Saturday, April 30, 2016

Flip-Flop by: Jonathan Morris directed by: Gary Russell: The Dramatic Equivalent of a Palindrome

Flip-Flop stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor with Bonnie Langford as Mel.  It was written by Jonathan Morris, directed by Gary Russell and released in July 2003 by Big Finish Productions.

 

You may be asking yourself why a type of footwear is the title for a Doctor Who story.  Well that’s because this is a story comes in a black and white disc that can be played in any real order and still understand the story as Morris works it out so the story doesn’t have to feel forced with the odd gimmick.  He even uses the gimmick as a way so to prove that everything isn’t black and white and is put into the shades of grey in a social commentary that is still relevant today as the message is you can’t have your cake and eat it too.  The order I’m listing this plot is the way I listened to it, but it can still be listened to in any order as I have done it both ways and you don’t lose a thing from the story.  The Doctor and Mel land on the planet Puxatornee where they have to get some crystals to defeat some Quarks on the Space Yacht Pinto.  The planet is derelict where they are criminals and are captured and forced to go back in time to stop the destruction as everything happened due to the President’s secretary being killed by an agent of the Slithergee race which started a war.  The twist is when they get back to the future the timeline has changed so much that the Slithergee have peacefully taken over by basically using feminist tactics acting like as they as the minority must be the oppressed one.  The Doctor and Mel leave as the Doctor and Mel arrive and the plot is basically repeated over again in what is a time loop.

 

This is a great plot as even though halfway through you can guess what happens, you are still interested as you don’t know how they are going to get to the future that is set up in the first half which is great.  It allows Jonathan Morris to take his commentary about basically the idea of oppression and how it relates to the majority and minority and how power of being previously oppressed can lead to more unjust actions.  It’s a great commentary that can be applied to today’s culture in some great ways that more people should be taking notice of.  Morris does this by doing what was done in Inferno and creating parallel universes not where people are evil, but just made different situations.  The main characters are Stuart, played by Francis Magee, and Reed, played by Audrey Schoelhammer, who in both universes want things to be better and will do anything to get it, but one universe has them be security men and the other has them be citizens which really shows how different people can be.  Bonnie Langford is also good as Mel here as she has to be the one to ask the questions for the audience which she does very well and she provides insight to just how much she knows about what the dangers of time travel actually are considering how much her life was messed with by the Time Lords.  Sylvester McCoy is in prototype Season 25 mode as he stays mainly quiet in the arguments as he knows the grass always seems greener on the other side, but rarely is.

 

The atmosphere is great here as both versions of the planet are destroyed in some way and almost every character is killed in some horrible way.  Morris is great at doing dark and he can do comedy, but not always at the same time as here some of the comedy almost lessens the drama of the story.  There are also problems with the style of this release as after the first half you know how this is going to end and what is going to happen to the Doctor and company as this is just there to fill in the gaps.  Also the professor in this story is just annoying to me for some reason and I just don’t really like him.

 

To summarize, Flip-Flop is a great second outing for Jonathan Morris as writer, but it isn’t perfect as the pacing really makes it slightly difficult to get through.  Most of the story however is great as the Doctor and Mel get stuck in a time loop yet get out quite easily and they just work really well here.  80/100

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Original Sin by: Andy Lane: Stop With This Good Cop/Bad Cop Routine and Get On With It

Isn’t it odd that Doctor Who has never really done crime drama before?  I mean they’ve done mysteries with stories like All-Consuming Fire, but never really anything with a crime drama formula that has worked well.  I mean The Twin Dilemma may have thought it was crime drama but other than that nothing really present in Doctor Who.  That makes it all the more odd that Andy Lane’s third novel, Original Sin, decides to go down this route for its story which makes it become another in the streak of great novels that has been flowing from story to story.  The plot sees the Doctor and Benny go to thirtieth century Earth after failing to save a dying Hith, a giant slug species subjugated by humanity that have been using passive resistance by changing their names to reflect the species’ situation.  It’s a really clever idea and I credit Lane with making it work well.  Anyway the story has two main plots with the prologue with the Hith’s passive resistance leading to riots while the second plot is several characters investigating a Hith’s death which is just the opening to a large conspiracy with the twist that the Doctor and Benny are incriminated as murderers as someone has messed with a mind probe record of the death to see they were the murderers by Adjudicator Roz Forrester and her squire Chris Cwej who will eventually become the new companions as someone has to replace Ace.  The end of the conspiracy reveals our villain who I won’t spoil if you do not know who the villain is already as the twist is well set up.

 

Most of the novel focuses on Roz and Chris as they are to become the new companions which is a good idea and allows Lane to have fun with the whole good cop, bad cop dynamic.  Roz is an Adjudicator whose partner was murdered by an alien making her slightly xenophobic.  She is a logical and experienced Adjudicator who is almost your stereotypical cop as she has a sense of justice but knows that people can be bribed.  Roz gets the better dynamic with Benny of the two as they both have dark paths and have good senses of humor.  Chris Cwej on the other hand is the opposite of her as Chris is the new cop on the block who is all wide eyed and ready to get to work.  He is amazed by the technology of the world, will frequently use that technology in the fads like body bepples which basically makes him look like a teddy bear for most of the novel and is a skilled pilot.  He also has a strong sense of justice and what I like about the relationship between the two is that they are purely business partners here and have nothing going for them.  Roz begrudgingly respects Chris as she sees a bit of herself in him and doesn’t want to see him go through the same loss she went through when she was starting out.

 

Benny here is filling the usual companion role with all the charm of Benny.  Even though it hasn’t really happened the stuff Benny does in the novel feels like things that Benny would do as  character as the thirtieth century is actually in her future so she doesn’t know what to expect.  She isn’t xenophobic which just shows how times can change with the times and events happening around the galaxy.  The Doctor is also great here as he gets himself arrested and has to find a way to convince Chris and Roz that he and Benny are both innocent of murder and shouldn’t be put to death even though he ends up breaking several other laws which is great as they are silly laws.  The villain is also great as it is a return from the Classic Series with the reveal that he has been the one funding basically every plot that has involved some sort of robot in the shows history which I find fascinating and extremely plausible.  Once you know who the villain is you will probably agree with me about this fact as well.  The other characters are also great with the Hith being a great alien race miles above the gastropods seen in The Twin Dilemma and Beltempest is another character who is the head of another agency who is being paid off by the villain.  Beltempest is our comedic relief as he has gotten himself a body bepple so he can look like an elephant which is hilarious to imagine.

 

To summarize, Original Sin is not what I had expected as I wanted to see a Cyberman story and even though there are no Cybermen involved this story is just as good as All-Consuming Fire making this come second in my rankings of the Virgin New Adventures.  100/100

Project: Lazarus by: Cavan Scott and Mark Wright directed by: Gary Russell: I'll Survive Doctor, I Always Do

Project: Lazarus stars Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor and Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor with Maggie Stables as Evelyn.  It was written by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright, directed by Gary Russell and released in June 2003 by Big Finish Productions.

 

The train of heavy emotions continue with the Main Range from Big Finish after Doctor Who and the Pirates or The Lass That Lost a Sailor and Creatures of Beauty being brilliant and dramatic and just some of the best things Big Finish have produced.  Today I’m looking at a sequel to one of the tensest Doctor Who audios, Project: Twilight, with Project: Lazarus.  This story is the first multi-Doctor story since Big Finish’s inception The Sirens of Time.  The story like most sequels isn’t as good as the first story, but Project: Twilight is a hard act to follow and just because it isn’t as good that doesn’t mean that the story is bad.  It is still one of the classics as Scott and Wright are both good authors who know what they are doing.

 

The plot is made up of four parts, but similar to The Ark, it is essentially two different stories with two different plots that are interconnected.  The first plot involves the Sixth Doctor figuring out a possible cure for Cassie’s vampirism from Project: Twilight and takes Evelyn back to Norway where a professor is looking for a mythical creature which of course turns out to be an alien along with Cassie when there is a twist that Cassie has been working for the Forge after brainwashing by Nimrod reprised by Stephen Chance, and is ready to capture the Doctor to steal his DNA.  Evelyn gets to shine here as she is the one who reverses Cassie’s brainwashing through reminding her of her son and how much she loves him.  This first half of the audio is definitely the better half as it rocks the emotional relationships of the Doctor and Evelyn as Evelyn cannot live with the constant death anymore and needs to see something in her life change before she can continue travelling.  The performance from Maggie Stables is extremely emotional as Evelyn deals with a lot of trauma which is heightened with the revelation that her days are numbered as she has a heart condition.  I also love her scenes with Rosie Cavaliero’s Cassie, codename Artemis, who is clearly brainwashed and gets to be redeemed with the promise that the Doctor will find Cassie’s son.  Cavaliero is great at playing the brainwashed Cassie and again has become like Nimrod.  Colin Baker is also great as the Doctor here as he fights with Evelyn and almost wants to see the Forge reformed without Nimrod as everything could be done well.  Nimrod is in the entire audio and is played by Stephen Chance where he is the main villain in a turn following the mantra that “I’ll survive Doctor. I always do.” which just feels like he will never be ended and is pretty much confirmed immortal.  There is one problem with these first two parts as they are rushed and could have been three parts just so we could get more at the Forge and with Cassie.

 

The second half of the story takes place years later when the Seventh Doctor near the end of his life, returns to the Forge after a time storm where it is revealed the aliens from the first two parts are invading while the Forge have continued with Project: Lazarus.  The project itself is to clone the Sixth Doctor which sees Colin Baker having a great performance as the clones once they realize he is a clone followed by the revelation he is only three days old.  The plot here is paper thin and feels like things were cut out by the request of Gary Russell just so they could be less packed which is the other big flaw of the story.  It could be added and this could become a six part story with a special release.  Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy have some great repartee with each other as McCoy’s Doctor realizes something is wrong from the beginning and he is still being the manipulator behind everything while Colin Baker is emotionally damaged and we get to see just how bad everything gets.  Nimrod is also in this section and is still great with Ingrid Evans as Dr. Crumpton who is the second in command of the Forge.  Evans is the moral center here as she shows she has a moral center still even though she does some awful things.  The imagery of the direction in these parts are very graphic with imagery and Gary Russell knows just how they are supposed to do here.  The ending of the story has it seem like the whole Forge saga is over, but of course it isn’t as this audio and Project: Twilight will influence audios to come.

 

To summarize, Project: Lazarus is a near perfect story here and is essential listening along with Project: Twilight because of how many ramifications there are for the future.  It basically becomes Big Finish’s version of the Virgin New Adventues character arcs which continues in Arrangements for War and The Harvest.  The only problem of this story is its bad pacing and as this is still in the price range so it is very cheap and available to get.  90/100

Creatures of Beauty written and directed by: Nicholas Briggs: A Diamond in the Rough

Creatures of Beauty stars Peter Davison as the Doctor with Sarah Sutton as Nyssa.  It was written and directed by Nicholas Briggs.  It was released in May 2003 by Big Finish Productions.

 

Beauty.  What constitutes the concept of beauty?  Is it the quality of the looks that defines beauty or the character of the person in question?  This story would purport that it is almost both as an audio story you make up the looks as this is a story told about two warring races over how one race polluted a planet into becoming an ugly place to live and now many years on from the disaster experiments are going on to try and place everything back to normal.  Nicholas Briggs here has placed his heart and soul into this story as he comments on issues present still today in society.  This story has environmental themes about just how great the world was and while we can never get it to the way it was.  It’s essentially a story advising against the idea that we have to live in a perfect world.  By the end of the story the Doctor and Nyssa really haven’t been able to do anything to change the situation on the planet in question.  Their actions are futile as those in power are too stubborn to change their ways.  The commentary hits close to home as in today’s society with the internet the idea is that I’m always right and anything that doesn’t fit in with my view of the world is wrong and offensive.  I don’t know how intentional this was on the part of Briggs who has control of the entire production here which makes it shine like a beautiful diamond.  He tells the story by having four episodes without cliffhangers that don’t reveal the story in linear order as to fit in with the idea of aversion to change.  You see the thought process as the narrative has to be pieced together from threads which illustrate this type of mindset brilliantly.

 

A story like this hinges on the performances presented and the atmosphere they generate and I have many props to give to people.  First Sarah Sutton has to play Nyssa who is put through the wringer in this story as she is arrested and tortured for being beautiful.  Her performance comes off very hypnotic as does every other performance in this story as Sutton gives this sort of air around her delivery that just makes you feel like the energy from your body is sucked out which is good as that’s the atmosphere this story needed.  The same can be said for Peter Davison as the Doctor as he is forced into scientific experiments and almost commits a murder.  The villains of this story are also very emotionally draining in just how good they are as everything starts to fall apart with Jemma Churchill’s Florian just sticking in my mind at the end of the story as she looks like she is listening to the Doctor, but she isn’t and stays static.

 

To summarize, Creatures of Beauty is a brilliant audio drama with social commentary that remains relevant today about how we should be open to change and adapt to the ever changing world.  Nicholas Briggs is a powerhouse here as the unique way of storytelling allows the performances to shine through the story with some brilliant music and a really simple plot that is intriguing nevertheless as we have to really pay attention to what the message of the story is.  The actors are on point and the sad part is people do not appreciate this one nearly enough so if you haven’t heard this one in a while give it another chance.  100/100

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Doctor Who and the Pirates or The Lass That Lost a Sailor by: Jacqueline Rayner directed by: Barnaby Edwards: He is the Very Model of a Gallifreyean Buccaneer


THE BIG FINISH PLAYERS

PRESENT…

 

Jacqueline Rayner’s

DOCTOR WHO and the Pirates

or

The Lass That Lost a Sailor
 
 

 

Directed by
Mr. Barnaby Edwards

 

With Orchestration
by
Timothy Sutton


Based off the work
of
William S. Gilbert
and
Arthur Sullivan

 

With a Full and Efficient Cast

THE DOCTOR, A Gallifreyean Buccaneer
Colin Baker

EVELYN SMYTHE, A Lecturer
Maggie Stables

RED JASPER, A Pirate Captain
Bill Oddie

JEM LONDON, A Cabin Boy
Dan Barrett

SALLY, A Student
Helen Goldwyn

SWAN, A Captain
Nicholas Pegg

Merriweather, A First Mate
Mark Siney

 

CRITIC’S NOTES

     Doctor Who and the Pirates or The Lass That Lost a Sailor is an excellent production from Big Finish and scribe Jacqueline Rayner writes what at first seems to be a rather light hearted fluff, but reveals a dramatic undertones concerning the nature of the story as told from the view of lecturer, Evelyn Smythe and buccaneer the Doctor of the events leading up to the death of cabin boy, Jem.  It is a story being told to student Sally who hides a secret about the death of her boyfriend in an automobile accident.

The production is full of laughs as theatre veteran Colin Baker leads as the Doctor and is at his most theatrical.  His mannerisms will entertain anyone young or old as there is a meat to the performance unlike any other.  The same can be said for relative newcomer to the Big Finish Players Maggie Stables playing the lecturer Evelyn Smythe as she subtly shows the emotions of the last few productions have had on the character which really comes across in the acting.

The music of this performance is all good as Timothy Sutton takes inspiration from two of the greats and all the actors have training for the song.  The lyrics are all humorous and have quite a few portions of puns.  It is Colin Baker, Maggie Stables and Helen Goldwyn who get the best songs as they range from comedic to extremely emotional.  The director allowed for some great set pieces which I love and Rayner writes an excellent script that I can recommend to everyone.

 

CRITIC’S SCORE
100

The Menagerie by: Martin Day: Attack of the Evi Lab Mice

Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor gave a screen performance on television that is just difficult to replicate.  He famously improvised a lot of the comedic bits of scripts with Frazer Hines on the spot knowing there would most likely be no time for a second take.  This heavily improved even the weakest scripts he was in by a lot, but for Martin Day that posed a problem as his personality and mannerisms are just difficult to replicate accurately.  This proves a problem as Martin Day’s debut novel The Menagerie, relies heavily on the Second Doctor being active in the events of the story, but Day simply does not know how to write for the Second Doctor which causes large portions of the book to be quite boring as the Doctor comes across closer to the Fourth Doctor or even the Sixth Doctor, but not the Second Doctor.  Day also remains inconsistent with which companion team he is writing for as The Menagerie features Jamie and Zoe but there are points in the novel that feel like they were written for Steven and Dodo, Jamie and Victoria, and even Ben and Polly which really makes the audio jarring.  Zoe gets the worst treatment of the three as she feels like stock companion which just shows how Day didn’t get her character.  It is understandable why the characterization is off as at the time this was written only The Dominators, The Mind Robber, The Krotons, The Seeds of Death and The War Games existed in the archives, but that doesn’t explain how he knew about The Space Pirates and a lot of the earlier missing Troughton serials so this isn’t forgivable.

 

Day also writes a story that on the surface looks interesting with the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe arriving in a city where science is feared and there is a mythical Menagerie and conspiracies afoot.  The plot instead of doing anything interesting is trying to do a base under siege story without having a base and the under siege portions only start to happen in the final quarter of the novel.  The villains that do attack are interesting as they are pretty much giant mutated lab mice, but they don’t have any sort of character or fear factor as you can tell when they are going to attack from a mile away.  Day does do some interesting things with the twist of how the city is actually built on top of a scientifically advanced ghost town city which helps explain why people have fear of science even though they have electricity which is still science.

 

The novel is also full of subplots with Zoe being forced into the circus as a slave which goes nowhere and Jamie trying to rescue the Doctor and Zoe from prison but failing which also doesn’t go anywhere.  Day tries to keep us invested by putting in points of the mystery and filling the novel with a lot of character who really have nothing to do in this novel.  Day does kill off some characters in what can be considered slightly emotional scenes as he kills off a child in gruesome detail which is a bit difficult to get through, but most of the characters are there just so the main three characters have someone to talk to.  The society Day builds is in great detail which is a plus as this is a medieval society with knights, alchemists and kings, with a description on the back cover which will entrance everyone, but Day doesn’t do much with the premise.  The Mecrim are the villains who have no character as they cannot speak and just rampage.  We do get a lot of backstory involving just how they came to be in a laboratory supported by the Intergalactic Mining Corporation and had their DNA given to the Butler Institute from Cat’s Cradle: Warhead, which gives some nice continuity and commentary on animal cruelty, but other than that there is nothing to sink your teeth into.

 

To summarize, The Menagerie had so much potential to tell an interesting story from a first time author.  The novel however is written in a very amateur way that just doesn’t make me stay interested in the events taking place.  He writes for the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe in a very inconsistent way that feels closer to some of the later Doctors with too many supporting characters who make no impact and some subplots that are only there so Day can write in a lot of dialogue which just shows you how amateurish Day is and how the writing doesn’t flow from scene to scene.  The idea is a very good one and there are some things to like about this story, but you could do a lot better at finding something to read.  32/100

The Dark Flame by: Trevor Baxendale directed by: Jason Haigh-Ellery: In Control of All Time and Space

The Dark Flame stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor with Michael Praed as Slyde, Sophie Aldred as Ace and Lisa Bowerman as Benny.  It was written by Trevor Baxendale, directed by Jason Haigh-Ellery and released by Big Finish Productions in March 2003.

 

Trevor Baxendale as the choice for the writer for The Dark Flame is an odd one as although he has written Doctor Who novels, he never wrote for the Virgin Doctor Who Novels.  That is a real shame as Baxendale creates an atmosphere straight out of the Virgin New Adventures of the period almost better than Paul Cornell’s The Shadow of the Scourge.  It’s a story that nails the characters so well it is almost like this was meant to be a pitch for the Virgin New Adventures but was rejected for having its characters get along.  The placement of this story is after All-Consuming Fire when the Doctor, Ace and Benny were getting along at their best here which is refreshing and really makes the story quite humorous as they in turn tease each other for their flaws which I just love.  Sophie Aldred and Lisa Bowerman steal the show as Ace and Benny as they give their best performances ever.  Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor is also great as he has quite a lot to do here especially at the end as he goes into a mind battle a la The Brain of Morbius, but here as it is audio and McCoy is less arrogant than Tom Baker, the mind battle is really tense as the Seventh Doctor is almost given total and absolute power over time and space which allows the end to be an actual deus ex machina with the Doctor as the god in the machine.

 

This all fits in the plot which sees the Doctor, Ace and Benny mixed up with the resurrection of Vilus Krull the leader of the cult of the dark flame which promises eternal power and of course Krull wants to take over the world.  This is full of vivid imagery of people getting their eyes removed and just a lot of murder which I adore in the story as it really makes you feel that Doctor Who can do these dark subjects.  It helps that Baxendale does a good job at creating his supporting characters as they are all unique.  Krull is the weakest character with a paper thin motivation as he just wants to control the world.  Remnex, the dead body that Krull possesses, is also weak as he gets one scene before his death with the establishment that he is the Doctor’s friend so has very little time for any real characterization.  They are played by the same actor who does give a good performance as both of them.  Joseph is a much more interesting character who is basically the opposite of Marvin the Paranoid Android.  Joesph isn’t depressed he is only a pessimist who loves his work even if he doesn’t have the capacity for enjoyment.  His self-sacrifice is genuinely emotional.  Slyde is the only other character who gives a good performance as Michael Praed has one of those voices which just make for a good and enjoyable listen.  Slyde is a murderer which the Doctor allows to go free so he doesn’t create a paradox involving the withering of Benny’s hand and the nature of Remnex’s death.

 

The story may be a good one with an atmosphere on point with The Shadow of the Scourge, but it isn’t nearly as good.  This can be put down to a couple of things, first off the pacing is off which can make some of the portions of the audio to be very boring and difficult to get through.  I also feel as the direction is falling flat especially compared to Jason Haigh-Ellery’s last effort with The Rapture and the music is also pretty bland sounding like generic stuff composed by an amateur.  Even though I said the deus ex machina was creative it doesn’t forgive it for being a deus ex machina which doesn’t really amount to anything.  Baxendale and any writer should know that if you reference the problem of your story it doesn’t forgive it for being a problem.

 

To summarize, The Dark Flame is leaps and bounds above Nekromanteia, which isn’t very hard to do, but it is still a flawed story.  The plot has some intrigue with its characters but there are problems with the fact that it feels a lot like a traditional Doctor Who story.  The regulars and Michael Praed give their absolute best performances and are the highlights of the story, but the rest of them are one note or are just a bit uninteresting.  The direction and music also just feel a bit flat on the whole.  68/100

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Nekromanteia by: Austen Atkinson directed by: John Ainsworth: If They Didn't Put Effort in Why Should I?

Nekromanteia stars Peter Davison as the Doctor with Simon Williams as Paul Addison, Glyn Owen as Commander Harlon, Ivor Danvers as Wendle Marr, Nicola Bryant as Peri and Caroline Morris as Erimem.  It was written by Austen Atkinson, directed by John Ainsworth and released in February 2003 by Big Finish Productions.

 

If I wasn’t writing this blog for all audiences I would be opening this review with a colorful array of cursing as today’s story just misses the point on every occasion.  The story, if you can call it a story and not just a series of plot points vaguely connected by some story about witches that feels like a really bad fanfiction.  The Fanfiction referred to of course here means something that is poorly written trite that has no place off the utter murky depths of the internet.  What I can actually make out is that the Doctor, Peri and Erimem run in with some space marines who are all really dull in the Nekromanteia system while there is a corporation trying and failing to pull off the plot from The Caves of Androzani while witches are basically doing human sacrifices and kidnap Peri.  There is also the Doctor going into another dimension or dream (it isn’t specified) to play cricket with the witches’ god and a lot of people die for no discernable reason.

 

This is a story that portrays the Doctor as almost a criminal as he has contacts in the black market which is almost like something the Seventh Doctor at his absolute worst.  Peter Davison also is just uninterested in the story as there is not nearly enough for him to do in this story as the Doctor and probably just had to fill the contract.  Peri also is treated horribly as she for no reason, except because this is basically fanfiction, is forced into the nude for a large portion of the story and it is implied she gets raped with some moaning noises from Nicola Bryant.  Bryant is trying her absolute best at acting scared but there is a tone in her voice that she is disgusted with the script and doesn’t want to be doing it.  Caroline Morris has her third story and she has absolutely nothing to do but be a whiner and just scream with the lungs of Mel Bush.  Her cat is unnecessarily killed here just to make Erimem feel bad and have the audience feel sympathy for her.  The supporting cast also is just too boring as I can’t remember a thing about their characters.  I know there were space marines, a big bad corporation and some witches but there isn’t much else that I can say about them as individuals.

 

To summarize, Nekromanteia feels like a fanfiction that had no real effort put into it with characters that don’t feel right, music that doesn’t sound right, direction that feels like it was done only for a paycheck and all from a writer who I can’t find any sort of information.  So considering how little effort was put into the story it asks why I should put effort into this review.  0/100

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Jubilee by: Robert Shearman directed by: Nicholas Briggs and Robert Shearman: Lovely Red Bunting Flowing from the Windows

WARNING: As Jubilee is a story written by Robert Shearman, this review is going to contain massive spoilers.  You have been warned in advance so there can be no complaints about me giving too much away.

 

Jubilee stars Colin Baker as the Doctor with Martin Jarvis as Nigel Rochester, Roseland Ayres as Miriam Rochester and Maggie Stables as Evelyn.  It was written by Robert Shearman, directed by Nicholas Briggs and Robert Shearman and released in January 2003 by Big Finish Productions.

 

This is kind of an interesting one in that it is one of few Big Finish stories to actually have its overall plot adapted into a story for the revived series, that episode being the fifth story of the revived series, Dalek.  This of course is a shoe in for adapting because it is a story by Robert Shearman who is an author who has the Midas touch with Doctor Who as all his stories bar two are perfect.  Jubilee is a story that sees the Doctor and Evelyn land in an alternate timeline where subverting the what if Nazi’s one World War II, Shearman writes a story about in between World Wars the Second World Was breaks out with a Dalek invasion and they basically become what the Nazis became after World War II.  The Daleks have become a joke as they have all been wiped out bar one which is being held captive.  The story opens with a trailer for Daleks: The Ultimate Adventure where the Doctor, a muscle bound hero, and Evelyn “Hot Lips” Smythe, his sexy assistant, are there to save the British Empire from the evils of the pepper pot Dalek invasion.  Shearman knows how to set the scene giving off so much information in so little.  After this scene which leads into the opening credits, we know that the Doctor and Evelyn have come to save the day from a Dalek invasion, they have become celebrities which brings skewed facts and the world is something not quite right as the end of the trailer it is noted that this film is mandatory propaganda.  Writers could really take note of how much Shearman gives away here as this allows the two hour and twenty minute runtime of the story to be filled to the brim.

 

The story proper actually begins with the Doctor and Evelyn arriving in London on the eve of the 100 Year Jubilee of the Doctor and Evelyn saving the Earth from the Daleks.  They promptly get themselves arrested by the government for breaking curfew and contracting words and are sent to the dictator of the world and his docile wife Nigel and Miriam Rochester who have a Dalek being kept in a locked room which they are going to blow up as part of the Jubilee.  This is only about ten minutes into the story when we start to really get weird as Shearman paints this alternate timeline which is an even tenser version of the 1950s with Britain in control, men being the strong workers while women are meant to be weak and beautiful and the human race has pretty much become Daleks as the leaders of the worlds obey Rochester without question or they will easily be killed or sent off to camps.  The story seems to be the Doctor and Evelyn wanting to fix the world which intensifies when there are reveals that there is Dalek mind control forcing Rochester to be evil, the Doctor has had his legs cut off and stuck in a wheelchair in the tower while Evelyn has died, and the fact that Miriam wants to revolt and Rochester is just plain insane.  This all intensifies with the climax being that Miriam is deposing her husband and is going to marry the Dalek when all hell breaks loose and the Dalek escapes, more appear and start killing people.

 

The plot is really just a rollercoaster from start to finish as the tension increases tremendously right after the credits an only ends once the story is over and the Doctor is comforting Evelyn about all the death she’s had to face over the course of this story.  Shearman is a master of characters especially the Doctor who is just trying to figure this out and Colin Baker is great as the detective and the deranged Doctor seen in the middle of the story.  The Doctor in the tower was driven insane and has lost any real will to live which is just a heartbreaking thing to imagine because of the implications for the universe.  Maggie Stables’ Evelyn Smythe’s reactions to this and the rest of this story are also great as this is the first time since Bloodtide and Project: Twilight where she has seen so much death and has trouble dealing with it.  This is a great lead in for Doctor Who and the Pirates as she really feels like she may end travelling with the Doctor even though that isn’t yet the case, thank goodness.  There are three main supporting characters in this story.  First is Nigel Rochester played brilliantly by Martin Jarvis whose Doctor Who performances has ranged from a Menoptera in The Web Planet to the Governor in Vengeance on Varos which gives him a great range.  His parts in Jubilee are also great at showcasing the actor’s range as he has to be the cruel dictator, the tortured soul, completely homicidal and insane, and even near the end a loving husband.  My favorite bits with Rochester are his reactions to the Americans as they are absolutely hilarious and kind of true.  His wife Miriam is also fascinating as for Part One she seems to be the stereotypical stay at home mother from the 1950s always doing what her man tells her to.  It’s a bit sexist maybe but that is made up for in the reveal of just how power hungry this woman is as she will do anything to gain power.  She’s also a masochist as she loves it when her husband beats her but hates when it doesn’t hurt.  Finally there is the actual Dalek which just like Dalek becomes sympathetic which I have to say is great.

 

To summarize, Jubilee is a perfect story much like the other Robert Shearman stories which just needs to be experienced.  100/100

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Human Nature by: Paul Cornell: And Whatever You Do, Under Any Circumstance, Don't Let Me Eat Pears...I Hate Pears

If you have been a follower of my blog and reviews you will notice that it only took me two days to get through the novels Blood Harvest and Goth Opera.  In my review of Goth Opera I thought something similar wouldn’t happen again, but of course I was wrong.  Yes just a day after reading Dancing the Code, I was able to complete the next novel Human Nature and boy what a novel it was.  This is Paul Cornell’s fifth novel, and fourth Virgin New Adventure and is often cited as one of the best in the range with good reason as it is added on to the very short list of five now six perfect novels.  This is the one novel that had been adapted for the television series in the two part Human Nature/The Family of Blood for Series 3.  I will get to a review of that later, but first I have to go over why the novel Human Nature is one of the absolute best Virgin New Adventures.

 

The plot of the novel begins shortly after the events of Sanctuary where the Doctor finds a device that could make him human so as to better understand Benny.  They land at a school for boys in 1914 in the time period right before the outbreak of World War I where the Doctor becomes Dr. John Smith a history teacher and Benny just lives in the village.  It is revealed however that the pod that made the Doctor a human being was placed in the marketplace as a way for the Aubertides, a family of aliens who reproduce by budding, to track down a Time Lord so they can gain the power of immortality.  They invade the school and chaos ensues with Smith falling in love with science teacher Joan Redford.  Benny is the one who has to protect John Smith following his list of instructions as the pod containing the Doctor was stolen by a bullied student Timothy Dean who gets informed on what he has to do by the mind within the pod.  Cornell’s plot is first and foremost an emotional one as characters build these deep relationships over the nine week period between the prologue and Chapter 1.  There is also a second half with high action and subplots involving the Eternal Death who makes a deal with the Doctor to have John Smith when the Time Lord returns and with Timothy as a way to get what she wants and so he can see the future.

 

Yes John Smith and the Doctor are two very different characters who have the same ideals but go about their actions in very different ways.  John Smith is what the Doctor would be if he was a human being as he doesn’t want to see people get hurt.  He makes a real connection with these kids in the same way as the film Dead Poet’s Society.  He gives Tim life advice, but it is awful as he is trying to fit in with the other teachers at the school who are undeniably British.  He also doesn’t want to become the Doctor at the end of the novel as he knows he will no longer be himself even when he sees what will become of Gallifrey and Romana and Flavia along with it who both are executed by the Aubertides for not giving up the Time Lord’s secrets which is very selfish.  This is in stark contrast to the Doctor who actually becomes the selfless one as he makes sure everyone gets through history which still causes him emotional trauma.  They both work as characters and show exactly why the Doctor cannot be a human being.

 

Benny and Joan are also foil characters for this novel as Joan is Smith’s companion to the novel where she is kind of helpless as she is a woman.  Benny calls Joan a racist which is apt for the time period as she doesn’t like anyone of color, African, Asian, Indian or otherwise.  Joan is the complete product of the time while Benny sees past the pasts problems.  Benny is paired up with a gay man called Alexander Shuttleworth who is having a relationship with another man and she doesn’t care.  She supports the suffragette movement and when two of the Aubertides claim to be the Tenth Doctor and a companion, she is the one who sees through it while Joan just wants to give them what they want and have her happy little life with John Smith.  Alexander is a great sidekick as he is going against the early twentieth century stereotype of gay people as he is the courageous one while others are cowardly to fight.

 

Now let’s talk about Tim who has his own subplot which begins with the other boys having a fake trial and actually hanging him with a noose while others look on and watch because he seems to be a coward.  He actually dies and Death gives him his life back so she can have the life force of John Smith.  Tim is also the only rational one as he doesn’t know how to deal with bullies in the best way as he has a friend to help him through.  Cornell points this out especially as one friend or ally is all that it really takes to be able to get through it.  Tim’s little arc is great as he earns the respect of the others in his dorm through the story while the bullies lose any respect.  Finally let’s talk about the villains who are evil incarnate.  They want to be immortal and will kill anyone who gets in their way.  Heck they set off a fusion bomb just so they can try and get the Time Lord essence.  Here unlike the television adaptation they are all killed, one by a Time Lord who was already on the campus of the school.  They are also more creepy here as they all sort of act almost human, but not quite.

 

To summarize, Human Nature deserves the reputation and it is perfect even if my favorite novel is still All-Consuming Fire.  100/100
 

Bang-Bang-A-Boom! by: Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman directed by: Nicholas Pegg: Oh Look Doctor Another Body

Bang-Bang-A-Boom! stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor with Graeme Garden as Professor Ivor Fassbinder, Patricia Quinn as Angvia, Nickolas Grace as Loozly, Sabina Frankyn as Dr. Eleanor Harcourt and Bonnie Langford as Mel.  It was written by Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman, directed by Nicholas Pegg and released in December 2002 by Big Finish Productions.

 

I’m in a bit of a hard place with this one as Bang-Bang-A-Boom! is the second satire from Roberts and Hickman, but instead of a satire on Doctor Who this one is a satire of many different things that I am not familiar with.  Mainly this is a satire of the Star Trek franchise to the novels of Agatha Christe and the Eurovision Song Contest neither of which I am familiar with at all.  This makes the story a great opportunity to see if Roberts and Hickman are good satirists as good satire can make you realize what it is doing without you having prior knowledge of what is being satirized.  I would argue that this is a good satire as Roberts and Hickman work well at making fun of the core ideas of Star Trek and a lot of the tropes of the show and how it fell from grace after The Next Generation stopped airing in the mid-1990s.  You have the ship’s technical officer who is a drunk, the doctor that has no idea what she’s doing and you have an alarm button placed in an almost too easy to reach place that it often goes off with false alarms.  It is honestly really quite funny, but when compared to The One Doctor, this one has a lot of flaws.

 

The plot sees the Doctor and Mel arrive on Dark Space 8 where there are several murders taking place during the Intergalactic Song Contest which is actually a fa├žade for the Peace Conference which is just a funny idea.  The Doctor plays Poirot while Mel plays Watson and they have to find the murderer before it is too late.  Sylvester McCoy gets a chance here to spread his comedic acting which is great as always.  Unlike Season 24 the script works well for comedy as the Doctor is pretty much the fool throughout the story.  He works really well off his costars especially Bonnie Langford, who is great in her own right and Patricia Quinn.  Yes Magenta from The Rocky Horror Picture Show plays a big part in this story and she is over the top and amazing as always.  I mean its Patricia Quinn in a Doctor Who comedy, if that doesn’t get you excited nothing will.

 

The supporting cast is mainly stereotypes of American science fiction characters which are all pulled off really well and I don’t want to give too much away as the story is just such a good one that letting out the jokes would be ruining some great comedy.  Not all jokes make their mark as there are pauses that just don’t feel right and it’s obvious when something isn’t funny.  I will say however to beware the pits of Angvia which gosh is hilarious.  Also there is a The Curse of Peladon style ending scene which had me in stitches as it addresses the Doctor not being who he says he is which I love to bits.  This story however has one main flaw which is its length.  So each episode is announced by a continuity announcer which are all hilarious but it just makes you notice how long the episodes are which doesn’t help matters.  Part Four has a great gag where you think it’s all over, but you’re only about halfway through the episode.  The gag is great, however the following scenes aren’t as they drag on for way too long and just take you out of the action.

 

To summarize, Bang-Bang-A-Boom! is really just depending on your tastes as there are things to like and things to hate.  Some people absolutely despise this story which is fine as the length is way too long and some jokes are hit or miss but when they hit they hit hard.  The acting is some of the best comedic acting and it’s got Patricia Quinn in it which is great.  65/100

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Dancing the Code by: Paul Leonard: The Land of Milk and Honey

The exile period for the Third Doctor had him working with UNIT which stood for the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce.  You would think involved working with the United Nations to stop problems, which rarely ever occurred on television.  The only two times they dealt with United Nations problems was when they oversaw the security for the peace conference in The Mind of Evil and the missing scientists in The Time Warrior.  This changes with Dancing the Code a story that involves UNIT being used to diffuse a situation in the Middle East as a commentary on the terrorism in the 1980s and 1990s even though the novel takes place sometime between 1973 and 1974, and I won’t get into the UNIT Dating Controversy here so this is when the story says it takes place so I’m keeping it as such.  The fictional nation of Kebiria is under civil war between Muslims and Christian not unlike Israel and Palestine, and a faction of terrorists have discovered an alien army built underneath the capital which the terrorists are using to try and win the war.  It is at this point that we meet journalist Catriona Talliser who has an interview with the terrorist group where she is told about legends of demons and eventually runs into a UNIT officer who leaks a honey like substance and mutters dancing the code.  This causes UNIT to get involved where a conspiracy is unraveled about the alien Xarax, a portmanteau of Xerox, who make copies of people filled with the honey stuff which will be used to take over the world and reproduce and it is up to the Doctor and Jo to stop this.

 

Of course there is a twist as the Doctor has created a machine to see into the future and has seen the Brigadier, his best friend, shoot him and Jo dead in cold blood with apparently no motivation which only adds intrigue to the story as we know that while the details may be different the Doctor and Jo will be shot.  It shows why you should never know the future must like The Space Museum as they can’t do anything to change it, but they do the logical thing and split up.  Jo takes the dangerous route and goes into Kebiria to help out with Yates investigating the UNIT soldier’s death and the strange honey substance.  This plot is extremely strong as reading it has a pace that just flies by unlike Paul Leonard’s first novel.  I read the novel in the span of the day and it feels so much like a thrill ride which just doesn’t let up as you want to know all the twists and turns of the novel as things get revealed.

 

Leonard also works extremely well with his cast of characters.  It is like they have leapt off the screen and into the pages, much better than The Ghosts of N-Space.  This is set firmly after Planet of the Daleks so the Doctor has freedom and is using UNIT funding for his own special projects and throughout the novel he just feels like he is being voiced by Jon Pertwee.  The double of the Doctor is also creepy as you don’t know when the Doctor is the Doctor and when he is the double which makes rereading certain passages a real treat.  Everything is left so vague which is the intention as you aren’t supposed to know who is who in what seems to be comment on the Cold War.  If the Doctor was a great representation of his screen counterpart, Jo Grant fares even better as instead of being ditzy she is even more capable as she is the one trying to figure out what the Xarax wants even after she is infected by the Xarax which I actually find really interesting.  She also has an interesting relationship with Vincent who is a terrorist leader who she almost falls in love with.  It isn’t quite love, but it has an extremely interesting dynamic with everything.

 

The entire UNIT family is here in this story is also impeccably presented.  Sergeant Benton gets the least amount of screen time as usual but whenever he is on he is just as lovable as always.  Captain Yates gets a much larger portion of the novel devoted to him as he is paired with Jo for some sections and stays as UNIT’s lesion for much of the plot of the story.  You can just feel Richard Franklin oozing off the page which is the same with the Brigadier.  We get into the head of the Brigadier as he doesn’t want to shoot the Doctor and Jo and the thought of it actively horrifies him.  It gets even tenser with the Doctor, Jo and several UNIT personnel being replaced with copies a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers and he can’t tell if he actually shoots the Doctor or just a copy.  The main problem I have with Dancing the Code is that the thing has way too many characters which get a bit difficult to remember and I am really trying with it.

 

To summarize, Dancing the Code continues the great streak the novels have been running with a tense Cold War era thriller.  Its main characters are all greatly portrayed along with many of the side characters, but there are just too many to actually make this novel perfect.  95/100