Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Web Planet by: Bill Strutton directed by: Richard Martin: The Cutest Fail in Doctor Who History

The Web Planet stars William Hartnell as the Doctor, Jacqueline Hill as Barbara Wright, William Russell as Ian Chesterton and Maureen O’Brian as Vicki with Catherine Flemming as the Animus and Robert Jewell, Jack Pitt, Gerard Tayler, Hugh Lund, Kevin Manser and John Scott Martin as the Zarbi.  It was written by Bill Strutton and directed by Richard Martin, with Dennis Spooner as Script Editor and Verity Lambert as Producer.  It was originally broadcast on Saturdays from 13 February to 20 March 1965 on BBC One.

 

Oh dear, The Web Planet the one story from the First Doctor’s era that all fans agree on as being just an awful story.  Being a story that’s script requires so many effects and elaborate costumes it was nearly impossible to create some semblance of a story.  It’s a six part story which suffers from the problems of dragging on and on and on and on until you just want to turn it off and give up.  It is one of those stories that derails many a marathon.  Its effects are laughably bad and its director thought it would be a good idea to smear Vaseline over the camera lens.  Yet with all that against it, I’m here forced to review it and now dear reader please stay calm.  Hell has not frozen over.  The world is not ending.  The aliens have not taken over my brain.  I have not gone totally insane.  And this is not some April fool’s Day prank to try and get a laugh.  I genuinely think The Web Planet does not deserve the complete hate it gets.  Now, dear reader, before you get your torches and pitchforks and come find and horribly maim then kill me for daring to have a dissenting opinion, just hear me out.  Yes all these things are problems and some of them are even story breaking problems, but everything else about the story is actually really quite good.

 

Let’s start with the acting from William Hartnell as the Doctor.  The Web Planet is famous for having a lot of Hartnell fluffs, but there aren’t really that many especially compared to say The Sensorites or the original version of “An Unearthly Child” where there are a lot more.  Yes he does stumble a bit over the technobabble, but considering how much he has to do in this story, it is easy to forgive the little flubs.  Fans who haven’t seen his era always seem to think he was cold and heartless, but by this point he wasn’t.  He was warm and caring towards his companions especially Vicki who he has an extremely interesting relationship with which I will get to a little further down.  When he finds out Barbara is captured his first instinct is to figure out exactly where she is and how to get Ian to go and get her out.  Now on his relationship with Vicki played by Maureen O’Brian.  He treats Vicki, especially in this story as an equal which is much more interesting than being the grandfather to Susan.  They are both brilliant people and the Doctor knows that Vicki has no one left to go back to like he does now that Susan’s off with David.

 

William Russell’s portrayal as Ian is good as always but after “Escape to Danger” he really doesn’t have much to do as during the first three episodes he becomes the strong man to help the Doctor through things as everything is out to get them.  He is the one to go and save Barbara before he falls down a chasm for a little bit.  Jacqueline Hill is great as she helps the butterfly Menoptera with their invasion and actually runs a war council.  I don’t care if the scene is underdone and doesn’t look like a traditional war council, it is still extremely cool and shows just how great Barbara is as a character.

 

Now to the elephant in the room, the production design being awful and yes some of it is.  The sets are really quite bad as they are blown out of proportion as the script and some may say the costumes are awful.  I actually don’t hate the costumes.  Yes the Zarbi and Menoptera are obviously men in suits but they look like ants and butterflies.  They look quite good for the time actually and I find the design quite adorable as they are obviously trying.  Except the Optera which just look so fake compared to the Zarbi and Menoptera.  While the direction has several instances of being awful, some of the flying scenes for the Menoptera are really good on the whole.

 

To summarize, The Web Planet, to quote the brilliant and cynical Stuart Hardy is “a puppy in a teacup” that yes falls flat on several occasions and has a plot that drags with poor direction, and sets and costumes that are laughable, but it has some great characters and is just a feast for the eyes to look at.  55/100

Colditz by: Steve Lyons directed by: Gary Russell: The Escapers Prison

WARNING: This review has major spoilers for the twist of Colditz.  Please find this story and listen to it if you care about spoilers

 

Colditz stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace.  It was written by Steve Lyons, directed by Gary Russell and released in October 2001 by Big Finish Productions.

 

If there was an audio to echo the early Virgin New Adventures style it would have to be Colditz.  Colditz is full of tropes from the Virgin New Adventures with the Doctor being the eternal chess master manipulating events from the beginning, a threat on a universal scale and of course Ace being put through the wringer emotionally although in a twist of fate the Doctor isn’t to blame in this one instead it’s Ace’s favorite, Nazis.  Yes Colditz takes place in the middle of World War II at Colditz Castle which was a prison for the prisoners of war and this story sees the Doctor and Ace captured after landing right in the castle.  That wouldn’t be too big of a problem and could lead to a great historical story but like Lyons’ previous story for Big Finish, The Fires of Vulcan, there is a twist.  The twist is that because of their interference and Ace leaving her Walkman behind, the Nazis win the war and the Doctor is shot.  This is thrown for a second loop when it is revealed that this is just a potential future and Officer Klein has travelled back in time on a mysterious Johann Schmidt’s orders to ensure the future comes to pass.

 

Lyon’s plot is extremely intriguing as everything just seems to go wrong for the Doctor and Ace until the final part where everything falls into place and the Doctor and Ace can hightail it out of the camp.  Ace in particular gets put through the wringer as she is harassed by Nazi Officer Feldwebel Kurtz played by David Tennant.  Kurtz is your stereotypical evil Nazi who hates all who are not German.  He lusts after Ace as she is a beautiful young woman and becomes extremely violent when Ace doesn’t let him.  Lyons’ script becomes very subtle with these two as Ace always has just enough time before things become more life threatening.  David Tennant is great as Kurtz and comparing it to his performance as the Doctor shows just how much range the guy can pull off as an actor.  Sophie Aldred is also great as Ace as she is channeling the character seen in the novels Timewyrm: Exodus and Nightshade which I really like.  She knows how she can get out but just can’t do it as nothing goes her way.

 

The Doctor is also paired up with a Nazi, but for him it is Elisabeth Klein who is from the alternate future and is just brutal.  She is stone cold and isn’t afraid to get people killed so she can get her way.  She tries to out manipulate the Doctor knowing that messing with the timeline can create a paradox.  The performance from Tracey Childs is sublime and works really well off Sylvester McCoy’s scheming Seventh Doctor who is content to stay in the background for most of this story as he tries to figure out how he’s going to get out of it all.  The story also has a pretty well developed supporting cast.  Toby Longworth plays Julius Schafer who is a Nazi who has become tired with the war.  It is never stated but Schafer may have become a Nazi just so he could avoid the concentration camps.  Schafer even sneaks food to the prisoners whenever he can as they aren’t fed nearly enough.  Longworth is great as he always is.  On the prisoners side of things we have your standard defiant soldiers which is where the story suffers for me mainly because of how boring they are as characters.  The only one who stands out is war journalist turned prisoner Timothy Wilkins who is just really whiny.  That becomes the only reason I can remember him.

 

I’d also like to touch upon the music of Colditz.  The music was done by Toby Richards and Emily Baker who work at a separate company from Big Finish so it has a very different feel from the other audios.  The music uses what seems to be an actual band and there are several points where you hear trumpets and piano playing in a very 1940s propaganda film style which I really liked.  Gary Russell also does great with the direction knowing just how to set in the transitions between scenes.

 

To summarize, Colditz is a nearly perfect story as it shows just how good Steve Lyons is as an author as he writes an intriguing plot that is let down by a rather large supporting cast that isn’t fleshed out enough to be interesting.  90/100

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Eye of the Scorpion by: Iain McLaughlin directed by: Gary Russell: All Hail Pharaoh Erimem

The Eye of the Scorpion stars Peter Davison as the Doctor and Nicola Bryant as Peri.  It was written by Iain McLaughlin, directed by Gary Russell, and released in September 2001 by Big Finish Productions.

 

The TARDIS team of the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe is one of those teams that worked because of the dynamic of the two companions with Jamie being from the past and Zoe being from the future allowed for some interesting perspectives on time periods.  Big Finish have replicated that by introducing the companion of Erimem to supplement the Fifth Doctor and Peri.  Erimem is a pharaoh from Ancient Egypt who is introduced in today’s story The Eye of the Scorpion.  Being from circa 1400 BC, she knows nothing of modern technology or sensibilities which will allow for an even larger dynamic between her and Peri.  Her introductory story involves the Doctor and Peri rescuing her from being captured on a chariot so she takes them to her palace for a feast.  Hijinks ensue as the three uncover a plot to depose her from the throne led by a telepathic alien.

 

That is literally what the plot of this story holds spelled out for you and in all honesty it is a very basic plot that would have little to interest potential listeners had the intention for this story not have been to be a character and set piece.  The story is there to be an introduction for Erimem and a way to establish her relationship with the Doctor and Peri.  Erimem is played by Caroline Morris who gives a good first impression coming across as a competent young woman who has been thrown into the situation of being a goddess without any time to catch her breath.  Her character arc for at least this story is very similar to the arc of Peppin from The Holy Terror but here Erimem confronts her godliness and becomes a better person for it.  Erimem also works well to highlight Nicola Bryant’s Peri.  The two girls immediately have a very sisterly relationship not far off from that of Nyssa and Tegan except with less of the shouting.

 

This is beneficial for Peri as well who gets to be more independent here as the Doctor is knocked out for the middle portions of the play.  She has to figure out the mystery with Erimem becoming almost her sidekick for the story.  The Doctor is also served very well in the story as he has a more teacher like dynamic to Peri and Erimem which suits Peter Davison very well.  He is out of action in the story for quite a bit which is a bit of a downside, but when he returns it is great.  The supporting cast of this story make up its flaws as almost everyone besides our main three and Jonathan Owen’s Antranak is one note and boring as hell.  The villain doesn’t make any sense even if the way it is defeated is extremely entertaining and interesting to hear defeated as Nicola Bryant has to give a powerhouse of a performance.

 

To summarize, The Eye of the Scorpion is a promising start to a wholly new TARDIS team that shows just how interesting it is going to be with Erimem on board.  The plot is not much to write home about but that isn’t important as this is meant to be a character piece.  The three regulars are characterized extremely well with Nicola Bryant in particular being a powerhouse.  The supporting cast is extremely boring and the direction doesn’t help matters stopping this audio from being more than just plain good.  70/100

Monday, March 28, 2016

Probably Not the One You Were Expecting #5: The Romance of Crime by: Gareth Roberts adapted by: John Dorney directed by: Nicholas Briggs

The Romance of Crime stars Tom Baker as the Doctor and Lalla Ward as Romana with John Leeson as K9.  It was written by Gareth Roberts, adapted for audio by John Dorney, directed by Nicholas Briggs and released in January 2015 by Big Finish Productions individually or in the Limited Edition Doctor Who – Novel Adaptations Volume 1: The Romance of Crime/The English Way of Death.

 

My biggest fear for this review is that it is going to be very repetitive because the audio adaptation of The Romance of Crime, is much closer in style to the adaptation for Love and War in that it is a straight adaptation from book to audio drama.  It doesn’t do anything to change to problems of the plot (for a more in depth analysis on that look at my review of the original novel) and the only real thing for me to analyze is the acting, the direction and the music choices of this story.

 

This is the first story since 1980s Warriors’ Gate to feature the TARDIS team of the Fourth Doctor, Romana II and K9 sharing an adventure together.  Just reuniting the cast is an achievement as Tom Baker and Lalla Ward had a famously rough divorce.  Luckily time can indeed heal as in their recording sessions in 2014 shows that same romance seen in their time together on television.  Tom Baker and Lalla Ward also are great at delivering the dialogue of this story as it is translated directly from the pages of the novel.  I could honestly listen to them going all day and I almost did.  Tom Baker has not lost his touch as the Doctor as he knows exactly where to put the accents on his lines to keep it hilarious.  Lalla Ward is also great especially comparing it to her performance in stories like Zagreus, Neverland, and The Apocalypse Element being closer to the character seen in the novel Blood Harvest.  Romana feels like Romana.  John Leeson also plays K9 in this story and he is doing a great job imitating David Brierly who has already passed away.  This is helped by the vocal effects done by Howard Carter who does a great job in making the effects seem real.

 

The supporting cast is all perfectly casted in their roles with three actors standing out from the rest.  First is Miranda Raison as Margo and Xais who is great as being the cold Margo and the evil Xais.  Her tone is able to convey so much as she goes from cold to scared to megalomaniacal all with the drop of a pin.  She is better here than in her Doctor Who television appearances in Series 3 as she is allowed to explore a great character.  Second is the brilliantly casted Marcus Garvey as Pyerpoint who is exactly what I heard in my head when reading this character’s lines. Finally we have Stokes who in the novel was extremely campy.  For the audio Dorney’s adaptation and Briggs’ direction turned it up to eleven with Michael Troughton playing the artist.  Troughton sounds almost flighty as the character which is great n I honestly love it.

 

Speaking of the direction, Nicholas Briggs is able to make the story feel more in tune with the era of the story.  This is helped by Howard Carter’s score which really sounds like something Dudley Simpson would have put in if this story was on television.

 

To summarize, The Romance of Crime is everything you want in an adaptation.  Really there isn’t anything bad that wasn’t in the original novel, but some of its bad comedy can be forgiven with the fact that the delivery helps it hit better.  85/100
 


Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Romance of Crime by: Gareth Roberts: Doctor Who Meets the Mask

Let’s go over the novel history of Gareth Roberts to get a feel for my emotions going into The Romance of Crime.  His debut novel was the eleventh Virgin New Adventures novel The Highest Science which was a good enough novel with some good ideas, but it was nothing special and improved by an audio adaptation.  His second novel was Tragedy Day, also for the Virgin New Adventures, which was a pretty bad novel.  So I was apprehensive when approaching this novel as on its cover it depicts that this is the return of the Ogrons which are a rather one note villain and the novel is set in the middle of the Graham Williams/Douglas Adams era of Doctor Who where everything was played for comedy and Tom Baker had a larger than life ego and was madly in love with Lalla Ward.  I find the era to be a bit weak to the Philip Hinchcliffe stories that came before so going in I had lowered my expectations which I shouldn’t have done.  The Romance of Crime is by far Gareth Roberts’ best novel yet.  Roberts writes in a very comedic style which really helps fit within the era, but he isn’t afraid to put in clever ideas to keep the dramatic intrigue high for the story.

 

The plot of the novel sees the Doctor, Romana and K9 landing on the Rock of Judgement which is a prison where a seemingly dead criminal, Xais, has been resurrected through a mask worn by a warden on this prison, Margo.  Xais, being a villain wants to take over the galaxy and uses the Nisbitt gangster brothers and a group of Ogrons to try and accomplish her goals.  Throw in a cast of colorful characters and you pretty much have the novel.  Remarking on the plot it is very traditional for the era and it feels like it could have been made on TV.  The opening scenes in the TARDIS where the three travelers are playing Monopoly along with the Doctor’s exit from the TARDIS are filled with comedic dialogue which could have easily been done on television.  That even bookends the novel very well as you build up to the joke.  The plot is not flawless however as while Xais is a terrifying villain as she can kill you with one glance, her plan is not developed except that she is going on a crime spree with these gangsters because crime is romantic and she is a very one note villain which doesn’t help me remember her much except something that happens near the end of the novel which I won’t spoil here.

 

Xais enters the novel by infecting the security warden Margo through a death mask made out of helicon which makes Margo suffer as all we know about her is that she is already a very hardened character.  I have no real comments on her character except that her body is going through a power struggle once she puts on the mask.  The mask was made by Stokes, who is an artist who has painted the criminals being sent to execution on the Rock of Judgement.  Stokes is an extremely camp character who in some scenes I like, especially when he is paired up with Romana, but on other occasions there is something about him that I just find boring.  Also the running gag that he cannot remember Romana’s name gets old really quickly and I just can’t stand it.  The Ogrons are also characters used well for the comedy of the story as they are idiots.  This allows the Doctor, Romana and K9 to easily outwit and manipulate them into doing what they want which comes in handy when they are inevitably captured.  The only other real character of note is Pyerpoint whose twist you can see coming from a mile away and Spiggot who is basically Duggen from City of Death.

 

The Doctor, Romana and K9 are all extremely well written by Gareth Roberts.  Roberts obviously understood their dynamic and why that dynamic worked so well on television without making it too exaggerated.  Romana is never too egocentric, K9 is always logical and the Doctor is using the fa├žade of an idiot to look really smart.  Every line of dialogue and action done by these three characters I can see done by Tom Baker, Lalla Ward and John Leeson which really explains why this novel was chosen to be adapted into audio by Big Finish.  The biggest faults with the novel is that when its comedy misses, it misses hard and it just makes you cringe, but still that doesn’t happen that often.

 

To summarize, The Romance of Crime is a great novel for you to read if you want a feel for an era of Doctor Who.  It knows just when to tone down the comedy to have moments of dramatic tension.  Most of its characters are on point and it is able to fix some of the era’s predominant problems which makes it much easier to enjoy as its own entity.  80/100

Project: Twilight by: Cavan Scott & Mark Wright directed by: Gary Russell: I Can Hear the Blood Rushing Like a River

WARNING: This review contains major spoilers for the twist of Project: Twilight and its conclusion.  If that does not bother you please read on, but if it does give the audio a listen then come back here.

 

Project: Twilight stars Colin Baker as the Doctor.  It was written by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright, directed by Gary Russell and released in August 2001 by Big Finish Productions.

 

The layers present in this audio are very deep as Scott and Wright explore the human condition and the monsters we can make during a period of intense pressure, like a World War.  The play shows just how bad humanity can get and how they will get their just desserts as time goes by exploring the secret government organization, the Forge, which is basically Torchwood except more towards the evil side.  The plot sees the Doctor and Evelyn arriving in South East London in 1999 where a shady casino is doing deals in blood as people are being murdered on the streets.  The owners of the casino it turns out are part of a group of experiments from World War I by said government organization left them as literal blood sucking vampires.  Their leader, Amelia, asks the Doctor for help as on the surface they want to become human again and he agrees to give it.  There is also a young barmaid who Evelyn connects with after falling on hard times and a Forge operative in coming after the vampires.

 

The first thing to stand out about the audio is its opening scene which sets the overall tone for the story as it sees the vampires escaping from Nimrod’s experiments which is dripping with intrigue as you wonder what this scenario is about and how it will eventually play into the rest of the story.  The plot then cuts to 1999 where everything kicks off to an incredibly dark story with some gruesome imagery coming to your head.  This is not a story for the faint of heart as you can imagine all the blood spilling throughout the plot.

 

Colin Baker is on top form here as the Doctor as he is tricked into helping the vampires reproduce.  He is initially wary as being a Time Lord, vampires are his natural enemy, but he does something he should never do and lets his guard down which causes a lot of rage from the Doctor in the way Colin Baker does.  His concern for Evelyn in this story as she is in so much danger is heartwarming.  She could be killed off at any moment and he does everything to stop it from happening.  His care really completes his transformation to a softer character and makes this story great as a season finale.  (That season consisting of The Marian Conspiracy, The Spectre of Lanyon Moor, The Apocalypse Element, Bloodtide, and Project: Twilight)  He also comforts Evelyn with her sadness at the end of the story which is heartwarming.  The best parts of their relationships were outlined in the beginning when they have little blows at each other over the Doctor’s taste in food.

 

Maggie Stables as Evelyn steals the show as she gets to have a subplot of her own with the barmaid of the casino, Cassie.  Cassie is someone who has fallen down on her luck.  She is surrounded by a religious family, but accidentally had a child so she is working at the casino so she can support him.  Evelyn has a real emotional connection with her and helps her feel good about herself until Part Four where they get captured and (Massive Spoilers Incoming), Cassie gets turned into a vampire and it’s the Doctor’s fault.  The end of the story sets up the sequel to this story with the Doctor and Evelyn leaving Cassie in Norway so they can find a cure.  The performance by Rosie Cavaliero.

 

The rest of the supporting cast is great especially considering they are all villains of the piece.  The head of the vampires is Amelia played by Holly De Jong, who is stone cold.  De Jong plays her very sympathetic until the curtain is pulled up and it is revealed just how evil they are.  They want to take over the world which has terrifying implications as just seeing how Cassie reacts to becoming a vampire and she is very strong willed.  Amelia is cold and calculating and surrounded by weaklings.  Her partner in crime is Reggie Mead played by Rob Dixon who can be summed up as insane.  He is someone who was probably broken before he became a vampire which makes for an extremely interesting villain.  He breaks a tone of bottles when he goes into a rage over Amelia trusting the Doctor.  The other character is Nimrod, the Forge operative played by Stephen Chance.  He is much more prominent in the sequel, but here he is just as evil as he wants to destroy the vampires, which are his creations.  He obviously has ulterior motives as he is fascinated with the fact the Doctor is an alien.  I won’t give too much about the character as he is best heard on your own.

 

To summarize, Project: Twilight is one of the darkest stories I’ve experienced and it does very well for it.  The acting is perfectly combined with some great music and sound design.  Gary Russell does great as director here and I implore you to find this one for yourself.  100/100

March Update

Happy Easter everyone!  Another Month is gone so it’s time for my monthly update.

 

Mar. 27-Apr. 30

 

TV Stories

The Web Planet
The Tomb of the Cybermen
Love and Monsters
The Ark in Space
Arc of Infinity
Human Nature/The Family of Blood

 

Novels
The Romance of Crime
Set Piece
The Ghosts of N-Space
Infinite Requiem
Time of Your Life
Sanctuary
Dancing the Code
Human Nature
The Menagerie
Original Sin

 

Audios
Project: Twilight
The Romance of Crime
The Eye of the Scorpion
Colditz
Primeval
The One Doctor
Invaders from Mars
The Chimes of Midnight
Seasons of Fear
Embrace the Darkness
The Time of the Daleks
Neverland
Spare Parts
…ish
Nightshade

 

May 1-28

 

TV Stories

The Deadly Assassin
The Time Monster
The Seeds of Doom
The Horns of Nimon

 

Novels

System Shock
Sky Pirates!
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Zamper
Invasion of the Cat-People
Toy Soldiers
Managra
Head Games
Millenial Rites
Time’s Champeon

 

Audios

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


May 29-June 25

 

TV Stories

The Power of the Daleks
The Underwater Menace
Inferno
The Sensorites

 

Novels
The Also People
The Empire of Glass
Shakedown
Lords of the Storm
Just War
Downtime
Warchild
The Man in the Velvet Mask
SLEEPY
The English Way of Death

 

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 English Way of Death

Friday, March 25, 2016

Warlock by: Andrew Cartmel: Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

I opened my review of Cat’s Cradle: Warhead by asking you to imagine The Green Death mixed with the scale of Logopolis and you would have something close to what that novel was like.  Andrew Cartmel’s second novel, Warlock, has a similar scale but has the anti-drug messages of Nightmare of Eden and plot aspects Mindwarp, except it’s done subtly and in Cartmel’s usual bleak style of storytelling.  This time around Cartmel increases the levels of bleakness for the story and the length as he is much more passionate about his topic and vividly paints the picture of a future I can really get behind.  The plot sees Ace and her cat meet up with some hippies and investigate a research laboratory while Benny is sent off to America to get the Doctor a sample of the newest drug on the market, warlock.  Both plots end up intertwining and the reappearances of Justine and Vincent from Cat’s Cradle: Warhead who are now married and play an essential role in saving the day.  There is also detective Creed McIlveen who is trying to take out warlock as it poses a danger and a plot involving IDEA which rose out of the Butler Institute as the drug takes over people.   The plot is both one of the highlights of Warlock, yet is one of its downfalls as it is so long and has so many plot threads laced throughout the novel it becomes difficult to keep track of everything going on and who is allied with who and where everything is going.  Still the novel is able to keep me interested in the plot and Cartmel’s penchant for flowing prose.

 

Andrew Cartmel also uses this novel as his own version of Birthright as the Doctor doesn’t feature prominently in the novel, only appearing at the beginning to get the plot going and sending Ace and Benny off on their own little plot threads, and the end to defeat warlock and save the day.  This is a double-edged sword as on one hand he can be the master manipulator in the background moving the pieces along as was the case in Birthright or he could just not be important to the plot at all like Strange England.  Warlock actually gives us a mix of that as there are several points where he is working from behind the scenes, but there are also moments where he is nowhere to be found.  When he is in the forefront, the Doctor has the best moments of the novels.

 

Cartmel also gives us the best portrayal of the New Ace yet.  Yes he was better than Andy Lane and Jim Mortimore’s portrayals.  Here she is sympathetic to the cause of Shell and Jack as she despises animal experimentation.  Her shining moments are in the first chapter where she recounts her relationship with her cat Chick who is a character in his own right.  She and the Doctor helped a cat give birth and it led her to take affection to the cat which we haven’t seen in ages.  The first chapter alone gives us a great look into her mind and processes as she serves as the closest thing to a main character in this novel.  The way Cartmel portrays her makes me want to see this adapted into a Big Finish play, even if it would have to be toned down extremely for a more general audience.  Sadly this cannot be said about Benny, who is really bland here mainly because Cartmel doesn’t know what to do with her.  She goes to America for several chapters to get a sample of warlock for the Doctor which is pointless as Ace ends up getting one so that is pretty much pointless.

 

The novel also has a lot of interesting supporting characters.  Vincent and Justine reappear here halfway through the novel which is one of Cartmel’s best moves for the novel as he develops them both into mature adults.  Justine has a baby on the way and they are now married which makes the stakes higher when Justine is captured and tortured.  Luckily the baby will survive to see another day.  Ace in the novel meets up with Shell and Jack, a hippie couple who invade the research labs as animal rights activists.  Shell is the more interesting of the two as it is eventually revealed she was mugged and nearly raped when she was younger so she tattooed her body to make it her own and show control.  Her damaged psyche is fascinating and only get more so when she is on warlock as the drug makes her have visions.  Jack while being well developed is just less interesting as a character.  The least interesting side character is Creed McIlveen who is your stereotypical detective character even though he gets a good introduction.

 

The final points I’d like to make on this novel are the two aspects of genius that Cartmel inserted into the novel.  First is the titular warlock which is revealed to be an alien being that serves as a drug which allows for Cartmel to experiment with its affects.  It varies from person to person as the drug reads their mind and emotional state allowing it to become either heaven or hell for them.  It’s a brilliant idea and used for a lot of tense moments especially for Creed’s introduction as he is put under the influence with a group of people trying to discover who a cop is.  The thing is he is the cop and if he lets his emotions show it he is dead.  It is a terrifying sequence which I love.  The second of these aspects is the portions of the novel that are written in the perspective of animals, mainly Ace’s cat Chick.  It really makes you care for Chick and gives a unique perspective for when some of the human characters have their minds transferred into animals which I love.

 

To summarize, Warlock is the first Virgin New Adventure to really shine in its quality.  I love its plot and the writing style of Andrew Cartmel which is always fun to read.  It is full to the brim with good ideas and in many places it shines out its predecessor.  Sadly there are quite a few problems with its length and pacing along with a human villain who just isn’t very interesting to read about.  I recommend it as with these flaws it is just as good as Cat’s Cradle: Warhead.  80/100.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Bloodtide by: Jonathan Morris directed by: Gary Russell: The Evolution Experiment

Bloodtide stars Colin Baker as the Doctor.  It was written by Jonathan Morris, directed by Gary Russell and released in July 2001 by Big Finish Productions.

 

I have an interesting history with Bloodtide.  I have personally listened to Bloodtide four different times and every time I find my opinion on it has changed rapidly.  My first listen I wasn’t really paying attention because I had heard so many good things about Project: Twilight.  The second time I liked it mainly because it was a story with Evelyn in it and it has the Silurians not from Warriors of the Deep and Charles Darwin.  The third time I found it so boring I fell asleep three times while listening and then just forgot whatever I enjoyed about the thing.  This time was the fourth time and it was another time I liked this one, but not as nearly as much as I liked it on my second listen through.

 

The plot sees the Doctor and Evelyn arriving in the Galapagos Islands during the voyage of the Beagle where Charles Darwin will make his discoveries about evolution.  Not all is well on the islands as a colony of Silurians have woken up which brings some interesting revelations about the creation of humanity which is where the plot really shines.  Then it just becomes a rehash of Doctor Who and the Silurians.  Luckily once this happens there is only about an hour left in the run time and Doctor Who and the Silurians is already a good story it doesn’t tip the scales into the realm of the story being bad, but it does make me know exactly where the plot is going and how everything resolves.  What Morris does with his rehash is what he is famous for, making the story have a very bleak tone that I just love.

 

The way Morris characterizes the Doctor and Evelyn is great.  While they are not romantically involved with one another, here they are written almost like they are an old married couple enjoying their retirement.  Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor has such good repartee with Maggie Stables’ Evelyn that I just can’t help get lost in their performances.  The Doctor wants to try and help negotiate with the Silurians yet there aren’t any real sympathizers with his cause.  His actions are so futile he ends up allowing their destruction because without it the world is doomed.  Evelyn gets separated from the Doctor and shows just how independent she is.  She’s the one to come up with plans and just the presence of Maggie Stables in this one is completely worth it.

 

Miles Richardson is the standout of the cast as Charles Darwin as the man has his faith broken over the course of the story and it becomes hard to listen to.  The man fears God but has the idea put into his head that God is dead and it only gets worse when it is revealed the human race as we know it is all just a giant experiment from a crazy Silurian scientist.  The implications break him and it takes Evelyn and the Doctor explaining just how big the universe is to get him to come back to his senses and help save the day.  Darwin is on the Beagle under Captain Fitzroy who is pretty much the Brigadier, but after Part Two he becomes really bland and forgettable.  The Silurian Tulok is played by Daniel Hogarth and is good at being a way to get the story going and provide a villain.  He shows us a lot more of the Silurian’s culture which is a good thing as I found it interesting.

 

Jonathan Morris also pulls several twists from under our feet which all have horrifying implications.  Other than the fact that humans were created by Silurians, Morris pulls out that much like the way we eat meat, the Silurians eat us which feels like a natural development for them as they easily could have.  The scene when Evelyn and Darwin find the livestock freezer actually succeeded in making me nauseous.  He also brings back the Myrka from Warriors of the Deep, but as a powerful force.  It was chilling to see what it did and almost funny to notice it is credited to be playing by Robert Shearman and William Johnson.  I think Johnson may be a fake name meant to be the back half of the Myrka and if I’m right I find it hilarious.

 

To summarize, Bloodtide’s biggest crime is that it is a rip off Doctor Who and the Silurians, which is already a better story.  Everything is actually really good with some great humor and a bleak tone yet there are story problems with a blander supporting cast and an opening ripped from The Spectre of Lanyon-Moor almost word for word.  70/100

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Dust Breeding by: Mike Tucker directed by: Gary Russell: You Are Dust and To Dust You Shall Return

Dust Breeding stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace.  It was written by Mike Tucker, directed by Gary Russell and released in June 2001 by Big Finish Productions.

 

Dust Breeding is full to the brim with brilliant ideas that author Mike Tucker brings to the table more than his original play, The Genocide Machine.  The plot reveals that throughout his life the Doctor has been stealing paintings as soon as they go missing to preserve the art and how this allows him to discover a creature living in “The Scream” by painter Edvard Munch a la the six fake Mona Lisa’s in City of Death.  This becomes part of a plot with the Master who is teaming up with the Krill, an alien created by Tucker and Perry for the novel Storm Harvest, to restore his body by harvesting this creature on a dust planet.  There is also an intergalactic art convention with a mad artist melding his body with the dust for his art and a comedic woman running the place played by Liz Shaw actress, Caroline John.  The audio itself is too cluttered for its own good trying to combine so many different ideas that it takes a lot to keep everything straight in your head.  I’ve never read any of Tucker’s novel work, but as most of his work has been with Robert Perry I feel Tucker is the idea and character man while Perry actually does the plot structure.  This is evident in Dust Breeding just because of how cluttered everything is even though the characters shine through.

 

The Doctor and Ace have characterization on par with that seen in The Fearmonger and they feel more like they were equals during this story.  Ace in particular has her own subplot where she gets to be independent of the Doctor and Sophie Aldred pulls it off.  While it is obvious Aldred has aged I think her voice works better on audio than it would have if this was still 1989.  Some of her delivery is off in places.  Ace has a few good cracks at the Doctor and questions the morality of stealing paintings.  Sadly that debate is never really resolved as the plot continues on without any real looking back on previously established conflict.

 

The villain of the piece is the Master with Geoffrey Beevers making a quiet return as the character post Survival.  Tucker goes into nice enough detail about what happens but don’t expect it to make it the perfect resolution with the books and how David A. McIntee saw him post Survival.  It also makes it hell to keep track of the different versions of the Master as Beevers has two incarnations now.  Nothing on Beevers however as he is brilliant and you won’t see the Master coming as the alias is perfect.  He teams up with the Krill who are an interesting idea for a villain even though they don’t do much.

 

The side characters are varied with Guthrie basically being the mysterious old man who gets a few laughs.  There is the return of Bev Tarrent from The Genocide Machine who works better here when she isn’t a carbon copy of Benny.  She would steal the show if it wasn’t for Damien who is the camp secondary villain and Madame Salvadori who is Caroline John let off her leash and allowed to go full pantomime.  The rest of the characters are rather dull and unforgettable and Tucker falls into the same traps of The Genocide Machine with great ideas, but a badly structured plot.  It doesn’t help that the music for the story is also forgettable even if I can praise its sound design for just being great.

 

To summarize, Dust Breeding just doesn’t do it for me.  I mean it is a good story with some great ideas which I really can get into, but there are many flaws that keep me from liking it.  Music is very forgettable but the sound is nice and the characters are mostly varied from what we have seen before.  Tucker just cannot write a coherent plot if it was the only thing he could do to save the world.  A real example of wasted potential.  65/100

Monday, March 21, 2016

State of Change by: Christopher Bulis: Rome but with Zeppelins

The Sixth Doctor’s redemption may have begun with his appearance in the Big Finish audio dramas, but I would argue the seeds to this redemption were sowed in this novel.  State of Change is Christopher Bulis’ second novel and is leaps and bounds ahead of his first in terms of writing quality.  He paints a realistic portrayal of Roman society that drags you into the narrative and intrigues you to know exactly where the plot is going to go.  The plot involves the Doctor and Peri arrive in Rome on what appears to be an alternate Earth where technology has developed, but all is not well.  Stepping out of the TARDIS in Cleopatra’s tomb, the Doctor reverts back to his fifth incarnation and Peri begins to sprout feathers a la Vengeance on Varos.  The plot goes exactly where you would expect with the Doctor trying to figure out what’s causing this with an eventual twist on who the villain is, which I won’t spoil, but I will say their returning caught me off guard and Bulis works better with this character than anyone did on TV.  The plot is a breath of fresh air as it really feels like it came out of the missing Season 23 which allowed me to quickly get through the novel.

 

The Doctor is perfectly characterized here as the softer Six as he cares immensely for Peri and finds the villain’s plan full of horrifying implications.  His actions towards Peri are so good that he is worrying for her safety as he leaves her in the TARDIS slowly turning into a bird woman.  At one point the TARDIS is confronted with tomb robbers and the first thing he asks Peri is “are you alright?”  Bulis is able to get him out of his coat and into period dress.  His eventual defeat of the villain is very satisfying for the novel.  Peri also gets better characterization here as she has her own little character arc.  The experiments of Vengeance on Varos have taken a toll on her psyche and makes her kept in fear.  She turns into a bird and embraces it as a way to tell herself she can get through it.  It makes her an immediately stronger character and I’d argue explains her better relationship with the Doctor seen in The Mysterious Planet.  It’s down to these two characters alone and the villain that this should be a contender to be adapted for audio.

 

The supporting characters are varied with a few of them sticking out but many of them being forgettable.  Peri gets some great stuff with Ptolemy Caesar which I really like and the gladiator sections are cool, but the characters are pretty one note for the most part.  Bulis however is good at describing the characters’ appearances and the setting that they feel like they can be real people.  I feel like I’m in Rome while reading this book and the added technology actually feels pretty natural for the most part.  The biggest problem with this novel is its pacing.  It begins with a prologue that really isn’t very necessary except to introduce some of the characters and is followed by fifty pages of world building.  This world building helps with keeping the setting well defined, but makes the plot drag slightly and makes the eventual pacing increase come across as slightly rushed.  The conclusion of the novel also has quite a few problems in that it all starts to happen.  Bulis has a great twist in that it isn’t an alternate Earth but a sort of time bubble which is a great idea.  Sadly the idea doesn’t translate well into an actual story and it feels a bit cheap as a twist.

 

To summarize, State of Change is the best Virgin New Adventure since Goth Opera.  It isn’t perfect, but with some great characters and plot ideas mixing in with a great villain and a twist leads to a novel that really anyone can enjoy with very few problems.  The supporting characters are weak and the first third of the novel becomes a real slog to get through, but if you get past it you will see a novel showing exactly how Colin Baker should have been done on television.  78/100

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Earthshock by: Eric Saward directed by: Peter Grimwade: Have You No Emotions Sir?

WARNING: My reviews contain spoilers but this review will have heavier spoilers than usual as this story, Earthshock, cannot be discussed without the added spoilers.  Please take the time to watch Earthshock before proceeding.  You have been warned.

 

Earthshock stars Peter Davison as the Doctor, Matthew Waterhouse as Adric, Janet Fielding as Tegan and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa with Beryl Reid as Briggs, David Banks as the Cyber Leader and Mark Hardy as the Cyber Lieutenant.  It was written by Eric Saward and directed by Peter Grimwade with Antony Root as Script Editor and John Nathan-Turner as Producer.  It was aired on Mondays and Tuesdays from 8 to 16 March 1982 on BBC One.

 

Don’t ever say John Nathan-Turner didn’t know how to shock his audience into watching Doctor Who.  He may have been the producer of the show when it was cancelled in 1989, but early on as producer he knew what he could do to get the ratings high with a shock factor to keep people watching.  Earthshock is one of several times Nathan-Turner put in a shock and is arguably the most successful instance of this happening as there are two shocks present in this story.  The first comes at the end of Part One where it is revealing the return of the Cybermen after almost seven years being off the screens and fifteen years since they had a good story.  They have had a total facelift from their previous appearance wearing more of a loose fitting suit with a chest piece and heads with the human chins showing.  They may look like cheap androids but there are subtle signs of their lost humanity that make me love their design almost as much as those seen in The Tenth Planet and The Tomb of the Cybermen.

 

The plot of the story sees the Cybermen infiltrating a freighter to crash it into the Earth.  That would in turn stop a World Peace Conference being held to put Earth together to explore space and destroy threats to the human race.  This plan while weak in originality is better than some of their previous plans like getting revenge by blowing up a planet and invading a space station because of reasons.  The Doctor is there to stop their plans but not without dealing with some character drama of his own as Adric wishes to return home to E-Space and wants to prove that he is capable of actually doing it.

 

Eric Saward actually succeeds at making Adric more likable as a character in his script, compiling this with that ending and how Saward presents him more akin to the character we saw in Season 18 and not the whiny over privileged brat we saw through Season 19.  This is also seen through the performance of Matthew Waterhouse who is clearly giving it his all and has found a director who can help him through the tough job of being a young actor in their first real big role.  There is of course his performance in Part Four where we get to feel the impact of that ending on the character as eleven minutes into Part Four, Adric realizes he is the only one in the story who has the mathematical know how to get the freighter to stop crashing into the Earth.  This action however is what leads to the second shock of the story, which is Adric dies as he runs out of time to get the ship off course and it crashes into the Earth.  This sacrifice hits hard for the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan who all react differently, which I will go into later on in the review, but a complaint people may have is that Adric could have left in the escape pod as the freighter had been sent back in time long enough so it wouldn’t impact humanity.  These people forget that it is the audience, the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan only who know this important piece of information so Adric’s sacrifice isn’t lessened in any way.  The death is beautifully shot and performed with the final credits being silent.

 

Moving on to the Doctor, with Peter Davison getting the chance to show off his range as an actor.  Now on television he is the weakest of the Classic Series Doctors as he plays him as a normal human, but here Eric Saward writes him as an actual human with flaws.  They aren’t very large flaws as he is just a bit arrogant to Adric because of the danger and because he knows best.  His reaction to Adric’s death is also pulled off very well as he has no lines but Davison gives Tegan this single look that this has happened and they cannot change it.  The way Peter Grimwade directed this made it even better as he has the shot focusing on Tegan hugging Nyssa as they just realized what happens with the Doctor in the background.  His interactions with the Cybermen are also great range showcasers.  Saward also has the Doctor shoot the Cyber Leader, played by the brilliant David Banks, down in cold blood proving just how much according to The Doctor’s Daughter he is the man who never would.

 

Tegan Jovanka also gets to have moments in the spotlight in this story as she is fighting against the Cybermen and in the foreground for the entire story.  Yes she gets captured and has her moments to complain, but is far away from the mouth on legs actress Janet Fielding would often comment upon.  Nyssa is the companion whom I have a problem with in this story as she does literally nothing.  At this point the TARDIS is so crowded she gets pushed to a corner.  This becomes more obvious when you consider how many supporting characters Eric Saward forced into the story.  They are all boring with the exception of Beryl Reid as the captain, Briggs.  On a better note the direction by Peter Grimwade and the music by Malcolm Clarke matches up to near perfection which is great.

 

To summarize, Earthshock is a truly shocking story that has a great plot and sees the real return of the story.  The writing of the main cast is mostly good with the exception of Nyssa who has absolutely nothing to do.  The supporting cast doesn’t fare much better which brings the story down along with some odd effects decisions.  85/100.