Wednesday, 9 March 2016

The War Doctor

Only the Monstrous - The Innocent: 'I'm steeped in the blood of it all...' Opening stories usually fall into two categories and both of them can be made to work very well; the stories that set up the rest of the set and the stories that work as individual narratives in their own right. The Innocent is very much the former but it covers a lot of ground in its hour and introduces a lot of elements that have a great deal of potential. The Innocent was a safe way of launching the series by introducing the War Doctor in a traditional Doctor Who adventure on an alien world where he steps in and saves the day...wasn't the whole point of this series that we got away from that sort of thing and explored the War to end all Wars? Well I guess there is still time for that and the sole purpose of this introductory tale is to push the War Doctor to the fore and show us what he is made of. Actually he's rather sweet, albeit with a cold edge. Those reviewers who have found that a disappointment should go an watch The Day of the Doctor again. He was rather sweet with a cold edge in that too so this is entirely consistent with what we have seen. If there is a fault with the expectations of this character it is Steven Moffat's for suggesting the War Doctor was some kind of terrible monster in The Name of the Doctor and then failing to deliver on that promise in Day. John Hurt has a voice that was made for audio and I shut my eyes and drank in his lines, as unsophisticated as they were at times. Jacqueline Pearce doesn't get a major slice of the action here but listening to her rant on is divinity itself. I can't wait until she steps out of the limelight. I had fears that this would be a carbon copy of Dalek Empire (which perhaps wouldn't be a bad thing given it is still Briggs' greatest achievement) but despite some attempts at world building (or should that be War building) this lacked the cold tone, the sprawling narrative and the morally ambiguous characters of the popular series. I think this is going to turn out to be something very special indeed, certainly with Hurt on board with that voice that drips like honey it is always going to be worth a listen. The Innocent would blow your mind away but it does what it needs to do, it has a fine soundscape and the performances are gorgeous: 6/10

Full Review Here:

Only the Monstrous - The Thousand Worlds: 'This has an unpleasantly familiar ring to it!' John Hurt, Jacqueline Pearce, Carolyn can't argue with the kind of talent that Big Finish are booking these days. I only wish they were given a more ambitious narrative to play about in. Bizarrely this feels like the opening instalment again, like The Innocent wasn't needed at all. It introduces us all to the key players in the first scene and works out to be the first part of a two part story. Whilst it gives the story a chance to breathe and take in the scenery it means that there is little in the way of pace to this story. What's disappointing is how familiar it all is. A dollop of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, a dash of The Stolen Earth and Dalek Empire overseeing the whole thing. I have to admit this isn't quite the Time War I was expecting the Doctor to be fighting. Whilst Moffat boiled it down to a game of cowboys and Indians in The Day of the Doctor, there were scattered references throughout the Davies era that suggested this was a War fought in a multitude of times, dimensions and twisted realms. Where rules of time and space were broken and perverted. I'm not saying this isn't dramatically pitched but it certainly is a little mundane. Drills and monoliths and engines of destruction. Been there, done that. If you are going to suggest that things got so bad that the entire planet Gallifrey had to be wiped from the face of existence for the greater good then you have to provide inescapable evidence as to precisely why. And we're nowhere near that yet. While it plays out along predictable lines, The Thousand Worlds does at least have a humdinger of a cliffhanger that propels us into the final part. I'm looking forward to new writers tackling the second box set though. This isn't brave and bold as a Kang should be: 5/10

Full Review Here:

Only the Monstrous - The Heart of the Battle: The box set could have been re-branded The Story of Keska rather than Only the Monstrous because it charts the development of that planet from one story to the next with far more clarity than it does it's characters. I take back what I said in my previous review about the opening story being irrelevant, this is very much a three part story where part one introduces Keska and it's local problems, part two visits the planet years later under Dalek rule and part three charts how the planet takes its place in the great Time War. It's bloated and full clichés along the way but the journey has at least been going somewhere. The Heart of the Battle has some enormous ideas at its heart, ones that have the potential make some very exciting storytelling. However those ideas need to be explored through its characters and in engaging scenarios...what happens here is the big concepts are dumped on the audience in one enormous gulp of exposition. You want to know what has been happening in this box set? Well prepare yourself for fifteen minutes worth of explanation! The answers should emerge naturally from the narrative, rather than being dumped upon it. This whole set could have done with an edit to ensure that the conclusion felt like a natural extension of events rather than a lecture explaining what it has all been about. I really like Nick Briggs as both a writer and a person, I think he has talent and he is a very good ambassador for Big Finish. Lately though his efforts are being hampered by the fact that his finite talent is being stretched in too many directions. His fingers are in so many pies that only his thumbs are left to use the keyboard. Creatures of Beauty is what I always come back to because it is the yardstick to which I compare the rest of his work to. That was his ultimate achievement and it came at a time when he wasn't encumbered with stories to write for two dozen ranges. Only the Monstrous isn't a disaster. If you have never heard a Big Finish story before this would be an exciting place to jump in because of Hurt's involvement and the added thrill of the Time War. But for seasoned audio listeners there is little that is new here...and that is rather what was promised. I can tell you without doubt that the second set will be more enticing - Dorney, Fitton and a new writer. Tasty. The Heart of the Battle gets a thumbs up for a truly mind-boggling and devastating Dalek plan. It's just a shame it couldn't be less of a lecture and more of a drama. A point removed for the pointless suggested murder at the climax. She'll be back. Just call her Molly O'Sullivan the Second: 5/10

Infernal Devices - Legion of the Lost: The trouble with the Time War is that has had such a momentous build up over seven seasons of televised Who that unless it was something pretty bloody spectacular and dazzlingly creative it couldn't help but feel like the creators were making a lot of fuss about nothing. When we finally got to see the Time War in The Day of the Doctor it lacked the temporal insanity that Russell T Davies seemed to imply throughout his tenure and became a game of cowboys and Indians in space en masse. There was a lack of imagination but it was so well realised that it really didn't matter. When Big Finish announced that they had secured John Hurt and were going to produce Time War audios I was hoping that it would be a chance to redress the balance, creatively speaking. Nicholas Briggs' first set was largely unmemorable and treading over previous glories, not at all what I was hoping but kind of what I was expecting. It seems that Infernal Devices is going to be much more in the vein of what was promised; high concept ideas, desperate measures and a universe that has gone to hell. But not quite yet... John Dorney has scored the bum deal of this box set, being the one responsible for putting all the pieces in place for the others to capitalise on. He introduces two very juicy ideas; the Technomancers and the idea of resurrecting an army of dead Gallifreyans but because he has to add some substance to both notions there isn't a great deal of time to indulge in a plot. Much of Legion of the Lost reminded me of the Gallifrey series, an awful lot of waffle and very little in the way of pace or set pieces. Fortunately it is decent waffle, the dialogue a huge improvement on Only the Monstrous. The first and last ten minutes are the best of the story, sufficiently dramatic to keep my interest but aside from the concepts I did get a little bored in the middle. Legion of the Lost promises interesting times ahead. And, oh yeah, John Hurt is in it. So you've got to listen to it anyway: 6/10

Infernal Devices - A Thing of Guile: What might have been nice at this juncture would have been something akin to the DS9 episode Waltz. A character examination of both the War Doctor and Ollistra, one as a prisoner and the other as the orchestrator of his fate set amidst the background of a war that they are both a vital part of. This story even starts in a very similar fashion to that particular Star Trek episode. Instead we get a traditional Doctor Who run-around with more talk of how much more deadly dangerous things are now that the Time War is in progress and how the consequences of everything have a profound impact on the universe at large. I'm starting to think it might be hyperbole. The trouble is by continually setting stories within this immense conflict it means the stories are rather constricted by it. There is no variety. Each week we're facing another terrifying super weapon or damaged civilisation. There isn't really the space for small, intimate tales or a focus on the people who are affected by the Time War. And that's a shame because without that human interest it can easily become all pomp and circumstance, sound and fury. Don't get me wrong, A Thing of Guile is a perfectly serviceable adventure and will happily pass an hour. It's brilliantly produced and is bolstered by superb performances by Hurt and Pearce. But ultimately it's not really about anything and doesn't really add much to the overall picture of the Time War, not in the way something much smaller and characterful would have.  It's time to play about inside the biggest conflict this 50 year old show has ever presented and what happens here...the Doctor fights a giant worm. Hurt wont be starring in these audios forever and it hardly feels like the best use of his time in the studio. You'll find that this is one of my more empty reviews because there was little of substance to get hold of an discuss. Head to an asteroid in search of a super weapon. Dance about with a giant worm for ten minutes. Find a Dalek experiment. Stop it. Without any character work to hang this on it has little impact. It feels like a Nick Briggs on autopilot script rather than the work of a newcomer to Big Finish. Nothing impressive: 5/10

The Neverwhen: 'Sticks and stones against Daleks! They wont stand a chance!' On the one hand it is astonishing that it has taken six stories for a writer to remember that this is a Time War and not just a linear cowboys versus Indians shoot em up in space. On the other hand Matt Fitton takes the idea of messing about with time a runs with it at such a sprint that it almost makes up for the fact that nobody else has bothered. Time is a malleable thing in The Neverwhen, it can be bent and warped and reshaped. The people trapped on this world are at its mercy and the War, the environment and even the people themselves are shifting, evolving, regressing. It's a terrific notion and one that gives the story a vivid hook. The script is very dramatic too with some space for its characters and debate but plenty of action as well. It's easily the most finely balanced and piquant of the Time War stories to date. Despite the fact that they were both a little too safe for my tastes it was almost worth working my way through the first two instalments of this box set so the elements could be in place for this knockout at the climax to pick them up and play with them in such a creative way. It's a great story for the Doctor too, this damaged incarnation trying to find himself again inside this isolated conflict. How the story convinces us that this wont be possible and then hands the Doctor a satisfying day after all is quite marvellous. There really isn't much to criticise here, if every story was as bold and dazzling as this we would be in very good shape indeed. Let's just say that the bar has been raised high now and all subsequent releases have a yardstick to which they will be judged by. The Neverwhen caps of the second War Doctor to box set in exemplary style, easily the finest story yet by some distance: 9/10


Anonymous said...

When you have a moment, could you update the chronology page of the Doctors? That's very useful when looking for a particular review. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Man, I'm soo looking forward you review Doom Coalition 2. Mcgann is on fire, specially on The Gift, and he and Alex Kingston share a wonderful chemistry

Joe Ford said...

I'm actually on it...right now!

And as for the chronology...yes, it definitely needs an update. I will take a look at it tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

I was mistaken, Mcgann and Kingston have very good chemistry but it was on the River Song boxset, here they do not interact...