Friday, 27 April 2018

Wild Pastures written by James Goss and directed by Helen Goldwyn

What’s it about: Strange things are happening at the Wild Pastures Rest Home. When the Doctor calls on the Nobles to investigate, he doesn’t expect Sylvia to be the one to step up. Soon, they’re in too deep, and the Doctor and Sylvia will need all their faculties to get out alive.

Mockney Dude: It’s not that the Doctor ever went in for grand plans, especially these days but just for once he had put something together in advance. The seventh Doctor would be appalled that he has gotten out of the habit. The Doctor adores Wilf and the fun that they have together. The Doctor and Wilf share a love of naughtiness, of cute furtiveness, which is probably why they get along so well. The Doctor might be a Time Lord but Sylvia isn’t impressed, a man across the road bought himself a knighthood from the back of the Radio Times! At one moment the Doctor gives Sylvia and thousand-year stare that cuts through all that niceness and it makes her shiver. His anger flares like a wild fire even when he’s debilitated. Ultimately it isn’t Sylvia that got some rest in the car home…it’s the Doctor!

Matriarch: I said to my friend Jack the other day (a guy who I met through this very blog and who I have a debate with on practically a daily basis) that I was really looking forward to listening to this release because I love me a bit of Sylvia Noble. He couldn’t comprehend this, seeing her as the ultimate sourpuss of the Doctor Who universe. I disagreed and we went on to have quite the conversation about how she was written and portrayed, Jack taking the stance that Sylvia never truly showed any love towards Donna and me saying that that was the point. That she does love her but that love is expressed in dissatisfaction, hopelessness and general combativeness. It reminded of Russell T Davies talking about the nature of mother and daughters in a Toby Hadoke podcast from Big Finish, that eternal struggle where if only they could figure out how to work together they would be a formidable force. My mum and sister were always at war growing up, never quite finding common ground way into adulthood and so I recognise this emotional warfare between Sylvia and Donna and that how sad it is that the only way they seem to be able to communicate is through displeasure with each other. It’s sad, it’s human, it’s complex and it feels very real to me. The moment in Journey’s End when she defends her relationship with her daughter and the Doctor berates her for never praising her is key. The Doctor can’t understand it either. But Sylvia will protect her daughter until the day she dies, even if she can’t stand the sight of her half the time. Ah, mothers and daughters.

Wilf is far too much of a free spirit for a retirement home. Sylvia can complain her way through anything and the Wild Pastures retirement home gives her plenty of reason to moan, from the colour of the wall to the filthiness of the cutlery. She has standards, its clear. She thinks if anyone deserves a holiday, it’s her. She doesn’t quite trust the Doctor because he acts like he is everyone’s best friend all the time and you can’t be nice to everyone all the time. Sylvia discuses foreign workers in a ‘seen but not heard’ sort of way that exemplifies the casual racism of the middle classes in this country perfectly. That that becomes an important plot point later makes it a doubly impressive moment. There’s a moment where Sylvia thinks she has been forgotten in the care home and that she is starting to lose her marbles. It must be something that everybody goes through when they are left to rot at last chance saloon. She’s a prisoner, passing helpless days of loneliness. Other people scare but not Sylvia Noble and so whilst there had been a report of ghosts being seen in the not too recent past, she didn’t believe in them. She’s never let a man intimidate her…the bigger they come the higher their centre of gravity! I don’t think I could have loved her more at this point. She’s vicious with the Doctor when it comes to trying to rouse him at the climax (‘Don’t you ruin my life as well!’).

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You’re not dragging Wilf off to Venus, he’s not unloaded the dishwasher!’ – RTD Doctor Who in a nutshell, from the extraordinary to the mundane.
‘She always comes up here for a nap after Lorraine Kelly. She exhausts her.’

Great Ideas: The Wild pastures brochures were all about promoting a youthful way of life for the nearly dead but the reality is a bunch of institutionalised old cronies sitting around on plastic sofas watching television until their time is up. That sounds like the reality for some care homes, trying to write off the elderly. The thorns on the Saga plant contain a neuro-toxin which extracts memories and experiences as well as a lot of vicious enzymes that break down the left overs of their victims. They take the best of the elderly in the home, their memories, and then leave them a shocking blue puddle of nothing. All the nursing staff are identical clones. Low level, low intelligence and best of all, low cost. When it is suggested that humanity has not come up with a better arrangement to deal with the elderly than what Solutions offers, keeping their memories intact but draining off the useless body, it has to be said that he has a point.

Standout Scene: All the different names that Doctor calls Sylvia as his memory fades is very, very funny. Ethel indeed. Just when you think the Doctor is going to take care of the climax as he wakes up to have his big speech, he didn’t count on who is his companion in this story (or rather that he is her companion!) and Sylvia takes the reins and is more than a match for the villains. Remember it takes nuclear devastation and the loss of everybody she loves to bring this woman down. She’s terrifying!

Result: ‘Do you know what I see here? A bunch of sad old people and a company that doesn’t keep an eye on them…’ Surprisingly thoughtful and funny, Wild Pastures would have made a delightful mid-season four adventure. I wouldn’t want to lose it but this could have taken the slot of The Unicorn and the Wasp, the sort of placing before the season arc starts getting really forceful. The care home setting for this story and the subject matter that springs from it is something that is quite close to my heart. The idea of being led to one these places and abandoned, feeling trapped and without hope is something that is facing someone in my family at the moment and James Goss captured that feeling of obsolescence really well. And having it experienced by Sylvia Noble, somebody who is in full control of her faculties and can cut through crap and tell you exactly what the situation is makes for riveting listening, especially since even she starts to feel isolated and that she is losing it. What I love about Sylvia Noble here (aside from Jacqueline King’s ever reliable performance) was that the story did not need to be told in the usual companion chronicles format with an emphasis on internal narration but instead it’s practically all told through dialogue because Sylvia is never ever short of an opinion or two. In that way it is packed full of character work and we get a real insight into her stance on the Doctor (a teddy bear with a glint in his eyes), Wilf (naughtiness personified) and Donna (what’s the point?). With King refusing to shy away from her more unlikable characteristics, this story feels the most authentic of all. It leaves Dudman with less to do, but then this box set shouldn’t be a one-man performance show. As outstanding as that performance is. It provides some variety. Saying this she becomes the Doctor’s saviour before the end of the story and proves that that steel can be put to phenomenal use when she is threatened. Thoughtful in its subject matter, an intriguing alien plan, terrific characterisation and some typically smart James Goss dialogue, Wild pastures is massively enjoyable and the best of the set so far: 8/10

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Backtrack written by Matthew J. Elliot and directed by Helen Goldwyn

What’s it about: When the TARDIS crashes in the vortex, Martha and the Doctor find themselves on board the time-ship The Outcome, where the host offers temporal cruises at reasonable prices. But time travellers must never cut corners. Dangerous forces have been unleashed, and Martha finds her medical skills put to the test as she deals with some lethal fall-out. Time is running out, and the clock is ticking towards disaster!

Mockney Dude: Martha makes a very good point that site-seeing through time is exactly what she and the Doctor do but this was his period for mentioning the ‘lost’ Time Lords at every opportunity and so he points out that not only does he know what he is doing but also that his people were very good at keeping an eye on this kind of time travel tourism. They had spoken about the Time War once but Martha had seen how much it hurt him to talk about the death of his planet, his family. The Temporal Travel Regulatory Body is the best the psychic paper can come up with this time. Does the Doctor wear glasses to trick people into thinking he is cleverer than he is? That would make a lot of sense. He’s certain he’s been to 1066 before, a few times in fact and he is very aware that he had to get out of a part of the Tapestry that would have raised a lot of questions. The Doctor can’t use the TARDIS this time because the Outcome is leaking temporal energies that means he daren’t even open the doors.

Dazzling Doctor: If Martha Jones had learnt anything in her time with the Doctor it is how a situation could possibly go from bad to worse? Their original deal had been one trip in the TARDIS, but things had gotten away with themselves. Back when her mum and dad were having their first rough patch, Martha had suggested a cruise for them to rekindle the old magic. There’s something very The End of the World about Martha being exposed to so many alien races in a confined space. Martha is mostly used in the form as a doctor in this story, which is a good tester for her career to come. Mind you she is so daft at one point that she inoculates everybody but not herself, which is cardinal error number one in these sort of cases. 

Standout Performance: Surely having Jon Culshaw (mimic extraordinaire) and Jacob Dudman (minic par excellence) in the same story is taking us into an alternative universe of Who parody? They're both brilliant, of course.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Time itself is in agony and we’re slap bang in the middle of it!’ – to be fair to Elliot this is exactly the sort of crazy, over the top line that would be screamed before the credits kicked in. ‘We’re going to the end of the universe!’ ‘She’s my daughter!’ That sort of thing.
‘It’s as plain as the nose on your face!’ ‘No, I’ve had bigger noses.’

Great Ideas: You never star directly at the vortex without eye protection because it can do all sorts to you. All the best conmen are like human psychic paper. Tachyo-kentic energy is bleeding from the ships drive has sped up the life cycle of fungus that is evolving into something deadly. An alien virus in Earth’s past would wipe out everything from 1066 onwards, a catastrophic alteration to the Web of Time. The TARDISes Cloister Bell rang because it could detect the stress that the timeline was under.

Isn’t it Odd: I mention it the BBC Novel The Last Resort a fair amount because it is a novel of rare madness (it really divided opinion at the time) and non-linear experimentation (the narrative was basically a linear plot that somebody planted a bomb under and put the pieces back together haphazardly). However, this time I am mentioning it because it also dealt with the idea of time tourism and so that is the currently yardstick that I have to judge this kind of story by. The Doctor playing the Emperor of Egypt and McDonalds turning up across history, that sort of thing. It monstrously imaginative. Backtrack doesn’t even take hold of it’s premise and do anything remotely creative with it, which is the cardinal sin of a writer that promotes any idea with creative worth.

Standout Scene: Imagine the visual of a gigantic flying saucer appearing above the Battle of Hastings. That would be enough to distract Harold long enough for someone to get off a shot to the eye.

Result: Disaster! Matthew J. Elliot, a writer to whom I have had allergic reaction akin to tropical skin rash (with a three for three dud rate with Maker of Demons, Zaltys and The Silurian Candidate) has been let loose on one of my favourite eras of the show. In series three terms then surely we can expect something like Evolution of the Daleks, poor writing being supported by decent execution? And poor, sweet Martha Jones, a companion who is much underrated and barely (if ever) used by Big Finish getting her first real exposure in a script by a writer who has struggled to adapt to the demands of Doctor Who. The fates have been surprisingly merciful a fourth time around and Elliot has crafted what is his most accomplished script to date; an authentic story that doesn’t stick around long enough to get on your nerves. At Main Range full length his faults as an audio writer are exposed but forced to tell a faster paced story and he delivers an adventurous escapade that manages to divert and even thrill in a few places. The characterisation of the Doctor and Martha is spot on in that they say all the right things, but it’s a little too perfect overall. They say exactly the right things like going through a checklist of the sort of stuff they mentioned in the early part of series three. Martha’s almost a Doctor, just one more trip, Last of the Time Lords, etc, etc. But there are some charming lines for both them and they are both at their gleeful best, clearly loving this extended ‘one last trip’ around the universe. The plot keeps the pair of them a little too stationary when it promises something more potentially time hopping in the opening scenes – time travel tourism for goodness sakes – but we are confined to running around a ship that is running that scheme and we’re treated to some weird technobabble that makes the Sleep No More creatures seem plausible in comparison. But Helen Goldwyn keeps the narration coming thick and fast so we can’t focus on the less successful elements for long and I danced along to the fast pace of the tale. I had finished this before I realised and that’s not something I could say for Elliot’s other stories. Mercifully above average material and we can consider that a miracle, this is essentially a lot of running round but running around in a pacy, smiley sort of way: 6/10

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

The Helliax Rift written by Scott Handcock and directed by Jamie Anderson

What’s it about: Daniel Hopkins thought he knew what he was letting himself in for when he joined the top-secret UNIT organisation as its latest Medical Officer. Racing about the countryside, chasing strange lights in the sky? Check. Defending the realm against extra-terrestrial incursion? Check. Frequent ear-bashings from UNIT’s UK CO, the famously no-nonsense Lt-Col Lewis Price? Check. Close encounters of the First, Second and even Third kind? Check, check, check. But he had no idea what alien beings were really like. Until the day of the Fallen Kestrel. Until the day he met the Doctor.

An English Gentleman: There’s a lovely moment in the opening episode where the Doctor addresses a canine as a very good dog and a homo sapien as a very good human in the same breath, suggesting that he sees them as one and the same. Well it made me chuckle. Having never officially been on staff, the Doctor no longer had a modicum of authority. We never did get to enjoy a proper fifth Doctor UNIT story so it’s fascinating to see that they treat him with all the respect as the rest of the universe, a youthful imitator of the white-haired authority figure he used to be. The suggestion that the Doctor might be sexist is outrageous, unless you’re Steven Moffat and the Doctor is from the sixties (gratuitous but thoroughly worthy dig inserted). As scientific advisor he can be arrested for desertion of duty, to be forced to stay. It’s worth remembering just how commanding the fifth Doctor has become on audio, a far cry from the squeaky voiced youth he could be on television. Davison’s voice is gravellier, sure but he still retains enough of that energy and enthusiasm to authentically be the fifth Doctor but with a steel that means when he is angry you really sit up and pay attention. The scenes inside the Doctor’s mind are gorgeous and Davison plays the gentle Uncle guiding the alien to a calmer play perfectly. If there is an innocent under threat, he would always stand in the way.

New Recruit: Daniel stands between the Doctor and a bullet and so he is left in his custody for the duration of the story, prompting an invitation to the TARDIS for the medical officer, not an opportunity offered to many. The military mind is disappointingly functional, and he doesn’t respond to walking into the TARDIS when the facts speak for themselves. Drawn into the Doctor’s lifestyle, he’s smart and quick to improvise and provides a humane counterpoint. He’s not ungrateful about rubbing shoulders with the Doctor, but there is plenty on Earth to keep him busy. You know, all those other alien invasions we weren’t privy to in the 80s.

Standout Performance: Blake Harrison is not a name I have come to associate with drama but knockabout comedy, so this was my first exposure to him in a serious role. It’s a cute character and he has a certain northern charm about him, even if the accent does slip more often than it should. It’s a good thing he never met the ninth Doctor or we might have been in regional heaven. I felt the Harrison grew into the role as the story progressed, he’s a nice foil to Davison’s Doctor without ever become a character that blew my socks off. He’s certainly no Harry Sullivan.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Why are you slicing up aliens in your cellar?’
‘UNIT aren’t monsters, Doctor. But they still have a lot to learn.’

Great Ideas: The opening episode gets started immediately with a story already in full swing, UNIT hunting something and the Doctor in the vicinity. Listen to it as a back-door pilot for the fifth Doctor as an alternative to Castrovalva, but a Doctor that is unencumbered with companions and the story assumes we know who he is and his previous association with UNIT. A bit like Rose, with the ninth Doctor showing up during a story that has been playing out for a while even before the audience joins in. Seriously listen to episode one with that in mind and it’s a really interesting attempt to introduce this Doctor in a very gentle way. Would UNIT shoot the Doctor in the back if he chose to walk away from an alien incursion? What appears to be a base where aliens are being studied and dissected is in fact a place for them to recuperate and where the human race can learn from them. It’s rather like the anti-Torchwood, not exploiting aliens for technological and biological advantages but creating a place where they can be safe and looked after. A faked alien crash landing with a diversionary tactic so the occupant could be taken to the facility that is helping the aliens. It is searching for its child, captured by the facility. It’s like a hospital where the patients are kept against their will. The Barvin, Selachian and Mim are mentioned but I’m sure there are more recognisable aliens are being contained. It wouldn’t be a UNIT story if some innocent grunt didn’t bite the bullet.

Musical Cues: If the story is supposed to be getting off to a gripping start then it is somewhat hampered by the music that suggests something light and frothy, with the military drums there to suggest a parody of a 70s UNIT tale.

Isn’t it Odd: I’d almost like to lose the cliff-hangers in this story and have it as one long two-hour tale because they really don’t add much to the mix. It’s literally a case of having to cut up the action because that is the format that the audios have chosen but I don’t mind them shaking it up bit when the story justifies it. They are moments of jeopardy (never my favourite on audio because they are hard to convey) and they spring up out of nowhere. It feels like the story is bouncing along very nicely and then BAM…title music. And I’m left scratching my head to the disruption. There’s a huge and sudden info dump at the end of episode three that is extremely inelegant. These details could have been scattered throughout the story had the character been introduced a little earlier and the audience could have done some of the work but instead a massive character arc descends in the space of two minutes that we had been completely unaware of until that point. It’s a vital part of the plot too so it’s not even something that can be excused as a throwaway piece of character work.

Standout Scene: I like the idea of the alien characters all being let loose from the facility to prey upon the hapless humans who have been treating them. It reminds me of the Buffy episode down in the Initiative where all the trapped monsters were set free. Has Scott Handcock been watching Buffy lately?

Result: The Helliax Rift cuts to the chase immediately and doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a 1980s UNIT story with the fifth Doctor seamlessly dropped into his old role as scientific advisor. The thing is there were relatively few (well, one) UNIT stories in the 80s so its quite novel to see how it might have played out if the early 70s formula was still in play a decade later. It’s an alien invasion but it’s told almost entirely from the point of view of the UNIT soldiers that are investigating it. It feels like a story that should quite dull because there is very little incident of plot progression in the first half but the interaction between the characters kept me on side and it’s directed with a lightness of touch that mean it never felt slow or uninteresting. English countryside, an alien diversion and lots of talk of sweet army tea…it’s like the Doctor never left UNIT. There’s even a left-wing organisation that could have come straight out of a Malcolm Hulke script…a hospital that is looking after aliens for their own good, under confinement. Weirdly it’s probably the most UNITy UNIT story you could imagine and it doesn’t feature any of the characters that we have come to associate with that sub-genre, besides the Doctor. Instead we have medical officer Daniel Hopkins who rises to the role of the Doctor’s companion in this story and as played by Blake Harrison of The Inbetweeners fame is a little subdued at times but ultimately very charming. Russ Bain’s Lieutenant Colonel Price is our stand-in Brigadier and he’s a little shouty but carries the authority of a man with the fate of the country in his hands. Best of all is Peter Davison’s Doctor, simply a delight in Scott Handcock’s hands; authoritative, witty and just generally lovely to be around. Like Tegan I have taken a complete U-Turn with Davison’s Doctor on audio, compared to my opinion of his Doctor on screen. The Helliax Rift is far from perfect, it’s a little too plot light and then it all comes one great gush of exposition before heading into the busy final episode but it’s another enjoyable main range adventure in an unprecedented run for the range in recent years. The difference between Justin Richards trad and Scott Handcock trad is that this has all the elements of a Doctor Who story but it is assembled in a very engaging way. To sum this up I’d say it’s Doctor Who-lite, archetypal and very cute for it: 7/10

Monday, 23 April 2018

The Taste of Death written and directed by Helen Goldwyn

What’s it about: The Doctor and Rose sample the high-life on resort planet MXQ1, run by the famous Bluestone brothers. It has everything: exotic beaches, luxury accommodation and extravagant dining. Something’s cooking in the kitchen, and it’s to die for…

Mockney Dude: How like the tenth Doctor to take Rose to the most luxurious planet in the galaxy, if you buy into the idea that this one long date around the universe for the pair of them. And how like the Doctor to sniff out a mystery on the one place where you can be sure to relax entirely. His banter with Rose is cute, in fact it’s cuter than it was between Tennant and Piper at time because that irritatingly smugness isn’t there in Dudman’s Rose. He’s very thin so he hardly looks like a great lover of food. It’s a good point…how the hell did he fit into that pinstripe suit? The whole thing would barely fit my leg. He thinks there’s no one better than angry slaves to bring down a bad guy.

Chavvy Chick: What is it about Rose taking on a role in a kitchen undercover? At least this time she’s the head chef instead of dishing up chips. Unfortunately, her cover I exposed due to the fact that she is skinny. Rose’s reaction to the return of the Slitheen is the biggest eye roll in the galaxy.

Standout Performance: Uncanny. That’s how I would describe Jake Dudman’s performance as the Tenth Doctor (and Rose, who he gets a good flavour of too but that’s a less impressive feat). We’ve become accustomed to the idea of actors being recast in Big Finish, essentially all the lead actors who played the Doctor have been in the Companion Chronicles but it’s got around brilliantly by having the stories told from the point of view of various companions, giving their take on a particular Doctor. Dudman achieves a great feat, not only does he sound like David Tennant in the role but he captures the essence of his performance too. Wide eyed, full of wonder, excitement and blazing anger. It’s a formidable turn that makes easing into a series of tenth Doctor stories without Tennant very comfortable. He’s an adept narrator too.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘So much evil in the name of profit.’

Great Ideas: Resort planets are for once in a lifetime holidays and they are extremely expensive. Several chefs have left the restaurant without a trace. Lots of people going missing, a large number of fat people about gorging on food (but the restaurant setting does disguise that quite nicely for a while) …it could only be the return of the Slitheen! I still adore these reptilian nasties that were the first vivid monster of the new series. You know, one that stuck and had several other appearances. Can’t deal with the farting? Davies might have overplayed his hand with that but it’s good to remember that children are supposed to enjoy this show as well and introducing them to an idea like monsters that will literally flay their victims and wear their bodies, Hannibal Lecteur style, needs a little toning down of the more graphic content to make it work. They’re a comical race, which some people have trouble getting their head around, but not always and it was in the darker moments of World War Three, Boom Town and their appearances in Sarah Jane Adventures that impressed me the most. Although Margaret’s delivery of ‘the telephone is actually RED!’ still makes me howl to this day. Plus, their plan in Aliens of London is still one of the most audacious and ambitious attempts to destroy the Earth. I truly love that story for its scope and its personal attack on politics and the Slitheen were the catalyst for that. The Brula are a slave race, utilised by the Slitheen. They’ve brought a crop over from their home world (see how I go out of spelling Raxicori…oh whatever) which they are secreting in the food. The kindest of families from Raxicorcopha-oh bugger this are buying the livers thinking they are coming from the bluestones, when in fact they are being supplied by the Slitheen.

Audio Landscape: Reaching back into the misty depths of the sixties and the first Dalek story, the monsters of Doctor Who have been highlighted by the glorious sounds effects that come with them. For the Slitheen it is the pulse of electricity that comes with them unzipping and stepping out of their suits. It’s distinctive, unique and you can’t ask for more than that.

Result: Really fun, Big Finish have a really good hit rate when it comes to the tenth Doctor because his character really suits the sort of frothy fun that they like to serve up for the new series. They’ve acquired a new super weapon too in the form of Jake Dudman, an outstanding mimic who brings the tenth Doctor to life with absolute authenticity. The last time I heard a Helen Goldwyn directed story it was the superlative Time in Office and The Taste of Death confirms that she’s a natural at bringing audio drama to life, and this time she is working from her own material too so it’s a very personal piece. She’s clearly got a good handle on the Tennant years, the fun and frolics as well as the social commentary and its particular brand of personal characterisation. The resort planet is just like one of those gimmicky worlds that Russell T Davies loved visiting, having the Doctor declare it’s amazing and then just when you’re about facepalm he would add lots of depth and detail to it that surprised you. And nothing screams Davies era madness more than those pesky Slitheen who are back for another round of profit-mongering chaos. I really enjoy their appearances, but then I’m a mad fan of the Graham Williams era, and they feel as though they have sprung straight out of a Douglas Adams script edited tale; all biological quirks, social commentary and crazy imaginative schemes. Their plan involves slavery and mass slaughter and yet somehow this is the lightest of tales. I don’t know how they do it. How bizarre it is to look back at series one with a sense of nostalgia now. And that’s essentially what this story is. It isn’t going to blow you away with originality (indeed in SJA’s The Gift the Slitheen were using food as a weapon) but instead take you back to a time when Doctor Who was a very different beast to what it is today. Whatever you think of the Davies era will determine your enjoyment. It’s one of my favourites in Doctor Who’s entire run so I lapped it up. The one truly surprising element is Dudman, playing multiple roles and the narrator and giving each one his all. What a find: 7/10

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Sweet Salvation written by Matt Fitton and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: The Eleven has the authorities in the palm of his hand and an entire world held to ransom when the Kandyman cooks up a deadly confection containing a secret ingredient. In a last-ditch attempt to prevent disaster Liv teams up with a desperate criminal, and the Doctor must decide whether Helen is still his friend.

Physician, Heal Thyself: For doubting Helen because of a quirk of technobabble, the Doctor behaves like a bit of dunce. And that’s never a good thing. He does lots of Doctorly things like dash about trying to save lives, talking at a pace where the plot doesn’t need to make sense and confront the villain. But there’s no real sparkle or wit or intelligence to what he’s doing or saying. Like everything else, he’s going through the motions.

Liv Chenka: When they get to know her people generally like her.

Helen Sinclair: As soon as she is reunited with the Doctor the facility falls into hell and they are on the run for their lives. It’s like she has never been away. She’s convinced that she saw a spark of humanity in the Elven but it’s clear he was manipulating her all along.

Standout Performance: Mark Bonnar is still trying to give his all as the Eleven. But I think this has ultimately been quite a thankless part, inconsistently written and I’ve rarely gotten the sense that writers have a handle on the individual characters. They are all sharply contrasted, the various iterations of the Eleven, but I think that was ultimately the point. To have lots of different voices going at each other in a garbler of madness. For me it got tiresome halfway through the Doom Coalition series so to have it bleed into the next set wasn’t exactly welcome. That he was written out here (for now) was. A shame to lose Bonnar because he’s such a good actor but I think this could have been a really powerful acting exercise that was a bit of a wasted opportunity.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Sorry! I’m sucrose intolerant! Really intolerant!’

Great Ideas: How do you convince a bunch of angry prisoners to walk quietly into their dorms? The silk of the spiders has psychoactive properties and subdue their prey, cocoon it with a web that literally soothes it into submission. The Kandyman has been using in his food to keep the inmates in check and now he and the Eleven are taking that process and are going to subdue entire worlds with his mind controlling confection. The Kandyman’s expertise is in giving people what they want and giving those in power what they want at the same time. He’s built up quite a CV as an enforcer for several regimes. Androgums ripped the Kandyman apart and the Elven put him back together like humpty dumpty using the finest spun sugar in the quadrant.

Audio Landscape: It was cute to hear the Kandyman’s original voice and I love the idea that this bio-mechanoid ends every adventure melting away and betrayed. God bless him, always the stooge and always winding up a bit gloopy mess.

Musical Cues: The music is working hard to try and convince the listener of Helen’s duplicity, but I wasn’t buying it for a second.

Isn’t it Odd: The final line of the previous story was extremely strange. Without any warning or context, the Doctor declares that Helen is suddenly not to be trusted. Admittedly she is in an unusual situation and to be found in the company of the Eleven but that’s no reason for the Doctor to suddenly act as though she is suddenly working against them. It feels like they were trying to manufacture a cliff-hanger for a cliff-hangers sake rather than this is anything that has naturally sprung from the events of the previous story. It’s an interesting conceit, for sure, but had we seen any evidence ourselves away from the Doctor, then it might have carried a bit more weight. The Kandyman and the Eleven setting out to revolutionise the universe? It does sound like really bad fan fiction, doesn’t it? Perhaps if Helen had featured in all of the stories of this set and her relationship with the Eleven had been allowed to evolve naturally then the shock she received in Sweet Salvation where she discovers she was being used all along might have hit home. Instead we only re-joined them in the first half of this story as much of a highlight as their scenes were, it’s simply too soon to reverse all that good work to convincingly get under the skin of the listener. ‘I’m not bad because I’m broken!’ he declares, ‘I’m bad because I’m me!’ Well, what a revelation. The Eleven is a nasty piece of work just because he is. That was a revelation worth waiting 22 instalments for. Psychological examination of that depth is available in any tenapenny Doctor Who story. If this is where he gets off the bus, the Eleven’s climactic statement of madness lacks any finesse whatsoever. And in his final moment he becomes what he has essentially always been, a collection of silly voices babbling inanely. I’m not putting the Eleven on my final fantasy Doctor Who villains team. Long story short, he was a bit naff.

Result: The epitome of okay, with nothing that really thrills or insults. I’m not too sure about Ravenous to date because it has done very little to establish itself and like Doom Coalition's first set it has barely begun to explore the idea behind it’s title. There has been four hours of material so far and where has it gotten us? Right back to where we were at the climax of the Doom Coalition set with the Doctor, Liv and Helen off on their adventures as the huge reset button is pressed. In that respect this has been a coda to Doom Coalition because the main function is to find Helen and put the Eleven out of the way for good. It does both of those things, with an unconvincing run-around that tries to promote Helen as a villain. Ravenous 1 adds in the Kandyman to try and spice things up and truly ghoulish plan to try and control the universe with confection but it plays out so matter of factly that it’s clear that this is just a silly scheme for the Doctor to foil before the next segment of this great epic can continue. I sound cynical but within 240 minutes of material you might expect for the bare bones of the series we are in to have emerged or at least some of those elements to intrigue us and be going on with. What’s disappointing is that because Helen is just Helen and they jog off to the TARDIS at the end that there isn’t a fresh idea in the whole set. An existing line up of regulars, Churchill, the Eleven, the Kandyman; all old characters thrown in to make a party. How to Make a Killing in Time Travel is the most unique story of the set, and it’s easily the most throwaway. I’ve heard the accusation that Big Finish produce plenty of dodgy fan fiction and it’s not an allegation that I agree with on the whole but after listening to Ravenous 1 with it’s severe lack of invention, I’m concerned. Let’s hope the next set innovates more, finds some kind of identity of is own…or even actually kick starts the arc. All we get is a reference at the very end of the story. Well cheers. Sweet Salvation is pacy, well-acted, with some nice lines but it’s a bit like going to a Chinese buffet. You’ll find that you’re shovelling it down and once you’ve finished you’ll struggle to recall a thing about it. This isn’t actively offensive like The Silurian Candidate or wildly exciting like Static, it’s smack bam in the middle in the world of Doctor Who humdrum. A shame to end this set on such a routine note: 5/10

Friday, 20 April 2018

World of Damnation written by Matt Fitton and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: Rykerzon is a maximum-security planetoid designed to hold the most dangerous criminals in the star system. The Governor plans to reform its inmates, with the help of the Kandyman. But two prisoners prove particularly troublesome: the alien fugitives known as the Eleven, and Miss Helen Sinclair.

Physician, Heal Thyself: The Doctor gets eaten by a big spider. That’s pretty novel.

Liv Chenka: Sometimes she think she has seen everything: end of the universe, time hopping nuns, exploding moons but today has been special. Liv sounds positively ecstatic to be with Helen again. Is there an element of unrequited romance there?

Helen Sinclair: I realise a lot of time has passed between DC and Ravenous but there’s simply no reason why she should suddenly have a personality bypass and be the Doctor’s enemy and the Eleven’s ally. We saw them go through hell and high water together, lean on one another in a crisis. Helen is intrinsically a good person and that was thoroughly explored. To have made her turn to villainy, even in desperation, would make a mockery of her previous appearances. She’s a caring person and so she is looking out for the Eleven naturally. He’s a link to her friends and her past. The more she knows him as a person, the more she realises that he is suffering all the time. Helen is sensible all over, except when she is on the run from the law. Where she comes from privileged men tell her what to do all the time. She was rather hoping that in the future things might have changed for humanity.

Great Ideas: The opening scene really made me pay attention. Not because for one second I thought that Helen had turned to the dark side and joined the Eleven but because it did something that genuinely surprised me, with Helen stepping in and soothing him. It takes something we took for granted in Doom Coalition (his schizophrenia) and does something touching with it.

Isn’t it Odd: It’s very odd that we are halfway through this box set and the search for Helen has only just started, despite little teasers at the beginning of the previous two stories that this was the Doctor’s motive all along. If he had wanted to find Helen that badly he wouldn’t have been enjoying diverting adventures that have absolutely nothing to do with her discovery along the way. It would be ‘Is she here? No? Right, back to the TARDIS!’ It strikes me as a problem with these box sets that want to lure you in with a continuing narrative, they also want to have their cake and eat it. If anybody bought this for the search for Helen (which is how it was marketed) they might be extremely disappointed at this point to have been greeted with frippery and nonsense for the first two stories. For me, who was a little fatigued by the apocalyptic melodrama by the end of Doom Coalition it has been a real joy to step back and enjoy some more laid-back adventures but for somebody fresh to the range to step on board here with promises of ‘the hunt for Helen’, well they might come to think that she is very unimportant because it has been all but ignored.

I don’t want to be the moaning Minnie of the Reviewniverse but given there are a spectacular number of sites out there that will simply suggest that every release and decision that Big Finish make is a stellar one (and by law of averages that level of consistent quality simply is not possible) I find myself being one of the few that will hit them with a little honesty. So here it is…the Kandyman? Big Finish has long plundered the depths of Doctor Who continuity and indulged in sequels to televised stories. The Daleks have been played out to death, and all the B-Level monsters (Cybermen, Sontarans, Ice Warriors) have had a fair showing too. One by one though, it appears that every single monster and villain deserves a resurrection. Fancy another Kraal invasion? Thought Morbius deserved more of a showing? Fenric hasn’t played chess against the Doctor for a while. It’s gone beyond a joke. I realise these productions are made by fans for fans but in order to appeal to a broader audience you really need to widen your scope and let your imagination fly a little bit. To take the Kandyman, a notorious character from a late eighties production, and flesh out his character some more plays out exactly how you would imagine: like a complete cash in. Is there a reason this character is involved beyond his previous appearance in Doctor Who? Not really. Did somebody go ‘hey why don’t we bring the Kandyman back?’ without any solid motivation beyond ‘wouldn’t it be cool?’ Almost undoubtedly. My question is…what next? Do we need to know why the Jagaroth were on the Earth in City of Death? Shall we visit the Mandrel planet? Does Amelia Ducat deserve her own spin off series? (Actually, I would buy that one). Where does this kind of fan service end? Is this as bottom of barrel as it appears? Well, yes. Does the Kandyman work in this context? He’s alright, but his humanoid appearance contradicts his previous showing and he’s relegated to the role of the Eleven’s stooge. Anyone could have played that role. That’s no criticism of Nicholas Rowe’s performance, which is excellent, I merely question the decision-making process around bringing back such an infamous villain. And wouldn’t it have made more sense if this had featured the Kandyman pre-Happiness Patrol in his humanoid form and that he turns to the confection suit as a result of these events?

Result: Was there an element of the tenth Doctor comic Thinktwice to this? A correctional facility, obsessed with reform, housing one of the Doctor’s previous associates. This is the first substantial piece of the Ravenous set, containing a little drama that the previous two stories have been lacking and for once Matt Fitton has given equal weight to both character and plotting. The first scene threw me off balance immediately and the scenes between Helen and the Eleven throughout were the best of the story, quietly reflective and beautifully played. What worked best for me was the atmosphere, mostly provided by Ken Bentley and his sound designers, but with pointers in the script at something sinister and surreal. The focus on confection, contrasting against the griminess of the prison setting works very well. I’ve spoken about the Kandyman in some depth above and he’s handled as well as could be expected, but I still think it was a questionable decision in the first place. It might have been nice, given that they had the limelight in the first half of Ravenous 1 had the Doctor and Liv not shown up in World of Damnation and Helen taken centre stage. They might have been able to spin out the ‘Helen working against the Doctor’ idea a little more convincingly but having the duo land six weeks after what is happening with Helen is novel. It’s the first part of a two-part story and they always have the advantage of setting up the threat and indulging in atmosphere without having to conclude anything satisfactorily and on that level it does a very good job. Should it be reviewed in isolation? Not according to some, but I’ve never gone along with the herd. A lot of this depends on what you think of the character of the Eleven. After his brilliant introduction in Doom Coalition I was never too persuaded by the schizophrenic nature of the character as it was too often played in a very OTT way but this was a laudable attempt to dial back that overdone madness and get in touch with the core of the man. A shame a lot of that should be undone before the episode is out, because I quite liked this more cerebral take on the character. Once a ranting villain, always a ranting villain. I liked this a lot, even if it doesn’t quite have the punch of your average new series penultimate episode: 7/10

Thursday, 19 April 2018

How To Make A Killing in Time Travel written by John Dorney and Ken Bentley

What’s it about: A disturbance in the vortex causes the TARDIS to land on the Scapegrace space station, where Cornelius Morningstar experiments in time-travel for nefarious purposes. But the Doctor’s plan to stop him winds dangerously out of control as the different agendas of criminals, murderers and alien dynasties conspire against him.

Physician, Heal Thyself: Scanner mad, apparently and a lover of a good mystery…especially if that mystery has grounded the TARDIS. Anything that is causing disruption to the vortex he will tamper with, and he has just the subtle genius to deal with it. Along with the modesty. He likes to deliver a lot of build-up…and then just flick a switch. Whenever he says there’s nothing to worry about…well you can imagine how that sentence ends. He has the true gift of making enemies very quickly. He is shocked that everything they seem to do makes the situation worse whereas Liv is very aware that that is often the case. He improvises well.

Liv Chenka: The Doctor states in a wryly amusing moment that Liv never jokes and she follows that up with a confession that she is very serious. I laughed out loud, it’s great to see these (genuinely very serious) characters having some fun at their own expense. The Doctor is a dab hand at acting as if he owns the place but it’s nice to see that Liv can follow in his wake just as effectively. The Doctor suggests that she is good with diplomacy and she wonders if he has ever spent any real time with her. When pushed she admits that her main role is to confine herself to a few cynical asides.
Standout Performance: I really appreciate how far Roger May goes with his performance as Morningstar, theirs is literally no restraint as far as this character is concerned. He’s quite repulsive and May plays him that way with no aspirations to come out of the story with anybody discovering nuggets of charm. Christopher Ryan is great value too, putting on a heavy accent and throwing himself into the role of Macy with gusto.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Of course it’s murder. People don’t accidentally shoot themselves and then jump through a dimensional portal, do they?’

Great Ideas: I really love how this story kicks off with a good five minutes of material that doesn’t feature the Doctor and Liv and offers very little in the way of explanation of what is going on. It’s refreshing to feel like events are already underway without having the Doctor to push the story into motion. In that way it feels like the Doctor is entering an existing world, rather than a manufactured one for this story only. The Cati are a dispossessed species attempting to regain their place on the galactic stage. Morningstar is after time travel so he can obtain history’s greatest artefacts and sell them for a fortune on the open market. The trouble is he doesn’t have the technical know-how to do this. Scapegrace is a neutral hub in the system for different races to do business without politics getting in the way.

Standout Scene: The death of a character 20 minutes into the story comes completely out of the blue and hinges the plot in a completely different direction. I really didn’t see this coming.

Result: Bloody hell! What’s going on here? I knew they were going for something a little different with Ravenous but I had no idea that they were going to let their hair down this much. How refreshing, I can’t remember a time in recent years where the eighth Doctor range had this much fun. Coming after the Time Lord heavy death of the future apocalyptic drama of Doom Coalition this might feel a little too lightweight and disposable but for me it’s very refreshing. It’s quite lovely to have a story where a guest character takes to the limelight as being the perpetrator of the entire plot and the Doctor and Liv are on hand merely to investigate and bring the truth to light. Having the audience one step ahead is fun and watching Stralla trying to improvise her way out of a very sticky situation proves very amusing. It has to be pointed out just how enjoyable Liv Chenka has been in this set so far and just what a dazzling duo Walker and McGann have become. I’ve always appreciated her dramatic acting chops but Walker’s deadpan humour in this really had me smiling broadly. Farce is described as a comic dramatic work using buffoonery and horseplay and typically including crude characterization and ludicrously improbable situations and add time travel and aliens to that and you’ve pretty much summed up How to Make a Killing in Time Travel. There’s a lot of running about, making excuses, deceits, twists and OTT dialogue. Also, some really witty asides and a sense that it’s okay to have a giggle in the McGannverse again. This sort of Williamsesque irreverence won’t be to everybody’s tastes but I lapped it up. God knows what the Ravenous element to this box set is all about and there isn’t even a hint of an arc at this point (hooray). This is as brazen and as pleasurable as this range has been since before Dark Eyes: 8/10

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Ravenous: Their Finest Hour written by John Dorney and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: In the early days of the Second World War a strange and elusive craft attacks British targets. Could it be a German superweapon? Churchill calls for the Doctor’s assistance and with the help of a squadron of Polish fighter pilots the TARDIS crew take to the skies to investigate.

Physician, Heal Thyself: Don’t you think it’s rather breathtaking just how much the eighth Doctor has been fleshed out on audio? Anyone who is familiar with my scribblings will know that I also found his print adventures a joy, and he certainly had the most experimental and ground-breaking run in the comics too. But on the eve of his latest new epic it is worth considering the prolific number of stories that Paul McGann has featured in for Big Finish now and just how he has been the spearhead for the range for some time. When they were both in the main range it was both McGann and Sixie to watch out for but since he went it alone with his own series of adventures with Lucie, and then Dark Eyes and Doom Coalition, his input is the most excitement that Big Finish generates. There’s something very exciting about a Doctor who is a such a blank page. And what’s surprising is that even after 100 or more releases, they are still finding surprising things to do with him. McGann himself is a terrific actor and has more than proven his worth in the role and because the storytelling has become bigger and bolder and more end of the universe than ever (from the Web of Time being threatened with Charley to the massacre at the end of Lucie’s run to the death of the future in Doom Coalition) it has given him the chance to indulge in some apocalyptic performances. Whilst I have missed standalone adventures, there is an undoubted frisson each time a new arc of adventures kicks off for the eighth Doctor and I cannot help but get caught up in it’s wake. There is something refreshing about slipping out of all the baggage that came with the previous arc and just diving headlong into a brand-new adventure with the eighth Doctor. He buzzes around like a caffeinated bee. When the phone rings in the TARDIS he comments that only the finest have the number and picks it up expecting Ringo Starr. Every time he looks in the mirror he gets a glimpse of a face he isn’t expecting. It’s a lovely, discreet reference to Night of the Doctor.

Liv Chenka: She seems to be the only one who is determined to get after Helen, whilst the Doctor is more interested in palling up with Churchill whilst the calculations work themselves out. Liv is a very conservative sort of woman and not the sort you would expect to have her head turned by Russian pilots. Much like her emotional breakdown in Absent Friends, this a surprising thread for the character but one which Nicola Walker plays beautifully. The moment when Rozycki compares her to his mother is priceless, her staggered reaction is nicely underplayed. It might appear to an outsider that the Doctor and Liv don’t like each other very much because they bicker like an old married couple but anybody who has been following their adventures will know that this is just how they communicate. If they weren’t insulting each other, then there would be a problem. She survived the Eminence, the Master, Padrac…for her to die in a plane in the Second World War seems such a small death. If people are going to threaten her friends and she will stop being nice. She’s got a Doctor on her side so piss her off and she’ll sit back with popcorn and watch him defeat them. Even though she knows that practically every one of his plans is far from perfect.

KBO: The rules of meeting up with Churchill is that there is no discussion of relative chronology. The Doctor doesn’t want clues to his own future. There’s an easy chemistry between the Doctor and Churchill that suggests a relationship of long standing and built on respect. It’s nice that he can call on his old friend at times when there appears to be alien intervention in the war.

Great Ideas: If mysterious black triangles are appearing in the sky and taking out military aircraft you better bet your bottom dollar that the Doctor is going to head to the nearest plane and try and take a gander. He’s like a moth to a flame to that sort of thing. The Hellian Blocks are at war but their evolved enough to realise that it’s a waste of population and resources. So they let another planet do it for them. They pick a world that’s already at war and choose sides randomly and whichever side wins, wins the war.

Audio Landscape: It’s astonishing how quickly a Second World War setting can be conjured up on audio with just the growl of aircraft, a siren and an awfully posh radio operator using the term ‘old boy.’ It’s all cliché, but it serves to set the scene immediately.

Isn’t it Odd: Liv writes off what she is hearing about the Second World War as history, which strikes me as a rather stupid thing to say given that everywhere they go in the universe is history of some kind or another. It feels like she is reducing the suffering that is occurring on the front lines to an academic exercise and that simply won’t do at all. Calling Liv’s death in a plane during WWII ‘small’ is another dig at the time, suggesting that to have gone down in this massive conflict is somehow less dramatic than what she has been through in Dark Eyes and Doom Coalition. If only Doctor Who could think up something half as ghastly as WWII, I say… The ending is sad but I felt both the writer and the director could have pushed the moment a little more. Compared to Liv’s outburst at the climax of Absent Friends, this was very passive.

Result: Their Finest Hour wriggles out of the arc constraints of Doom Coalition and tells a pleasingly simple story to kick start Ravenous. Churchill might be a little over-advertised given how much airtime he has in this story, but it’s always nice to have Ian McNiece back in the role and he enjoys an easy chemistry with Paul McGann. Nicola Walker, one of the unsung heroes of the eighth Doctor range for some time, gives a masterful turn as Liv Chenka, afforded a sweet romance with a Polish pilot and given a chance to explore her relationship with the Doctor some more. It’s so much more understated than the Doctor/Charley or Doctor/Lucie relationship (as wonderful as both of those were) and I think McGann and Walker have similar acting styles (subtle, until asked to really go for it and then they blow you away) which give the Doctor/Liv friendship a natural chemistry all of its own. For John Dorney this is a subdued affair, not trying to shake the foundations of the Doctor Who universe but instead gently easing in to the next phase of the eighth Doctor’s life. He’s always focused on character, which is why I love his writing so much. I always feel close to the people in his stories, even if the plot isn’t always as punchy as it might be. Big Finish is always so good at bashing out pure historical so when this dives into science fiction my interest waned a little, despite the fact that an alien presence was suggested from the start. To be honest the aliens made no effect on me whatsoever, but the rest of the story was easy to listen to. Doom Coalition started on a much punchier tale which immediately grabbed my attention but Ravenous has offered me what I have been asking for quite a while, to step back from all massiveness of an arc narrative and just enjoy some good old fashioned standalone storytelling. It was diverting with an authentic production and wonderful performances and as benchmark you can’t ask for much more than that. Unexceptional, but enjoyable: 7/10

Thursday, 12 April 2018

The Eternal Battle written by Cavan Scott & Mark Wright and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it About: The TARDIS has landed in a war zone. The Doctor, Romana and K9 find themselves traipsing through an inhospitable battlefield. Strange lights flicker in the sky, and stranger creatures lurk in the darkness. When rescued from an attack by a Sontaran tank, the time-travellers discover they’re facing a far more dangerous foe than the battle-hungry clones. This terrifying fight has been going on longer than anyone can remember… and shows no signs of stopping. With the TARDIS missing and their luck running thin, the Doctor and his friends’ only hope of survival is to uncover the truth about what is happening on this planet. If they can discover the secret of the eternal battle they might just survive… but it might just mean the end of them all.

Teeth and Curls: Tom Baker is giving a very dominating and powerful performance throughout. In a serious situation he gives a serious performance and whilst I love the frolicsome Doctor from the Williams era, I think on audio he has delivered his best work when his comic excesses have been reigned in. The Doctor thinks he has brought Romana to the Lake District for a little sojourn but this time he has got it very, very wrong. There’s a standard order for the Doctor and associates to be executed should a Sontaran warrior come into contact with them, which makes sense given the trouble he has managed to cause for them over the years. It’s fascinating that the Doctor doesn’t seem to be unsympathetic with the Sontarans despite the atrocities that he has seen them commit. He truly will take each person on a case by case basis and judge them by their actions and not an entire species. These Sontarans are trying to keep a stiff upper lip against unsurmountable odds and the Doctor is willing to help because they are suffering. He truly is the Doctor after all. You’ve got to love how the Doctor is so excited to borrow a Sontaran tank. Imagine that on TV, with him atop a vehicle of destruction, laughing his head off, scarf flailing in the wind. It’s a steal from the book Millennium Shock (or at least a similar image) but it’s such a good one who cares? He’s very good at jiggery pokery, don’t you know? To have the Doctor fighting shoulder to shoulder with a noble Sontaran is a marvellous concept and I really enjoyed his relationship with Lenk. He’s very different from Strax insofar as he isn’t played for buffoonery, he’s distinctly a battle hardened Sontaran who is working with the Doctor to try and figure a way out of this situation for him and his men. I love the scene between them in the climax where they both remain true to their character and go their seperate ways.

Aristocratic Adventurer: There’s no real place for the witty banter that usually flows between the Doctor and Romana in this story so Romana is forced into the role of the intelligent, action companion. She’s sharp and moody (which is par for the course this season) and her dialogue is reduced to succinct and smart comments. She's handy with a shoe, though.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The Doctor?’ ‘Well that depends, do I owe you money?’
‘A battle weary Sontaran, that is novel.’
‘Lenk, I’m going over the top!’ ‘No change there…’

Great Ideas: A depleted troop of Sontarans, on the edge of endurance and fighting a battle they are losing. It’s an interesting approach to the warlike race, putting them at such a disadvantage. Corpses are rising from the battlefield to fight again and again. Sontarans fighting the recently dead Sontarans, such a novel concept. Soldiers gathered from conflicts throughout history, no major wars and nothing that would attract too much attention. Trapping battles and entire wars in pocket continuums to demonstrate the futility of war to their students. They are contained within a time loop so they can be watched over and over and lessons from history learnt from. The idea is to prove that peaceful alternatives can be reached if you strive from them. The Doctor mentions the world peace and to Lenk that is the equivalent of swearing. Despite their precautions and their bubbles of war to learn from, war still came to Zykon and destroyed the population. The moral here seems to be that the same mistakes will be made over and over again, despite our knowledge of the past. That’s a very Scott and Wright ethic, it’s like the anti-Holmes approach to Doctor Who.

Audio Landscape: Dan Starkey is the go to actor to play a Sontaran these days and given his success as Strax that is hardly a surprise. However, speaking as somebody who finds Strax a little too comic book and has given the Sontarans an overly humorous angle of late it is refreshing to hear him playing a handful of deadly serious roles and proving he is just as adept at that. Leave it to Big Finish to remember that this race are supposed to be a threat.

Isn’t It Odd:
I do appreciate the notion of the Doctor and Romana walking straight into danger as soon as they exit the TARDIS, which is a stark difference from the usual frivolity that happens for the first ten minutes or so of most 4DAS. However, the idea of them running away from a slavering monster, represented by someone going ‘rawwwwrrrrrr’ might just tap into the fears of the casual audio audience that thing that is exactly what these audios are about. Not intellectual debate or character drama but people reacting melodramatically to nothing because we can’t see the pictures. For a second I thought I was back in Slipback again.

Standout Scene: The moment when the story pauses on the battlefield and the shadows come lumbering through the mist towards the Sontarans. At this point it’s still a mystery what the enemy is and the answer to what they are fighting is quite the surprise.

Result: Whilst scarce in nature, Big Finish have a really good track record with Sontaran stories and The Eternal Battle is no different. Being a self-confessed fan of war movies, Nicholas Briggs must have loved this directorial assignment and he really goes to town in making this sound as authentic as possible. It’s a story which really cuts to the point and doesn’t waste a word, something of a relief given how frivolous this range can be at times and it’s nice to enjoy a two-part story like this that makes so much time for suspense and atmosphere. If you look back at their previous record, it is very Scott and Wright to have zombie Sontarans like something out of the Walking Dead menace their way through the story. They have never been frightened of taking Doctor Who into graphic areas or really pushing the horror content and this is the sort of battle you won’t want to miss. The second episode lurches into something quite different. At first I thought we were heading into a War Games like scenario, which is how it is initially presented but pleasingly the narrative pushes to the other extreme from war and this turns out to be the ultimate exploration (or at least lesson) of peace. And then that is subverted again in a cruel twist when we find out what happened to the people of Zykon. Perhaps these developments come a little too thick and fast but at least this story is packed full of content and interesting moments and my attention never strayed for a moment. For a 4DA, this is well above average, memorable, and definitely worth a listen. The Eternal Battle is nothing like any 4th Doctor story you saw on screen and is all the better for it: 8/10

Monday, 9 April 2018

Torchwood: More Than This written by Guy Adams and directed by Scott Handcock

What’s it about: Gwen Cooper has triumphed against impossible odds before, but now she's finally met her match: Roger Pugh, Planning Officer for Cardiff City Council. Mr Pugh doesn't believe the world needs Torchwood. Gwen sets out to prove him wrong. For Mr Pugh, it's a day that'll change his life. If he can survive it.

Welsh Babe: Anybody who has become entangled with the government or any kind of bureaucratic department can empathise with Gwen’s plight in the first few scenes as she attempts to get planning position for a new base of operations for Torchwood. Gwen still gets shaken when confronting aliens but essentially takes it all in her stride now. After the things she’s seen, it’s just another day in the office. Pugh wonders if the existence of Torchwood encourages alien threats, which Gwen denies but there is no denying that their tinkering with the rift and their blasé approach to the universe at large has led to more chaos and attraction of alien nasties than would otherwise be the case. Nowadays Torchwood is about protecting people and not taking stupid risks. The fact that she has such a vital role in the survival of humanity makes Gwen feel terrified and humbled.

Mr Pugh: How fascinating to have a story told almost entirely from the point of view of an outsider who is being brought in to Torchwood. It’s essentially a copy of the story being told in Everything Changes but instead of ultra-naive Gwen being put through her paces we have a man from the Council, Mr Pugh seeing the day to day running of a covert alien fighting organisation. It works much better too because it’s told with much more relaxed humour and much less melodrama. The casual way that Pugh mentions that he knows about aliens because he’s read about them in the paper, is marvellous. Cutting back and forth to Pugh at his wife’s graveside and narrating parts of this story works extremely well. It allows us to get close to Pugh emotionally and for him to move the story on narratively. It’s established early that Pugh isn’t a fighting man which makes his endurance throughout More Than This the work of a brave man. The moment when Pugh admits that he let go, which is something he has wanted to do for years, it doesn’t need any explanation as to why because his wife’s death has already been very well established. The thing that makes him come to his senses that there is never more than this, there is no chance he will be reunited with her in heaven. But he’s open to the possibility, which offers hope. The world needs Torchwood and he has to help them create a base of operations.

Standout Performance: Eve Myles is clearly a talent and her continuing success beyond Torchwood is a testament to that. She broke my heart in The Unquiet Dead and returned to Doctor in quite a different guise in The Stolen Earth. I’m certain that Torchwood series one always played to her strengths because she works much better as the beating heart of Torchwood rather than the seduced vixen she became. Myles’ natural humour and likeability won through though and her characterisation has been a lot more consistent and enjoyable since. She’s especially fantastic throughout Children of Earth. On audio we’re up close and personal and her dulcet Welsh tones ring beautifully in our ears. She’s a phenomenon, effortlessly easy to get close to and portraying a character who is smart, confident and friendly. Listen to the moment where she has to bring Pugh to his sense in the climax. She’s instruction him with such conviction that even I sat up to attention.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Saving the world from the boot of my car is getting tedious!’
‘It used to make me feel bigger somehow. Imagining more than this. That’s what it comes down to, doesn’t it? That’s what all fantasies are about. We look at our lives and say to ourselves…there must be more than this.’
‘That’s what they always get wrong in the films. Special effects are flawless. Life isn’t flawless.’

Great ideas: Wonderfully on one call to the Council, Gwen is attacked by a hideous monster in the normal Torchwood line of business and Pugh’s response in his call back to her is that she will need to sign a health and safety form before proceeding further with planning permission. Plans have been drawn up for the space that Torchwood wants in Cardiff Bay for a new parking lot. Four years and it seems that the world has forgotten all about Torchwood. How cool is the idea of a liquid life form that can turn itself into a work of art and feed on the emotions of the people who look at it.

Isn’t It Odd: It’s a shame that the event that killed Pugh’s wife had to be directly linked to Torchwood. It’s a pointless piece of continuity and like with Buffy’s mum in The Body it would have been much more touching had it been a natural death, nothing to do with the supernatural.

Standout Scene: The stunningly written and performed scene in the middle of the story between Gwen and Pugh when they discuss the nature of fantasy and leaving a mark on the world before you depart. It’s so emotionally honest it quite took my breath away, especially after the frivolity elsewhere in this release.

‘We did it. We saved the world…’ Fascinating because it picks up after Miracle Day and continues that narrative that was left hanging by the TV series, More Than This abandons the American sojourn in favour of something a little more home grown, intimate and touching. This is essentially a fourth pilot for the show (after the first episodes of series 1, Children of Earth and Miracle Day), a way for newcomers to come to the series with no real knowledge of it (just like Mr Pugh) and take on board the Torchwood lifestyle. How very backwards to have this story then at the end of the first series, rather than kicking things off. Audio Torchwood wanted to establish that it can do and go anywhere in it’s timeline before continuing things where we left off on telly. Smart move. It’s such a cute idea, too, to have Gwen (who went through this experience herself many moons ago) expose the terrifying world of Torchwood to a Council Official who wants to turn the space they have earmarked for Torchwood Three into a multi-storey car park. The story hops from set piece to set piece as Pugh confronts the sort of dangers that Torchwood juggles and he comes to realise why such an organisation is vital to the security of the world. There’s witty lines, shocks and lovely moments of humour but more importantly there’s a lovely relationship that develops between Gwen and Pugh that surprises and moves. Guy Adams’ dialogue is very insightful and the script is beautifully played by both actors. Pugh goes from naïve newbie to giving Gwen advice by the end of the story and his monologues to his wife’s graveside really made him feel like a person who had a life beyond this story. Trust me with a lot of characters in audio drama I don’t always get that feeling. Lots of imaginative ideas abound too, in the little vignettes that we experience in the day in the life of Torchwood. Hugely enjoyable and a nice spring board for more Torchwood stories that take place after the body of television work, More Than This serves a purpose but it’s an involved piece in its own right: 8/10

Thursday, 5 April 2018

The Heavenly Paradigm written by Guy Adams and directed by Scott Handcock

What’s it about: With his plans approaching fruition, the Master travels to Stamford Bridge in the 1970s: a location he believes might hold the key to his success. But what terrible secret lurks under the stairs of No. 24 Marigold Lane? And what sacrifices will the Master make in the name of ultimate victory?

War Master: He’s deeply amused that the TARDIS materialises in the form of a police telephone box. It’s wonderful that he calls his own species one of the most terrifying in the universe. He takes delight in telling the Time lords he is visiting for purely altruistic reasons. When his motives match up with those of his peoples, he might just be worth listening to. When faced with one of his people brandishing a weapon and all he has is a cup of tea to hand he asks, ‘Are you scared yet?’ You can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs and the Master is very particular about asking Cole if he thinks it is worth doing anything, whatever the cost to change the course of the Time War. Effectively his companion was agreeing to sacrifice himself. I do love how in this set the Master is completely honest and upfront, how he behaves to a specific set of rules. He never deceives anybody. He’s perhaps more honourable than the Doctor in that respect, whilst still behaving like a complete bastard. He doesn’t want a universe in ruins. If he did he would simply step back and let the War rip the multiverse apart. He wants peace and order and stability. He wants survival and power. He wonders if he is a product of his upbringing in that respect. Mrs Wilson points out that if he dispensed with his psychotic obsessions he could be the most wonderful man in the universe. Typical really, the one time he tries to make the universe a better place and it all blows up in his face.

Cole: Is Cole a little too naïve to have fallen for the Master’s charms quite so completely? I don’t think so because Jacobi plays the part so welcomingly (just like Delgado did, to a point where it was easier to champion him than Pertwee’s Doctor at times) and because he hasn’t actually been seen to do anything quite so resolutely evil as we would expect from the Master. He’s been very careful to present himself as a bystander in the War. It’s only when Cole is attached to the Paradigm and he still champions the Master that I was a little incredulous. Cole is labouring under the misapprehension that the Time lords have a sense of morality, rather than a sense of arrogance that they should dominate…well because they should.

Standout Performance: Nerys Hughes playing the perfect suburban housewife who is actually a Time lady in disguise. I especially liked how slipped her façade so easily when Cole has been knocked unconscious, from cheerful platitudes to straight to the point threats. She’s quite the talent, Nerys, and it would be nice for Big Finish to find a regular role for her. Jonny Green for again tugging at the heartstrings so effectively. And of course, Derek Jacobi, whose every utterance is one of sublime menace. Oh wait, that’s the entire cast. In that case, bravo.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I know exactly what I am doing! There is a reason I’m not called The Apprentice, you know.’
‘Making choices is what life is all about.’

Great Ideas: Even England in the 1970s is feeling the effects of the Time War. People can change gender in a heartbeat. Great swathes of history are being rewritten as the walls of reality come tumbling down. That’s rather frightening, isn’t it? To be living your life one day after the next only to realise that yesterday you never existed at all. If the War keeps going the way it is there will be nobody left, anywhere. A facility exists in the 1970s where the Time Lords keep their most terrifying weapons. A security weapon that bombards you with things that it finds in your subconscious. It would have a field day with my head. Trust the Time Lords to aim for the mind to hurt rather than any kind of physical pain. The Heavenly Paradigm is one of Gallifrey’s most shameful secrets. Certain decisions bring positive effects in our lives whilst others lead to consequence we might wished to have avoided. Imagine there was a way you could always make all the right decisions. You would live the perfect life. The paradigm examines a personal timeline and pinpoints the moments that can be changed to achieve maximum potential. Each person, each civilisation achieves the best chance of happiness. It’s designed to minimise conflict, to give you the best possible outcome. There’s a very arrogant assumption that The Time Lords don’t need fixing and that it is the Daleks who need altering to prevent the Time War from taking place. This is exactly what the Time lords were doing in Genesis of the Daleks, trying to turn the pepper pots into less aggressive creatures. This is a fascinating way to look at the exercise though, with a weapon that could iron out the entire timeline of the species and make such dramatic changes to the Web of Time (we haven’t had that phrase bandied about in a while). Nothing provides a great dose of potential energy than the fallout of cancelled probabilities. All those changes, all those possibilities wiped out and the Paradigm is juiced full of temporal energy.

Isn’t it Odd: This story does so well what Suburban Hell failed to achieve in the 4DA line, a suburban environment hiding a deadly alien secret. The Heavenly Paradigm achieves this by dialling back the weirdness and simply presenting a Time Lord facility in a mundane setting. Most people use their under stairs cupboard to store dull things but here there is a hangar for experimental aircraft.

Standout Scene:
Imagine the potential energy that could be reaped from the death of one man who created an entire race of robotic monsters that spread across the galaxy. With growing dread we realise that the Master is going to wipe Cole from existence, and the creatures he created in The Sky Man, in order to extract that source of energy and use it to manipulate the Time War. Big, big ideas but made to impact emotionally because we have come to like Cole. It’s like eliminating Hitler, or Davros, from history. Except he’s a really nice guy.

Result: ‘This is not what I wanted!’ This is a conceptual horror, told sedately, but giving you a lot to think about. The temporal energy shenanigans reminded me of the latter eighth Doctor Adventure books, particularly Sometime Never…, and the concepts fascinated me for the same reason. I love how the events of the Sky Man play such a big part in this story, giving that tale additional weight. It’s astonishing how quiet this story is and how economical it is cast wise, and yet how far reaching the ideas discussed are. It goes to show that you can created something epic without resorting to a cast of a thousand shouting voices, Dalek porn and pointless battle scenes without pictures. It the ideas hold weight and are brought down to a human level so they are affecting, you’ve got something huge in scale but still intimate. It’s a delightful disparity. This whole set has been leading up to giving the Master the chance to play God and turn the universe to his design. The last time he had a chance to do something on this scale he wiped half of the damn universe out. This time he’s even less in control of the fallout. The sequence towards the end of the story where the paradigm is activated and the universe is constantly in flux is quite astonishing in its possibility. Bravo for tying this so effectively into the Master’s established New Series timeline. Bravo for giving Jacobi the chance to return to the role and prove what a joy he would have been had he stuck around a little longer. And bravo for making a fully fleshed out character who is honourable in some ways and completely foul in others but always quite charming in his approach either way. It’s been a mesmerising experiment, this set, and one that was very worth trying. I certainly wouldn’t object to hear more from the War Master. He’s more than proven that he is capable of driving a series of his own. Blakes’ 7 proved that it was more than possible to have an anti-hero at the helm of a series and Only the Good shows you how that would play out with one of the finest character actors in the country took hold of that responsibility and ran with it. A risky gambit, but a successful one: 8/10

Only the Good box set: 8/10

The Sky Man written by James Goss and directed by Scott Handcock

What’s it about: When his new companion decides to save a planet, the Master indulges this most futile of requests. Materialising on a primitive, agrarian world, both the strangers quickly find their place in it… until fallout from the War invades their happy paradise.

War Master: It’s a great image of the Master, a Time lord in command of a TARDIS and completely impotent in the face of the Time War. It’s not like the Master took Cole to a world that he knew was bound to destruction because he gave him the choice of several. Unless he chose several that he knew were doomed… He’s always enjoyed hobbies that require patience and subtlety, going from a seed to a product of marvellous complexity. He could be describing one of his masterplans! Marvellous he suggests that he has the kind of face you can trust. The Master tending to his vineyard and keeping his nose out of Cole’s world saving activities is a fantastic conceit. It’s a little like what the Doctor does in Kill the Moon but handled with far more subtlety and believability. Plus, it’s just nice to listen to the man talk about something other than grandiose schemes and plots. It might seem heartless when he refuses to help this civilisation but he is still true to his word. When he arrived he specifically said that he wasn’t allowed to get involved and that his people would look unkindly on his interference and punish his appropriately (maybe he recalls watching the Doctor’s trial when recalling how they react to interference). If you asked him outright if he helped in any way he could refuse to say he did but conveniently he has left supplies to create a cyber race for Cole to use. He knows exactly what he is doing and exactly what his companion will do with those spare parts. The Master offering Cole the wine he has been making throughout the story, almost to toast his failure.

Cole: We’ve never seen the Master with an actual companion in the same way that Doctor travels with a friend. He had stooges that he manipulated in the Sea Devils and The Time Monster and Lucy was his wife and somebody he kept around to take his frustrations on. The closest was probably Chang Lee from the TV Movie and he snapped his neck so that didn’t go so well. It’s an interesting dynamic, having somebody in the Master’s TARDIS that he is willing to take to a doomed world and let him see if he can do anything about saving it. The doctor would often be known to remark ‘this is my best friend’ about his companions but the Master departs with a marvellous ‘treat him with sympathy, he means well.’ Cole integrates into this society naturally, with a few bumps along the way as he tries to ‘improve’ their lifestyle with technology that backfire and the romance that brews up feels very natural. He’s like a dodgy wine, apparently, after a while he’s bearable. They call Cole ‘the Sky Man’ because of where he came from. It surprises him when he finally says ‘our world’ rather than ‘your world.’ When it is clear that something deadly has come to this world and finger is pointed at Cole, he is quick to point out all the hard work he has done here and the character he has shown in helping this society. You can’t help but like this guy. Elidh means so much to him that when people start dropping like flies he is quick to make her a survival suit like his own. Coles tears when the Master turns up to take him away from the hell he has created were really affecting. Never before has someone saying ‘what have I done?’ hit me so hard. He doesn’t just carry the burden of this races construction but he also carries the weight of every planet they destroy and every life they take.

Standout Performance: Jonny Green gives a superb performance in The Sky Man, creating a Cole that it is easy to warm to and hard to condemn when his efforts go awry. The most important element of any audio drama is to have a character that you care about or can believe in and in both cases Green triumphs.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Typical. When a man decides to sew, he decides to sew in tin.’
‘A paradox made on a paradox…’
‘If they leave their world, they’ll burn the very stars and fill the emptiness of space with their screams…’

Great Ideas: The cover is phenomenal. Quite apart from a the very beautifully young man depicted (what? I’m only human!), it really sets the scene for this story effectively. The covers for both the Gallifrey and War Master sets have been above and beyond what I expect from Big Finish of late, certainly of the Main Range. This is a society that is aware of modern technology but chooses not to utilise it. Technology would have made them visible to those who are fighting the Time War, it is the best for of defence to maintain a peaceful, agrarian society. They slipped under the radar by keeping their noses out of the conflict. It’s astonishing how easily Cole’s efforts and his drive to help these people becomes something more sinister.

Audio Landscape: The robotic voices that kick in after the civilisation are encased in Cyber-suits are terrifying. ‘Retribution…’

Standout Scene: The moment Anvar was placed inside his survival suit really affected me. These are never specifically stated to be Cybermen but we have such a long-standing history with the creatures and the idea of being placed inside a cold metal suit and suffering a claustrophobic attack is stifling to listen to. It makes that moment of conversion so human and completely terrifying.

‘It looks…unfriendly’ Surprising, thoughtful, dramatic and gripping, The Sky Man sunk its claws into me and never let go. I was a little reluctant to have an adventure where the Master is sidelined and a one-off companion takes centre stage but Cole is characterised and intelligently and engagingly from the off and his integration into this simple society gently reveals shades of his character that surprised me. This is better characterisation than a lot of Doctor Who companions get in their respective ranges, Cole is sweet, funny and thoughtful. It’s a society that is painted beautifully too, an agrarian people who are proud of their lack of technology but with Cole’s influence slowly come to depend on it. I’ve seen this sort of story play out before on many science fiction shows, especially ones like Stargate and Star Trek. Where a regular is absorbed into a society that they visit and they have a profound effect on one another. But it is done here with such emotional honesty and naturalism that this really is the standard that the others should match up to. This reminded me of Goss’ The Winning Side for the Bernice Summerfield series, which was a real highlight of that period of the that range, insofar as I was engrossed by the cleanness of the writing where it felt like not a word was wasted, the quality of the characterisation and the doomy tone that led to some unforgettably dramatic scenes. The direction and performances deserve much praise, it takes some skill to make affecting drama like this seems so effortless. I really felt for these people and I had known them less than an hour. Cole thinks he’s saving these people from their deaths but all he is doing is providing them with an alternative purgatory. Watching this play out (given everything we know about Cyberman history) is devastating, but inevitable. All it takes is to put on a suit and all your problems will be over. The flesh is weak, technology is superior. Thoroughly absorbing and personal, this is audio drama at its finest: 10/10

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

The Good Master written by Janine H Jones and directed by Scott Handcock

What’s it about: The Time War rages around Arcking - a planet serving as a sanctuary for the sick and injured. But Arcking is protected by a mysterious, powerful force: a force the Master will stop at nothing to harness… even if time itself is against him.

War Master:
Much like Delgado, Jacobi isn’t just a snarling, giggling villain but a rounded character. He rarely comes across as a ‘villain’ at all, except in climactic moments but rather a dark sort of character who is capable of doing good deeds if the situation calls for it. I much prefer that than the Ainley or Roberts approach when the poor guy couldn’t have any screen time without laughing like a loony or making some grandiose statement about how monstrous he is. It’s almost a shame that he has to take on a guise in order to take on a benevolent air. I would have quite liked the Master to simply be himself but behaving in generous way. It would make his acts of villainy stick in the craw even more. I really enjoyed his speech about doing as much as they can to save the lives of the patients for as long as possible…why wouldn’t the Master be down for that, if it didn’t get in the way of his masterplans? Just don’t tell the Doctor. When you think about the Master and the Daleks have quite a long history that stretches back to Frontier in Space (‘stupid tin boxes…’), through to the TV Movie, onto Big Finish (especially Dark Eyes) and the books (Legacy of the Daleks). He’s always exploiting them, I’ve noticed, and now it’s payback. He calls surgery ‘primitive childsplay’ but he does know his way around a scalpel. The Master came to Arcking to discover the force that the planet is imbued with and harness it. When his life is in danger he can even stroke somebody’s ego and calm them down enough to get himself out of that situation. Time and again the Mater has been on Arcking, first to try and take the heart for himself and now for others. Whereas the Doctor likes an inquiring assistant, the Master thinks that Viola ask far too many questions. Unlike the Monk with Tamsin, he shows no remorse whatsoever at her demise.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’m the Master. It’s what I do. Infiltrate, exploit, win.’
‘One day soon and out of his own free will, the Master will choose to make the universe a better place.’

Great Ideas: Why would the Daleks attack an unarmed civilian ambulance? Because that’s what Daleks do. For all I complain about the overuse of the Daleks on audio, the producers of the various ranges at least manage to remember the thing they do best: they kill. The New Series sure forgot that for some time. Time passes very differently on Arcking, the anomalies distort the gravitational field and quite by chance as result Arcking projects a field of protection. A powerful force trapped on a planet lost to the fringes of the Time War. Some of this planet keeps them protected from the ravages of the Time War, something ancient and powerful. A state of grace. Nobody can be killed unless it is their time. Whatever it is it promotes longevity and extends life. Imagine the Daleks with a weapon like that at their disposal. I would never get bored of watching/listening to Kamikaze Daleks, turning themselves into enormous fists to punch through into their desired location. Risky, but effective. The heart of the planet is a sentient life form. Arcking was always going to be destroyed on this day, that’s how the heart was able to manifest itself in the first place. The trigger of its own destruction.

Standout Scene: There’s a beautiful moment where the Master stands back from the situation and talks to himself about the mess he has got himself into. It’s a stunning little monologue from Jacobi that reminded me of the moment in The Massacre where the Doctor expresses his woes at the console. Maybe he’s left it too long this time. The universe is going to hell. Maybe his number is up. It’s great to see him expressing his weariness at the extremity of the Time War. When a character designed to fight has had enough it brings home just how bad things have gotten.

Result: An interesting concept sits at the heart of The Good Master, one that sees a planet at threat because the Master happened to land there. How far would he go in order to protect himself? How many people would be manipulate and exploit and dispose of? Arcking is an interesting planet to visit because it shows the fallout of the Time War in a very different, subtle way. We get to experience the suffering of those races that have been caught in the fallout of the Time War without having to wade through endless noisy battles. How refreshing to have a new female writer introduced and the writing has a freshness about that comes from a new voice. It’s not a guns blazing war story that we have been used to as Big Finish has dived into the murky waters of the Time War but an altogether more thoughtful affair and I really appreciate that. The Time War touches The Good Master but it doesn’t dominate it. There’s no hysterics or angst, the story plays out very logically with people reacting to the situation in a reasonable way. Some of these Time War stories have been pitched at the hysteria level of a soap opera. I like the mystery of what is at the heart of Arcking is, the Master is at the heart of a proper SF conundrum. Just listening to Jacobi’s silky smooth voice is a joy for me. His continuing involvement in the extended Doctor Who universes shouldn’t be taken for granted. He’s one of the finest actors this country has ever produced and he’s playing the Master. Soak that in. And this set is giving him some delicious opportunities to play the Master as a rounded character, with a sinister edge. It’s a fascinating take on the character and I can’t wait to explore more. The Good Master is a very enjoyable story, if not one of the big hitters. You’ve got a smart plot, decent characters and an intriguing take on the Master: 7/10