Monday, February 29, 2016

Winter for the Adept by: Andrew Cartmel directed by: Gary Russell: Trapped in the Ghost Academy

Winter for the Adept stars Peter Davison as the Doctor and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa with Peter Jurasik as Lt. Peter Sandoz.  It was written by Andrew Cartmel, directed by Gary Russell and released in July 2000 by Big Finish Productions.

 

Andrew Cartmel is someone you wouldn’t think would be writing a Fifth Doctor adventure.  Known best for script editing Seasons 25 and 26 of the Classic Series, writing a trilogy of Virgin New Adventures and penning three of the four Lost Season 27 Stories, you would think he would write for the Seventh Doctor.  Even though he is out of his usual element Cartmel really shows how much he understands the differences between the different Doctors masterfully.  The script early on looks like it might be suffering from having the wrong Doctor and companion with the names switched around with the Doctor withholding information from Nyssa and not appearing until Part Two, but it is eventually revealed he didn’t actually know what was going on and didn’t have a master plan. It feels very much in line with the Fifth Doctor as throughout Season 19 he was trying to get Tegan home but was never able to do so until the end of the season.  The story fits nicely into that seasonal gap and like a real start to the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa adventures Big Finish would give us after the false start that was The Land of the Dead.

 

Winter for the Adept’s plot sees Nyssa teleported to a school in the French Alps which has been snowed in and is being haunted.  The Doctor eventually follows on and they get wrapped up in an adventure with telepathic aliens called the Spillage and the ghost of a mountain climber.  Cartmel’s script does its best in two regards, the characters and the atmosphere of the story.  As I said Cartmel understands the differences between the different incarnations of the Doctor and the way he does the Fifth Doctor is very similar to the way Robert Holmes and Christopher Bailey saw him.  This allows Peter Davison to flex his acting chops and he is obviously having a ball with the script.  Sarah Sutton also gets to have a good time as she doesn’t understand Earth culture and has to help in an all-girls school without the Doctor.  She doesn’t believe in ghosts and knows that there must be a scientific explanation for everything that’s going on.

 

The supporting cast is also great with standout being Ms. Tremayne played by Sally Faulkner, who is a religious zealot.  Now you would think they would make her go through some sort of character arc broadening her horizons, but no she dies halfway through which is a shame as Faulkner is a really good actress.  Next we have the double act of Allison and Peril played by Liz Sutherland and India Fisher respectively who are two girls with telepathic powers stuck in the school for Christmas.  Peril is the more mischievous of the two as she wants to escape the school to get married with a mountaineer and ends up causing the most trouble throughout the story.  Allison is the naïve girl as she wants something more and tries her hardest to sneak into the TARDIS.  She’s honestly a really boring character especially when paired with Peril as India Fisher has one of those voices that is always intrigued.  You also have the ghost Harding Wellman played by Chris Webber who is just sort of comic relief as he is accidentally doing the haunting of the school.  The villains of the piece are the Spillage which is a very boring villain as they’re motivation is to take over the world.

 

The direction and music of the story really add to the atmosphere as it feels a lot like the closing scene of Survival.  It’s a sort of melancholy that just pervades every atom of your being and you can get lost in it.  There are however quite a few problems in the story as the frame story really could have been cut as it doesn’t add much and the story takes a long time to get going.

 

To summarize Winter for the Adept is a fascinating character piece that only really fails in getting going with some great dialogue and characters who get explored to their fullest.  The story can be described as romantic in the classic sense of stirring emotions and is quite underrated.  82/100

Sunday, February 28, 2016

February Update


Well now another month is gone, so it’s time for me to write the regular update for the blog going over the successes and failures of the blog.  First and foremost my television reviews are taking a bit longer than I had initially expected as I’ve only done one this month.  Now I will be trying to make them more regular from now on, but I am unsure of how that will go.  The novel reviews also fell slightly behind with the fact that I practically lost the first week of the month for reviews with the exception of the Legacy review.  The audio reviews have been successful however.  The structure of these updates will be less refined by weeks and more by month blocks split into sections for TV reviews, audios and novels.

 

Feb. 28-Mar. 26


 

TV Stories
Earthshock
The Web Planet
The Tomb of the Cybermen
Love and Monsters
The Ark in Space

 

Novels
Evolution
St. Anthony’s Fire
Venusian Lullaby
Falls the Shadow
The Crystal Bucephalus
Parasite
State of Change
Warlock
The Romance of Crime
Set Piece
The Ghosts of N-Space

 

Audios

Winter for the Adept
The Apocalypse Element
The Fires of Vulcan
The Shadow of the Scourge
The Holy Terror
The Mutant Phase
Storm Warning
Sword of Orion
The Stones of Venice
Minuet in Hell
Loups-Garoux
Dust Breeding
Bloodtide
Project: Twilight
The Eye of the Scorpion
Colditz
Primeval
The One Doctor
Invaders from Mars
The Chimes of Midnight
Seasons of Fear
The Romance of Crime

 

Mar. 27-Apr. 30


 

TV Stories
Arc of Infinity
The Deadly Assassin
The Time Monster
The Seeds of Doom

 

Novels
Infinite Requiem
Time of Your Life
Sanctuary
Dancing the Code
Human Nature
The Menagerie
Original Sin
System Shock
Sky Pirates!
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

 

Audios
Embrace the Darkness
The Time of the Daleks
Neverland
Spare Parts
…ish
The Rapture
The Sandmen
The Church and the Crown
Bang-Bang-A-Boom!
Jubilee
Nekromanteia
The Dark Flame
Doctor Who and the Pirates
Creatures of Beauty
Project: Lazarus
Flip Flop
Omega
Davros
Master
Zagreus
Nightshade

 

May 1-28


TV Stories
The Horns of Nimon
The Power of the Daleks
The Underwater Menace
Inferno

 

Novels
Zamper
Invasion of the Cat-People
Toy Soldiers
Managra
Head Games
Millenial Rites
Time’s Champeon
The Also People
The Empire of Glass
Shakedown

 

Audios
The Wormery
Scherzo
The Creed of the Kromon
The Natural History of Fear
The Twilight Kingdom
The Axis of Insanity
Arrangements for War
The Harvest
The Roof of the World
Medicinal Purposes
Faith Stealer
The Last
Caerdroia
The Next Life
The Juggernauts
The Game
Dreamtime
Catch-1782
Three’s A Crowd
Unregenerate!

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Spectre of Lanyon Moor written and directed by: Nicholas Pegg: Blood and Thunder Days Long Passed

The Spectre of Lanyon Moor stars Colin Baker as the Doctor and Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethebridge-Stewart.  It was written and directed by Nicholas Pegg.  It was released in June 200 by Big Finish Productions.

 

One of my absolute favorite stories involves a monster in a lake with the local nobility being part of a larger conspiracy to take over the world with shapeshifting aliens with the Doctor’s companions being there to stop it with UNIT taking an interest.  That story is of course Terror of the Zygons and shares many plot similarities with The Spectre of Lanyon Moor.  Nicholas Pegg takes the plot outline for the first episode out of Terror of the Zygons, but that’s really where the similarity ends.  The plot of the story sees the Doctor, with a cold, take Evelyn to a Cornwall archeological site where phantoms have been appearing to the crew scaring them out of their heads.  They’ve called in Brigadier Lethebridge-Stewart, retired, to unofficially investigate the proceedings.  The story that follows involves an abandoned alien who only wants to find a way to get back home while two noblemen are experimenting to get the power of the alien.

 

The story is nothing too special in terms of plot, but the imagery it conjures up is very realistic as you can feel the emotions of the characters.  This is also apparent with the deaths in this story as they are depicted gruesomely with death screams and revolting in horror at the mess of bodies left behind.  The acting is top notch as well with the first real meeting of the Sixth Doctor and the Brigadier.  The Brigadier of course recognizes the Doctor immediately from his fashion sense and Nicholas Courtney’s performance with Colin Baker is the real highlight of the story.  The Brigadier knows the Doctor knows better, but would never describe him as arrogant as arrogance indicates ignorance.  While the two of them have met up in the novels, it can be inferred for continuity’s sake that they have been meeting out of order hence why the Brigadier recognizes the Doctor.  Even with a cold Colin Baker is giving it his all in the performance and is loving the chance to work with Nicholas Courtney.  Maggie Stables’ Evelyn Smythe is given a lot to do in this story.  If this was Terror of the Zygons she would be in the role of Sarah Jane Smith, investigating the mysterious goings on and going out on her own to solve the problems.  Yes she does get captured and is very near to being tortured, but with her usual sass and crafty mind she is able to get out of the situation.  The supporting cast of the story is also very interesting.  Yes the alien voices, done by master voice actor Toby Longworth, are a bit too over the top but it adds to the story especially considering he plays three different parts.  The other villain of the piece is the housekeeper Mrs. Moynihan played by Susan Jameson.  She’s basically a modern day feminist wanting power and has some of the stories best lines.  She sneaks her way past UNIT soldiers by walking her dogs and doesn’t care if she has to get her hands dirty to get what she wants.

 

The story was written and directed by Nicholas Pegg who it seems was trying to recreate the atmosphere of the Philip Hinchcliffe era of the show.  He succeeds masterfully as the atmosphere is thick with fog and gothic horrors as everything starts to go wrong.  It feels a lot like The Hound of the Baskervilles as the story takes place on a quiet moor.  Pegg’s directing flair is definitely unique from Gary Russell and Nicholas Briggs as Pegg is much subtler in what he tries to accomplish with the story.  Unlike the other Big Finish story the music is used sparingly and only comes in to accent a point.  The sound design and music by Alistair Lock is done subtly which helps add to the atmosphere.  Honestly the word that comes to mind when thinking of the story is subtle as it lets the atmosphere creep into you as you get wrapped up in the mystery of the monster.

 

The story however does have quite a few flaws.  First off the first episode is a quick remake of Terror of the Zygons which doesn’t really grab your attention as you just want to put on that story instead.  The doubling up of cast members also makes it a bit more difficult to distinguish different characters from each other.  Pegg also wrote in too many characters so some of them just drop off and reappear at other points.  There are also some twists that would only work on audio that are executed poorly.

 

To summarize, The Spectre of Lanyon Moor is a real treat of an audio that finally gives fans an interaction between the Sixth Doctor and the Brigadier.  The performances are great and the direction and music make for a unique experience.  It does borrow plot points from better stories and doesn’t do much more to stick out from the crowd than novelty.  72/100

Thursday, February 25, 2016

First Frontier by: David A. McIntee: Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind

This may be just a reaction to how much I hated Strange England, but I found First Frontier to be a nice slice of traditional pseudo-historical storytelling to keep me in the mood to read the Virgin New Adventures.  David A McIntee pours his heart and soul into making a period of history come to life with meticulous details that have been checked and double checked for accuracy.  It happened in White Darkness and it happens here as well as McIntee puts the TARDIS crew in a situation to solve a mystery.  Here however it is to solve the mysteries of the alien abduction stories from the 1950s.  Yes we are smack dab in the middle of the Second Red Scare where everyone you knew had to be a Communist Spy or had been abducted by aliens.  The period has always been fascinating for me and to see it come to life with such accuracy to detail is really quite refreshing.

 

The plot involves the Doctor, Ace and Benny arriving in New Mexico where they get wrapped in a government conspiracy as the United States government, the Central Intelligence Agency and the FBI have been broiled with the Tzun, a fascinating alien race whom I will get to in a second and of course the Master, post-Survival.  That premise alone is enough to get you hooked on the novel right from the start and honestly it helps keep the story moving along at a nice pace.  Being set on a government base for much of the novel allows for some classic interrogation scenes where McIntee shows exactly how well he characterizes the Seventh Doctor.  The Doctor is great at giving witty responses to the questioning tactics.  There are even explanations to why aliens in the movies are depicted as grey.  The Tzun are a fascinating alien race.  Imagine the Sontarans taken to one thousand and you have the vicinity of what the Tzun are.  I especially find the way they speak a refreshing change from what we usually get from alien races.  The characterization of Ace and Benny are also great as they are nearly polar opposites that somehow work together really well.  Benny gets some great moments as she is still pretty unfamiliar to the culture of the time and her reactions to what people think of aliens is pretty funny.  The Master is the only other decent part of the novel as McIntee captures Ainley’s portrayal from Survival perfectly especially considering he is degenerating into a Cheetah person.

 

The biggest problems with this novel is its supporting cast who are either comical stereotypes or forgettable.  Yes there are some good moments with them, but they are few and far between.  The pacing also has some odd moments especially as the novel is beginning.  It feels like McIntee is trying to imitate the style of Season 26 with the Doctor jumping right into the story, but it feels a bit off.  The pacing also slows down towards the end causing a few more problems.

 

To summarize, First Frontier is a great refreshing novel after a really bad turn that continues the Master’s storyline really well and keeps the story going.  Characterization is hit or miss while the pacing of the novel is all over the place with the bookends and causes a bit of mood whiplash.  70/100 (Note the copy I had of this novel was in really bad condition making it more difficult to read.  When I find a better copy I will reread it and my opinion may change)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Red Dawn by: Justin Richards directed by: Gary Russell: A Creeping Mars Day

Red Dawn stars Peter Davison as the Doctor and Nicola Bryant as Peri.  It was written by Justin Richards, directed by Gary Russell and released in May 2000 by Big Finish Productions.


Red Dawn is a rather odd story.  It is the introduction of the Ice Warriors to the audio dramas which was a big thing as at the time the Ice Warriors were very popular as The Seeds of Death and The Ice Warriors had been released on VHS recently and to good sales.  Justin Richards was also the editor for the BBC Books range so he was an easy pick for the writer of the story especially considering his own book and previous audio output.  That said Red Dawn sounds like a story that should really stick out as it takes place on Mars and mixes The Ice Warriors with The Tomb of the Cybermen mixing two of the most highly regarded Troughton stories.  Almost nothing could go wrong except it did.  A lot of things went wrong with this audio for a many number of reasons.  It isn’t all bad however as there are quite a few things to really like about this audio.


First and foremost Peter Davison and Nicola Bryant have such a good chemistry that wasn’t really explored much on the television series.  They interact great with Bryant’s Peri being almost tourist like and gets extremely excited with getting to Mars.  She is far from the damsel in distress on television while here she takes part in the events with relish.  Finally she gets a script worth sinking her teeth into and she gets to develop a relationship with the Doctor to keep her going when he eventually regenerates into his sixth self.  Davison also gets to have a good performance as he clearly relishes the chance to be the Doctor again and just has all his faith that Big Finish will succeed in their audio series.  The voice acting on the Ice Warriors and Ice Lord in this story is top notch.  They’re a lot better than the odd Dalek voices from The Genocide Machine and they really help with the atmosphere, making it feel a lot like you actually on the planet Mars.  The basic plot of the story and its premise, while traditional as Justin Richards is known for, is still pretty good overall but when you get to the supporting characters you get all the problems.


The largest problem in the story is the villain.  The villain is not the Ice Warriors, but is Paul Webster played by Stephen Fewell, who is a human motivated by greed.  That is nothing terribly bad except the character is a spoiled rich brat who is used to getting everything he wants.  This makes the story insufferable.  The rest of the supporting cast is also just as boring with a lot of them being Americans or Canadians brought in to try and make it sound like a NASA mission.  I applaud the effort, but there isn’t nearly enough here.  The other large problem of the story is just how slow the pacing is.  It is four parts and they are pretty short parts, but there isn’t enough substance to keep the story going for the four episodes.  It honestly made the story suffer from being what could have been a pretty good story.


To summarize Red Dawn tries to be a mashup of classic stories and includes some great Ice Warriors.  The Doctor and Peri are great but the supporting cast is awful and the pacing is really quite slow.  A weak point in Justin Richards’ career.  45/100

Monday, February 22, 2016

Strange England by: Simon Messingham: Teatime of the Damned

God I hate this book.  I really, really hate this thing.  I thought The Pit was as bad as the Virgin New Adventures could get.  This novel is worse than that novel for a lot of the same reasons so I hope this review doesn’t get redundant.  Strange England is the debut novel of Simon Messingham who after this went on to write for the BBC Books line of Doctor Who novels. It’s a wonder that he was allowed to write for Doctor Who again after this mess as Strange England is page after page of grotesque imagery trying to create a horror story in the same vain as Ghost Light and Horror of Fang Rock but he doesn’t put any substance in the characters present in the novel so the grotesque imagery and body horror doesn’t have any real horrific effect.  The plot is also paper thin and Messingham really is trying to scare you with his novel, but has nothing to keep it going.

 

Strange England sees the Doctor, Ace and Benny land in an alternate universe inside of a TARDIS where there is a Victorian Manor House filled with people who don’t understand the basics of life.  There are giant insects and everything starts trying to kill the people in the house but the twist is it’s actually The Quack who is basically a stupid version of the Valeyard for the character of Charlotte who for some reason is a Time Lady, but she still doesn’t understand basics of time and temperature.  Yeah the story doesn’t make any sense and it just sort of happens without a second glance and you’re expected to care.  Everything goes weird and everyone makes it out of the story alive somehow or other.  The plot is really all over the place and doesn’t know what it wants to be, if it wants to be a horror novel or a character study or a comedy.  Yes there are several moments where the story tries its hardest to be a horrific comedy which just throws mood whiplash into the mix of the story creating even more problems in the mix.

 

The novel really fails at the horror aspects because of how it falls flat on the characterization.  The Doctor suffers as Simon Messingham doesn’t understand who the Seventh Doctor is as here he is played as a clown who still plays the spoons and tries cracking jokes.  He barely acts like the Doctor as he freezes up when a young girl is being killed by a horrific insect in this alternate universe letting her die.  He doesn’t have a single plan and lets his companions get swept up in the mystery not for any sort of master plan, but just because it seems like he was extremely bored with the last few adventures.  Ace suffers also as she is played as almost too nice.  She has a caring soul which really doesn’t work after we’ve seen her development.  Now I don’t always like the hardened Ace as much, but even without the hardening she was never very nice, but strong and independent.  This becomes really apparent when Messingham tries to make her tough and it doesn’t work at all as more mood whiplash is created.  She also gets a subplot going into another alternate universe within the alternate universe where she meets up with a psychic who has supernatural powers which creates a lot of problems as more imagery is created.  Benny also comes off badly as blandly as she is portrayed as almost a lazy woman with an affinity for alcohol.  This novel really brings out the problems with the TARDIS team as if they aren’t portrayed correctly the adventure automatically suffers from any characterization.

 

The supporting cast of the novel also is one note.  You have Garvey who is your Standard English butler and Messingham tries a lot of comedy with him.  You have the rest of the house staff whom I can barely remember.  There is the villain, The Quack who as I said is a boring version of the Valeyard without any of the charm of Michael Jayston.  The story with him is really sickening and clichéd as he has nothing interesting to do.

 

The horror elements in the novel also don’t work as they try to be really terrifying but they keep happening every ten pages so there is no tension build up.  This makes the novel an incredibly slow read as well as a bad read that shows a lot of the problems of getting first time novelists.  You will get gems from first timers like Kate Orman, Paul Cornell and Mark Gatiss who all showed they can be the best allowing them to have second and third novels each in the same range, but you also get a lot of duds like Neil Penswick and Andrew Hunt who have written some of the worst Virgin New Adventures.  They read like first time novelists and have plots that feel like they’ve been made up as the writing goes along with no real revision.  Yes I like risks but editors really need to be able to tell people no when it comes to what and who they are allowing to write.

 

To summarize, Strange England can barely be qualified as a Doctor Who novel as it doesn’t have any recognizable Doctor Who characters and reads extremely like a first time novelist.  The story really should have been scrapped in favor of some other novel, but alas that was never to be and we still got this trite.  It receives my first and hopefully my last 0/100

The Genocide Machine by: Mike Tucker directed by: Nicholas Briggs: Wetworks of Genocidal Knowledge

The Genocide Machine stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace.  It was written by Mike Tucker, directed by Nicholas Briggs and released in April 2000.

 

You really can’t have Doctor Who without the Daleks.  They were introduced in the second story of the TV series, appeared in every Doctor Who stage play, had their own two theatrical films, and have been just as popular, if not more so, than the show itself and ten months after beginning their Doctor Who audio dramas, Big Finish Productions had their first story to feature the Daleks, The Genocide Machine.  This story has an interesting history as it is the beginning of a four story arc of loosely connected Dalek stories as a prelude to the spin-off Dalek Empire.  Dalek Empire was Nicholas Briggs’ pet project at the time and led to four successful series wrapping up in 2008.  And to write the first part in the prequel Briggs brought in visual effects advisor and Past Doctor Adventures novelist Mike Tucker to write the story.  The story sadly doesn’t work very well in its own context or as a prequel as it went through a sort of development hell.  What we eventually got was a remake of Planet of the Daleks with elements of Resurrection of the Daleks mixed in for good measure that would have very little setup for the Dalek Empire story arc.

 

I do have to congratulate Tucker for an honestly brilliant script character wise.  It may just because I was listening this as a remedy for Strange England (that review is coming), but I loved some of the comedy in the script.  The Doctor is as manipulating as ever, but when he realizes he has some overdue library books he freaks out and frantically tries to explain to Ace why the library is so important.  McCoy is great at pulling off his Doctor and has a balance between the drama and the comedy inherently in the script.  This is where Tucker really succeeds and where I feel his writing partner, Robert Perry is definitely better with the plots of their work output while Tucker does the characters.

 

Sophie Aldred does a great turn here as Ace and the Dalek duplicate of Ace.  She really steals the show with very little artificial modification of her voice.  She’s clearly having a ball here.  Louise Faulkner plays the recurring character Bev Tarrent who I’ve never really warmed to as a character.  Bev is basically trying to be Bernice Summerfield and it really shows here as Tucker obviously wanted to include Benny.  I know Bev is her own character and she gets better in her other appearance and the ones in the Bernice Summerfield solo series, but here she’s a complete rip-off of Benny.  Faulkner is still a good actress and is clearly still giving it her all and trying not to be Lisa Bowerman.  The rest of the supporting cast fares a lot better with a rather Robert Holmesian duo with Bruce Montague’s Elgin who is very similar to Henry Gordon Jago and the silent Prink played by Nicholas Briggs, who eventually gets some of the best lines in the play.  The Daleks however are really off as the modulation for Alistair Lock is really quite off while Nicholas Briggs has it going strong from the outset.  The way the Daleks are defeated is pretty creative and most of the twists are what keeps the story going.

 

To summarize, The Genocide Machine is still a step down from The Marian Conspiracy and The Fearmonger, but is at least able to provide listeners with a decent story with some excellent characterization. 70/100

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Marian Conspiracy by: Jacqueline Rayner directed by: Gary Russell: The Queen Will See You Now

The Marian Conspiracy stars Colin Baker as the Doctor.  It was written by Jacqueline Rayner, directed by Gary Russell and released in March 2000 by Big Finish Productions.

 

If The Fearmonger is the story that put Big Finish Productions on a solid footing to continue to be great, The Marian Conspiracy is the story that truly began the redemption of the Sixth Doctor from what we got on television to the character fans know and love today.  Yes Colin Baker’s Doctor was a bit softer in The Sirens of Time, but when Whispers of Terror was released it was straight back to bickering with Peri throughout the story.  Here he does try to bicker but the introduction of the new companion Evelyn Smythe stops any of that from happening.  Evelyn right off the bat is one of the most inventive companion characters Doctor Who has ever had.  She is a woman from present day Earth yet instead of being young she is a fifty something year old history lecturer.  She has a bad knee and has a family history dating back to the rule of Queen Elizabeth I.  She gives her students chocolate cake for succeeding in class and has a penchant for hot cocoa.  Evelyn is masterfully portrayed by the late great Maggie Stables who hits it off immediately with Colin Baker’s Doctor.  This first play they have together shows just how great the relationship would become and how dynamic her character would be.  She also jumps at the chance to see history and ends up tricking the Doctor into taking her along as her family history is being unraveled leading us right into what this story is about.

 

The Marian Conspiracy’s plot is a purely historical one as it sees the Doctor and new companion Evelyn Smythe thrust back into the reign of Queen Mary to make sure history stays on its correct course.  Really the story is a character piece analyzing the reign of Queen Mary and public opinion on her stance on the split between Catholicism and Anglicanism.  In actual history Mary had a very narrow-minded view on the issue, choosing to burn at the stake anyone who thought differently to her Catholic views.  Yet Rayner’s script doesn’t portray the Queen as a complete and total monster, but as misguided into putting things in the wrong and causing countless deaths.  You can’t help sympathize with her as she tries her hardest to convince herself she’s pregnant, but history dictates that she isn’t.  She eventually suffers a breakdown.  This is all helped by the way the Doctor is able to change Evelyn’s views on the Queen as Evelyn believes Mary was weak as she only relied on her husband to make any real decisions.  You also have a flavor for the citizens of London and how much fear they’re under from the threat of being burned at the stake.

 

There are three main parties of the supporting characters.  First you have the Protestant peasants who are just as bad as Mary in they want to see all Catholics burned at the stake.  They allow for some great debate with Evelyn who has her views challenged throughout the audio.  You have the French ambassadors who want to wage war on England to take the crown of course.  You also have the Queen’s Lady in Waiting who just wants to be with the man she married as a Protestant when it was still legal.

 

Colin Baker’s Doctor also gets to develop his Doctor really far throughout this audio play as he is able to soften his portrayal and peel back a few layers.  It hasn’t been very long since his Trial and he’s trying to continue on.  While it doesn’t come out much you can tell the Doctor is trying to find a new companion even though he is initially aversive to the thought of Evelyn in the TARDIS with him.  By the end he gives in to her desires to see the universe and it looks like it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

 

The pacing of the audio is also great as it doesn’t play out as one four part story but more like four one part stories.  It really allows the characters to flesh themselves out and not fall into the Hartnell trap of starting out really promising then getting really boring by Part Two.

 

To summarize, The Marian Conspiracy is a flawless story that holds up remarkably well after all these years.  The beginnings of Evelyn and the Softer Six really makes this a necessary audio for anyone to pick up.  It also holds to my theory that women can write the best Doctor Who.  100/100

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Goth Opera by: Paul Cornell: Just Add Blood and Stir

So you know how in my Blood Harvest review I mentioned that I may have spent half the night reading halfway into the book, well after that I promised myself it wouldn’t happen again.  That promise was quickly broken as I spent half last night reading three quarters of Blood Harvest’s companion novel, the Paul Cornell penned series premiere of the Virgin Missing Adventures Goth Opera.  So yeah it’s fit to say that I enjoyed the novel considering I read the thing in less than a twenty four hour period.  Paul Cornell really knows how to entice you in with a story and I’m glad to say you don’t really need prior knowledge of what happened in Blood Harvest as the only continuity piece was reprinted early on in the book to explain everything that would be going on.  Before you continue reading this review this is your final warning on spoilers as I will be spoiling some of the plot twists of this book and the ending of Blood Harvest so I can adequately analyze some of this novel’s characters.

 

Goth Opera sees the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan after the events of Snakedance recovering from Tegan’s possession at a cricket tournament on Earth.  Of course Tegan is immediately annoyed at their present location and within her first line of dialogue Cornell nails her character perfectly and you immediately feel for her as the novel goes on while absolutely horrid things begin to happen to Nyssa.  The plot gets going when a renegade Time Lady Ruath from the epilogue to Blood Harvest tracks down the Vampire Messiah and gets a vampire to bite and convert Nyssa into one of the undead.  Yes this novel sees Nyssa and even later the Fifth Doctor bitten by vampires and start to turn into the bloodsuckers.  How do they get around this you may ask?  Well Cornell takes a solution from ancient vampire myth and the way it is done is quite sublimely and actually manages to satisfy the need for a thrilling conclusion.  The plot itself is interesting with the Doctor and Tegan trying to find a way to save Nyssa from her conversion and trying to stop Ruath’s plans of making trouble.  Along the way there is a group of radical Christians and a cult whose main chant is the funeral procession is “Requiem for Evita” from the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical Evita.  So yeah even with a rather dark subject matter Cornell can’t help but put in a little bit of humor to liven the mood.  There’s even a little detour with Romana getting stuck in a miniscope on the ship of Sabalom Glitz which while it is a distraction, it is great fun for the novel and seeds some seeds of Romana possibly going higher in Time Lord Society.

 

Cornell also nails the characterization of his regulars.  The Fifth Doctor, who has always been one of the weaker Doctors for me as he was too human, uses his human caring to motivate him to go to any lengths to save Nyssa.  He even allows himself to be bitten by a vampire in a last ditch effort to stop the vampire’s plan.  Moving right along to Nyssa who spends the majority of the novel in a trancelike state as she is losing her humanity and begins craving blood.  She slowly loses her sanity as well trying to stay human.  What makes her descent into darkness even more tragic is she was bitten by a vampire baby called “The Child” who knocked on her window and almost enjoyed being bitten.  Outside of her trance near the beginning of the novel she gets to have a great argument with Tegan.  Remember this is right after Snakedance so Nyssa wants to try and help Tegan recover from being possessed by the Mara a second time.  There is also implication that she feels guilty about Tegan being possessed.  This brings us to the brilliant way Tegan was portrayed by Cornell in this novel.  She states flat out that the Mara is still in her mind and she is wrestling every day to keep it suppressed with the Doctor’s head.  She fears being taken over a second time yet doesn’t really want to open up about her feelings to Nyssa who genuinely wants to help her.  Once Nyssa becomes a vampire she is scared as she knows what it’s like to not be yourself and knows how much pain Nyssa is in as she isn’t herself.

 

Now on to the villains of the piece.  First up is Ruath who has a surprising history with the Doctor.  Now if you don’t want spoilers, first off don’t read reviews of novels that are nearly twenty years old and second look away now just read the book.  This has been your final warning.  When they were young, Ruath was going to accompany the Doctor in the stealing of the TARDIS and go with him and Susan, but the Doctor left her behind.  This has made her extremely bitter towards the Doctor as she had almost fallen in love with him and fueled her desire for research into the undead.  When the actual reason she was left behind was to try and get Time Lords in the Academy to think for themselves and it becomes a really tragic story.  The other villain of the piece is Yarven (who was turned into a vampire in Blood Harvest) who is nearly as manipulative as the Doctor.  He manipulates Nyssa into compliance by promising her that he can help and she falls for it hook, line and sinker.  The final important characters of the novel are Jake and Madeline who are two vampire lovers who end up surviving the story and living on.  They are almost like Sweeney Todd as you don’t want to sympathize with them for all the horrid things they do yet you find yourself hoping they survive the rapidly approaching bloodbath.  That’s really all there is for characters, yes I mentioned a couple in the introduction and while they are integral to the plot there isn’t much more I can say except they were good for their purpose.

 

To summarize Goth Opera is what many opera’s excel at, a character piece.  It delves into the minds of its characters and puts them through a lot of hellish situations.  Everything about the novel is perfect even the few distractions that Cornell threw in to keep things going.  The question is when is this going to be adapted for an audio drama?  Well Big Finish still haven’t announced how many novels are going to be adapted next year, but I hope that this one and Blood Harvest are on that list.  As the first in a hopefully brilliant line of Virgin New Adventures Goth Opera gets 100/100.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Blood Harvest by: Terrance Dicks: Just to Make Wars a Little Bit Bloodier

Terrance Dicks is one of those authors that can do no wrong when it comes to the Doctor Who universe.  Bringing in the Golden Age of Doctor Who in the Jon Pertwee years and writing most of the Target novelizations and of course contributing to the original novels published by Virgin and BBC Books.  He returns once again to the Virgin New Adventures after writing the brilliant Timewyrm: Exodus and revisits one of his best stories State of Decay creating a sequel that is just as good if not better than the original.  Blood Harvest sees the Doctor and Ace in Chicago in the 1920s dealing with the Prohibition and Al Capone while Benny is on the planet in E-Space from State of Decay investigating the political turmoil between the Lords and Common People, but both are being plagued by vampires.  Yes at the end of State of Decay, the Doctor failed to completely kill bodies of the Three Who Rule which live on as mindless killing machines.  The novel also sees the return of Romana as she has finished freeing the Tharils and is investigating the planet as there have been mysterious deaths.

 

The first thing that strikes you about Blood Harvest is just how easy the novel is to read.  While the story is intended for a mature audience Terrance Dicks keeps the pace so children could follow with shorter chapters.  This allows the suspense to rise a lot quicker and before you know it you’re already halfway through the book and it’s so late at night you have to stop or else you will miss your alarm the next morning.  Dicks also imbues a lot of humor in the story as he makes fun of a lot of Doctor Who conventions and himself as he calls anyone who would describe a “wheezing, groaning sound” an idiot.  The atmosphere is also really thick in the novel as the opening monologue immediately places you in the mind of a film noir, with a jazz soundtrack easily playing in the background.  Just for this alone makes this novel a real contender for adaptation by Big Finish.  The shifting of the setting also really works as Dicks works in his penchant for cliffhangers between chapters that keeps the story moving along at a great pace.

 

Dicks also really knows his characters and makes this story one of the most enjoyable outings for Ace in this story.  Yes she is still hard and carries a gun around but she can handle herself.  She’s still human and refuses to let herself fall for Dekker, yet even contemplates staying behind in Chicago.  Dicks also nails the characterization of the Doctor as he is being extremely mysterious to everyone around him yet has a respect for Al Capone, who is portrayed as someone who just wants to keep up his business yet isn’t afraid to kill people if he has to.  Benny and Romana are also great as they spend most of the novel together and get to have a very good dynamic between the two.  Romana is as aristocratic as always and has only gotten smarter in her older age, becoming quicker witted than even the Doctor.  The supporting characters are all slightly clichéd as 1920s gangsters and bootleggers which allows this novel to get some of its greatest moments.  The amount of bloodshed because of the setting is great and the characters add to the sense of panic that the novel creates.  The villain of the piece is Agonel who is one of those beings that have been meddling in history making every bloody event just a little bit bloodier so they can get off.  He is meant to suggest bloodshed and then slip away from your mind as just a tall man who you may have passed on the streets.  It’s a brilliant idea for a villain and the way Dicks eventually resolves the plot, moving it to Gallifray and the Tomb of Rassilon is a great way to get things done.  Yes the plot eventually goes to Gallifray which allows for an alright conclusion with the notable exception of the implication that Borusa has learned the error of his ways and is content with his punishment.

 

My biggest complaint with the novel is that some of the early scenes with Benny while she is investigating are really boring.  Dicks could have cut them out and opened with her investigating the tower.  The scenes on Gallifray also get a touch to self-referential for my liking as there are callbacks to The Deadly Assassin, Arc of Infinity, The Five Doctors and The Trial of a Time Lord which all feel really unnecessary in an otherwise great novel.

 

To summarize, Blood Harvest is another great novel from Terrance Dicks that brings back the vampires, creates a great period piece, has brilliant characterization and sees the return of Romana.  It sadly fails with its bookends as they both could have been cut down to a bare minimum, yet the story itself isn’t taken away from too badly.  92/100

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Fearmonger by: Jonathan Blum directed by: Gary Russell: We Didn't Start The Fire

The Fearmonger stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace.  It was written by Jonathan Blum, directed by Gary Russell and released in February 2000 by Big Finish Productions.

 

Now over the last four Big Finish monthly range reviews I have said how much potential the stories actually had, but how little of that potential is actually used in the stories that were released.  Well good news Whovians as Jonathan Blum’s only Big Finish story has the graces of fulfilling almost every idea that it introduces to some extent.  This story officially marks the turning point where the releases following became more and more solid with a few stories here and there being clunkers as there is with any output of stories.  Blum takes an approach to the story established by the Virgin New Adventures by creating an almost natural progression to the levels of darkness and manipulation that the Doctor does in the story.  The plot of this story involves the Doctor and Ace investigating the new Britannia where it is election year and the most prominent candidate Sherilyn Harper, played by Jacqueline Pearce.  All isn’t well as the time travelers are chasing a creature that feeds on the fear of others causing people to have acts of terrorism and attempted assassination.

 

The story is a complete political thriller and it succeeds with this.  It basically takes the most interesting aspects of Whispers of Terror and elevates those elements to perfection.  Pearce is a brilliant performer as you are never really sure when it is Harper or the creature talking as only Paul Tanner can hear it and he is slowly breaking down.  The tension continues to ramp up as the story continues until it climaxes in a warehouse where everything is revealed yet you never get a full explanation about what the creature is and where it came from.  That works best for the story as you are given just enough to have the ideas of what the creature is and you know how far it can make people go in obeying it’s hunger for the emotion of fear and chaos.

 

The acting in the story is top notch with Sylvester McCoy being much better than he was in The Sirens of Time as he doesn’t have to put much effort into being the manipulator.  He knows exactly what notes to hit to make the story work and continue to keep you guessing on what the creature is doing.  Sophie Aldred returns of course as Ace and her voice acting is probably the best of the returning companions as since her Doctor Who days she has taken numerous voice acting roles for children’s television which can really build up her set of skills.  The character of Mick Thompson, played by Sophie Aldred’s husband Vince Henderson, is great at bringing on the social commentary of the story about how warped the media can get.  Thompson is a reality radio host who is pretty much a giant troll.  The commentary continues to be relevant to this day and the story just improves with age as we have an internet culture where anyone can troll and terror threats are very real.  The music of the story also really pops as it sounds very much like music from the 1990s and the sound design really makes some of the dizzying moments of the story pop out.

 

The real shame of the story is that there are just a few acting hiccups that happen throughout the story.  They rarely come up but when they do, they really pop off in a stellar production from Big Finish.  Another shame is that Jonathan Blum only wrote this story for Big Finish as there was a lot of production problems with this story and the way Blum was treated wasn’t very good for him so he decided to leave Doctor Who in general after his BBC Books run.

 

To summarize The Fearmonger is the first story to fulfill its potential as a story and shows exactly what Big Finish can do when they are on top form.  The acting, writing and social commentary is perfect with the only problems being some little hiccups that happen every once in a while.  90/100.

The Land of the Dead by: Stephen Cole directed by: Gary Russell: Jurassic Park V: Alaska Branch

The Land of the Dead stars Peter Davison as The Doctor and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa.  It was written by Stephen Cole, directed by Gary Russell and released in January 2000 by Big Finish Productions.

 

As an introduction to the Fifth Doctor/Nyssa Audio adventures, Stephen Cole's The Land of the Dead shows its first problem if you buy the CD. The notes from the author say he wrote the story in just a week, which can be taken either as the author wrote it last minute or couldn't get any ideas for a story.  This makes you lower your expectations to a story with an interesting title and description.  Yet I remained optimistic as City of Death was written in a very short period of time and is one of the best Doctor Who stories out there.  Of course Big Finish did strike gold in deciding to take stories set in the gap between Time-Flight and Arc of Infinity as when Season 20 came around something did feel distinctly different about the dynamic between Nyssa and the Doctor.  I am also biased as Nyssa was my favorite Fifth Doctor Companion and I hated it when she left in Terminus so just to have her back is great and for it happening so early on.

 

The plot involves the Doctor and Nyssa going to a mansion in Alaska owned by a rich oil tycoon who transplanted land where they are attacked by dinosaur-like creatures that can evolve by eating living matter.  A premise working with the theories of evolution sounds like something out of Ghost Light and makes you wonder if there is any connection between the monsters in this story and Josiah Smith, Control and Light from that story.  Sadly that aspect of the story is barely touched upon instead focusing on the characters, which I wouldn’t have any real problems with as character drama can be great.  Sadly with the time constraints that Stephen Cole had on writing this story the characters are underdeveloped to an extreme degree with an already weakened story.

 

The premise should make for an interesting story with an unstoppable threat that learns with every kill.  That description should make them terrifying but the sound design doesn't do its job in creating a good atmosphere.  The story takes place in Alaska which is the perfect place to have blowing snow and cold temperatures.  It really feels rushed or Nicholas Briggs is being overworked in doing the scores for the first four audios.  There are also problems with the way Nicholas Briggs decided to design the audio for the villains.  Now the villains are mainly skeletons of giant dinosaurs, but somehow they don’t make a lot of sound as the music goes quiet so dialogue can be heard.  It becomes really noticeable in the long run considering how dragged out this thing is.   The plot drags on across the four episodes and could easily be shortened to two episodes which would have helped, but Cole pads it out with some Native American legends that don’t really need to be there and some truly boring characters.

 

The acting in this story is also very hit or miss. Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton and Lucy Campbell give standout performances in the midst of a bore of a story.  Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton continue their great repartee with each other as two very alien characters going to Earth, even though Davison’s Doctor is still a very human portrayal of the Doctor.  Lucy Campbell plays Monica Lewis who is working on this expedition in Alaska and pretty much serves as the American Tegan, always complaining, yet is still a very smart person.  She helps provide a lot of what makes this story enjoyable.  The other characters, and the actors that portray them range from okay to bad.  Christopher Scott as Brett is your standard human Who villain but doesn’t really stick out much from the other villains.  Neil Roberts as Tulung tries to have an interesting subplot but that doesn’t really do much to develop character as he doesn’t really change except he accepts his heritage after a rather weak crisis of faith.  Everyone else is really quite forgettable in the story.

 

To summarize The Land of the Dead, is a complete bore of a story that, like the others from the early monthly range, shows a lot of potential for great things but never really gets off the ground.  It is by far the worst story from these early releases with bland characters, a really bad story and some truly awfully placed sound design.  For his first foray into Big Finish Audios, Stephen Cole's The Land of the Dead gets a 30/100.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Four to Doomsday by: Terrance Dudley directed by: John Black: Space Frogs, Androids and Bad Fashion

Four to Doomsday stars Peter Davison as the Doctor, Janet Fielding as Tegan Jovanka, Sarah Sutton as Nyssa and Matthew Waterhouse as Adric with Stratford Jones as Monarch, Annie Lambert as Enlightenment and Paul Shelley as Persuasion.  It was written by Terrance Dudley and directed by John Black with Antony Root as Script Editor and John-Nathan Turner as Producer.  It was originally broadcast on Mondays and Tuesdays from 18 to 26 January 1982 on BBC One.

 

You really don’t have to look hard to see why Four to Doomsday was voted into the bottom twenty-five Doctor Who stories.  It’s a story home to a myriad of problems.  These problems range from small to story crushingly large and it isn’t at all a surprise as there wasn’t a script editor for this story.  Oh the credits credit Antony Root as script editor for this story but he script edited two other stories, The Visitation and Earthshock, which he did nothing on as they were written by series regular script editor Eric Saward and his name was used.  There is evidence to point to the fact that he didn’t work on the scripts for this story either.

 

The first problem with the story is its most serious.  It is (to quote Tom Baker) Paralyzingly dull boring and tedious!  If there ever was a story that was in desperate need of going down to a one part story it’s this one.  Each episode is padded out with ethnic dancing which is alright the first time but it keeps happening so that there is really no point to keep the story going except they need an episode count.  Part Three and Part Four are the worst contenders as they consist of dancing, an info dump of unnecessary information, and a sequence where the Doctor is thrown out into space and he gets out of it using a cricket ball and Tegan magically being able to pilot the TARDIS even though this is her third television story.  I had to watch Part Four twice because I fell asleep during the thing yet I really didn’t miss much when I took my little snooze.  The same thing happened with Part Two so half the story can easily be cut out with Parts One and Three cut down to a story about 30-minutes long at a maximum.

 

Before I get to the other bad portions of the story, there are a few positives I can give it.  First off the set design in this story was done really well with some futuristic sets.  Yes some of them wobble and they take you out of the story easily most of them look pretty good.  John Black excels in showing the sets in a good light to make it feel like a real alien spaceship in the story.  Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton are the only two actors in this thing that are giving it their all and they both excel.  It would be even better if they could share the screen more in the story, but no they are paired off with the other companions during the story.  That is all the positivity I can give this story so on to the negatives.

 

The acting in this story is atrocious.  Matthew Waterhouse really shows how bad of an actor he was during his time on the show here as in Season 18 he had Tom Baker and Lalla Ward to guide him through the acting and in Castrovalva he barely appeared and when he did it was Anthony Ainley who got him through the acting bits.  He is tasked here to act almost like he is betraying the Doctor but actually has the plan to get the problem solved on his own.  The script doesn’t help this as it genuinely looks like Adric has gone traitor in this story and unlike when it happened in State of Decay the people he follows aren’t as charismatic as The Three Who Rule or are written by Terrance Dicks.  Terrance Dudley really doesn’t know what he is doing in the script and the way he characterizes Adric and Tegan really show how bad this happens in the story.  Yes Tegan gets another short stick in this story.  Janet Fielding is a good actress in most of her Doctor Who work even if on television Tegan was a mouth on legs, but here the nickname is earned.  She spends the story complains that she wants to go home and has freak outs at every little thing even if she is making sense for most of them.

 

This is down to John Black not knowing how to direct his actors as the freak outs seem so forced and he has her staring right into the camera for most of them as if this was done on a stage.  With the supporting cast he isn’t much better as they all overact to the nth degree creating an extremely odd group to watch try to interact to create quote on quote drama.  The script also doesn’t make any sense story wise as the villain’s plan is to kill everyone on Earth and travel to the center of the universe because he is God, but also because everyone needs to become androids (or as I know them Cybermen with emotions).  See it doesn’t really make sense and doesn’t fit together and as the first Peter Davison story ever shot I’m surprised it didn’t cause Davison to quit the show immediately.

 

To summarize, Four to Doomsday is a long, slow and boring mess that doesn’t ever get going.  It is plagued by bad direction, a really bad script and some really bad acting that hides any semblance of a good idea under a lot of bad elements.  It could have easily been cut down into one episode and deserves to be shoved down near the bottom of the list as the only good things are the acting from Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton and most of the sets look nice.  25/100