtime with the idea. The second episode reminds me pleasingly of Peri & the Piscon Paradox, the events of the first part taking on much greater meaning (both emotionally and narratively) when they are re-considered in a different context. Second Chances is clever, personal, dramatic, emotional and imaginative...all the strengths that have come to associate with the strongest range Big Finish has ever put out. What a fantastic opportunity to put them to rest on a euphoric high. This is one of John Dorney's best ever scripts and if you know anything about the standard he regularly delivers, this is high praise indeed.

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/second-chances-written-by-john-dorney.html
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The Foe from the Future: Hugely enjoyable and perhaps a victim of its own success, The Foe From the Future captures the era it is set in so well and received such rave reviews that it is almost squarely responsible for the two, ultra traditional and often mundane, seasons of 4DAs that followed. I realise it is unfair to start a review of a story this enjoyable by casting aspersions on it’s accomplishment, but the truth is this is the template for what follows but nothing can quite match it’s piquancy. John Dorney is one of Big Finish’s star writers and rarely puts a foot wrong and when it comes to authentically capturing a era this could be his greatest achievement to date. There is a giddy thrill at the very idea of bringing Tom Baker and Louise Jameson back together that imbues this entire production with a touch of magic and coupled with Dorney’s witty, adventurous script it is enough to leave you beaming like a madman. This comes in at almost three hours worth of listening but it passes by like a dream, Banks-Stewart has penned a story that consistently innovates and surprises and Dorney ensures that the interaction between all the characters is witty and wonderful. Because I enjoy more complicated, radical stories this isn’t the sort of nostalgic tale I would want to hear week in, week out but as a one-off kiss to the past there really is no finer example. What delights especially is how you can see precisely how this could have been filmed had it been made back in 1977, there are no concessions made to the fact that this is an audio rather than a television production and it exchanges budget for imagination and humour to intoxicating effect. Had I listened to The Foe from the Future first instead of Destination Nerva I think my approach to the Tom Baker released might have been very different indeed. The Foe from the Future is a rare thing indeed, one of those much vaunted stories that deserves all the plaudits that are thrown at it. Stop what you are doing, stick it on and get whisked back to a time when Doctor Who was the most glorious television on the box.

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/the-foe-from-future-written-by-john.html