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:
Buy it From Big Finish here:

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:
Buy it from Big Finish here:

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:
Buy it From Big Finish Here:

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
Buy it from Big Finish here: The Rocket Men

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: it from Big Finish here:

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:
Buy it from Big Finish here:

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:

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