Monday, May 30, 2016

Love & Monsters by: Russell T. Davies directed by: Dan Zeff: I'm Sorry, I'm So So Sorry

Love and Monsters stars David Tennant as the Doctor and Billie Piper as Rose Tyler with Camile Coudri as Jackie Tyler, Marc Warren as Elton Pope, Shirley Henderson as Ursula Blake and Peter Kay as the Abzorbaloff.  It was written by Russell T. Davies, directed by Dan Zeff with Simon Winstone as Script Editor, Phil Collinson as Producer and Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner as Executive Producers.  It was originally broadcast on Saturday, 17 June 2006 on BBC One.


Why does Love and Monsters not work? Well there are many different reasons for the story being a failure.  First it’s biggest crime is that it is trying to be the New Series equivalent of the Seventh Doctor story The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, but not in the way you may be expecting.  It doesn’t rip off the plot from The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, but it is using the idea of being a commentary on Doctor Who as a whole and Love and Monsters gets the idea wrong in every way.  The Greatest Show in the Galaxy basically states to the audience that yes Doctor Who has been on some tough times and we aren’t nearly as good as we used to be, but please stick with us and you might just find something worth watching again.  It also helps that The Greatest Show in the Galaxy was the finale to the penultimate season of the Classic Series and while yes the Whiz Kid was an annoying character, the story is brilliant in comparison to Love and Monsters.  Love and Monsters comments on the show in two main ways.  First up the commentary is that this is the best show ever with God himself as the star in the form of David Tennant.  Savor any moment your eyes have glimpsing the sheer brilliance of Russell The Davies and his godly production team.  Second is that the fans are puny mortals who have obviously no lives and are plainly worthless.  So yes this is something that we fans can get annoyed with and me in particular as it is this kind of egotistical writing that puts me off David Tennant’s Doctor on the whole.


The plot of Love and Monsters follows Elton Pope played by Marc Warren, through the framing device of a vlog where he is out searching for the Doctor whom he saw in his home the night his mother died.  Through this quest he unites with others searching for the Doctor for whatever reason when they are approached by Victor Kennedy, a rather hilariously bad parody of Ian Levine, who forces them to look harder when Elton being the main character meets Jackie Tyler, whom he upsets.  His friends start disappearing one by one and he and budding girlfriend Ursula Blake played by Moaning Myrtle from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets aka Shirley Henderson discover Kennedy is actually an Abzorbaloff from the planet Clom who wants to find the Doctor to absorb him.  The plot is extremely silly and not in the good Douglas Adams or Dennis Spooner type of way, but in a bad way.  It feels a lot like a child was responsible for the story much like a child was in fact responsible for designing the villain.  The only real relief is that the Doctor and Rose are barely in this story which is for the best as Rose is my least favorite companion and David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor is my least favorite Doctor.


The acting in this story is honestly really bad with the biggest offender being Peter Kay who is way too over the top for any sort of Doctor Who story.  Kay is also extremely creepy in a sexual way in several scenes and gives away that he isn’t quite right early on but none of the other characters which shows just how Russell T Davies cannot write these supporting characters.  Shirley Henderson’s Ursula is also a really bad performance as she is doing the same performance she did as Moaning Myrtle which really doesn’t suit the character who honestly had a lot of potential to be interesting in the hands of a different actress.  Marc Warren is also a huge disappointment as he was brilliant in Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather and you can barely tell they were the same actor here.  Elton is a complete idiot of a character whose pride forces Ursula to be cursed with immortality a la Borusa in The Five Doctors and the Doctor allows this to happen.  Seriously Doctor, that is cruel even for you and she only died.  The only decent actor in this is Camile Coudri as Jackie Tyler who is actually quite sympathetic for once which is a bit odd as I usually don’t like Jackie on the whole.


The direction and visual effects work on this story also help in dragging it down.  We run into the first problem in the opening scene where there is a random Scooby-Doo style chase that really doesn’t make any sense as Doctor Who isn’t a cartoon even if they were trying to make a running through corridors joke.  It would have only worked had this been a parody of Doctor Who which it isn’t.  The direction is also extremely over lit in places especially where the Abzorbaloff is concern which reveals just how bad the costuming is on a whole.  Most of the story takes place in a warehouse which could have easily been done with darker shadows and they could have done a quick night shoot for the final confrontation scene.  Now I will make my complaints on the Abzorbaloff brief as it is awful and unforgivable even if it was designed by a small child.  The framing story about the vlog also doesn’t work and chops up the flow as well as looking awful in the process.


To summarize, while there are a few redeeming elements Love and Monsters is still one of the worst Doctor Who television stories and in the Doctor Who Magazine Poll of 2014 actually deserves to be lower than it was.  11/100.

The Game by: Darin Henry directed by: Gary Russell: Playing the Game To the Death

The Game stars Peter Davison as the Doctor with William Russell as Lord Darzil Carlisle, Christopher Ellison as Morian, Jonathan Pearce as Garny Dibilick, and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa.  It was written by Darin Henry, directed by Gary Russell and released in February 2005 by Big Finish Productions.


In the early days of Big Finish, before they had their Companion Chronicles range, they would use companion actors from the first four Doctors.  This was done as a way for them to gain more revenue as fans would be more likely to buy stories that have what would be Doctor Who celebrities.  This story is one such story where Big Finish have brought in William Russell to play a major supporting character in the form of peace negotiator Darzil Carlisle which is really what makes this story stand out from the crowd.  This is due to the premise on the surface sounding quite dull as it involves a planet where a civil war is playing out in the form of a sports tournament, Naxi, where the goal is to literally kill as many people before time runs out.  Everyone is forced to play Naxi at one point in their lives and the fans are entirely rabid and it is Darzil Carlisle’s job to negotiate peace between the two teams.  This is the focus of the first four parts of the story as this story is split up into six parts with the major twist being that Carlisle’s peace negotiator career is a sham as the Doctor is the one who has negotiated the end to those wars and when the Doctor shows up it is their first meeting for him and Carlisle’s last.


The end of Part Four however adds in a twist where there are creatures living on the planet Cray and it is revealed that Carlisle’s assistant is working with the primary villain on a gambling ring to make money.  This occupies the final two parts which is where the story loses a lot of its credibility as the villain, Morian played by Christopher Ellison, is your standard power mad dictator who wants to get more money.  He also is played as an abusive boyfriend as he emits a drug and forces Carlisle’s assistant, Faye, to work with him as she basically becomes a nymphomaniac.  His plotline is sort of tacked onto the end to pad out the story to two hours when it would have worked a lot better if the story just focused on Carlisle and the Doctor’s relationship and how Carlisle is a fraud.  There are even forced in monsters because this is Doctor Who and you have to have monsters, don’t you? Well, no you don’t, the monsters in this story are awfully integrated and really only serve as extra padding for the plot.


Peter Davison as the Doctor does however shine throughout the story and serves as the saving grace for the final two parts even if they are already mercifully short.  The Fifth Doctor wants to meet Carlisle and is utterly destroyed when he finds that he is a complete fraud and he has to go on to save three dozen worlds.  Davison’s performance here actually feels a lot more like his character is older after some devastating events in Spare Parts and Creatures of Beauty.  It is an effect that is really nice for the story.


To summarize, The Game has a great start and a great first four parts but after a twist the final two parts turn into your traditional Doctor Who story which really doesn’t work.  William Russell, Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton are highlights here in some great events as well.  75/100

The Juggernauts by: Scott Alan Woodward directed by: Gary Russell: The Opposite of Davros

The Juggernauts stars Colin Baker as the Doctor with Terry Molloy as Davros and Bonnie Langford as Mel.  It was written by Scott Alan Woodward, directed by Gary Russell and released in February 2005 by Big Finish Productions.


There’s a reason that Terry Molloy will always be the definitive Davros, especially for me.  It’s because Molloy has played him the most and shown the most nuance with the performance.  Molloy knows how to play the character at different points in his history and adjust against the different personalities of the Doctor.  Molloy is able to add a depth of character to the megalomaniac even when the writing is subpar and he performs his best in two stories that delve into his past.  First is Davros and second is today’s story, its spiritual successor The Juggernauts which to a lesser extent also explores the same ideas of Davros wanting to change his ways after a near death experience.  The plot sees Mel stranded on the planet Lethe while the Doctor is captured by the Daleks and sent to kill Davros after he escaped, off-screen, after the end of Revelation of the Daleks.  He crashed on Lethe and is passing himself off as Dr. Vaso and creates robot servants for sale.  These titular Juggernauts are the Mechanoids from the serial, The Chase, which hold a rather disturbing secret on how they were created.  The way the story plays out is probably its weakest aspect as it is just your standard Dalek story and there is nothing particularly wrong with it, but it just isn’t very interesting.


The characters however are what elevates this story among the greats starting with the portrayal of Mel played by Bonnie Langford.  It is Mel who carries most of the first episode and the story is all the better for it as Mel is stranded on Lethe for a couple of months where she forms relationships with the computer programmers there.  She even gets a boyfriend who of course as this is Doctor Who, doesn’t make it until the end which leads into a closing scene that tugs at the heartstrings with a music box version of Schubert’s Ave Maria playing into the credits.  Bonnie Langford is a great actress with the right direction which is something she never got on television, but on audio she excels as the companion.  While her character really isn’t anything special Langford has this sense of energy that she injects into her role which makes for a great story whenever she can get her teeth into the script which is something the television show could never really master because of the lack of a script editor prevented her from elevating above the screamer.


The characterization of Davros is as I said great as Terry Molloy is such a versatile actor.  Throughout the first part of the story he is masquerading as the kindly old Doctor Vaso who just wants to see the world become a better place and uses his juggernauts to do this.  The idea that Davros wants to reform is of course nothing new as it has been done before in Davros, but there is a twist as this is after his Necros experiments have failed and leads into the Dalek Civil War.  He has realized he can’t perfect the Daleks and they are always going to rebel and try and kill him, but his pride doesn’t stop him from trying again with him having complete control over his creations this time.  Of course it goes wrong at the first sign of trouble and it is up to the Doctor to stop them.


The other member of the cast that is of note is Colin Baker as the Doctor is initially the only one to see through Davros’ deception as he is the only one who before this who has met Davros before.  Of course Baker gives a great performance as Woodward uses the script mainly to focus on Mel and the idea of the corporation needing to have a free market.  Yes instead of doing the big bad corporation route, as a way to juxtapose the plot of Davros, Woodward’s story has the corporation being controlled too much by the government which is why people start to go along with Davros.  It’s honestly a breath of fresh air for that to be the main idea of the story instead of what would be the norm for Doctor Who.


To summarize, The Juggernauts has its flaws and of course is very gimmicky in the aspect of having the Mechanoids feature.  That is a welcome return and the script is a wonderful script in many aspects with the cast giving it there all, but there is just a sense of bad pacing and too much reliance on being a sequel to Davros.  85/100

Sunday, May 29, 2016

May Update #2

So it’s the last Sunday in May and that means time for another update.  Looking back on the month it didn’t go as I had originally expected, but I had exams and had to take time to make sure I did well.  Of course that meant the content had to be cut back slightly from what was originally intended.


May 29-June 25


TV Stories
Love and Monsters
The Ark in Space
Arc of Infinity
The Deadly Assassin


Head Games
Millenial Rites
Time’s Champeon
The Also People
The Empire of Glass
Lords of the Storm
Just War


The Juggernauts
The Game
Three’s a Crowd
The Council of Nicaea
Terror Firma
Thicker than Water
Scardey Cat
Other Lives
Pier Pressure
Night Thoughts
Time Works
The Kingmaker
The Settling
Something Inside
The Nowhere Place
The Reaping


June 26-July 30


TV Stories
The Time Monster
The Seeds of Doom
The Horns of Nimon
The Power of the Daleks


The Man in the Velvet Mask
The English Way of Death
Death and Diplomacy
The Eye of the Giant
Who Killed Kennedy?
Happy Endings
The Sands of Time


The Gathering
Memory Lane
No Man’s Land
Year of the Pig
Circular Time
The English Way of Death
The Ultimate Adventure
The Seven Keys to Doomsday
The Curse of the Daleks
The Nightmare Fair
Mission to Magnus
The Hollows of Time
Paradise 5
Point of Entry
The Song of Megaptera
The Macros
Farewell, Great Macedon
The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrence
Prison in Space
The Daleks: The Destroyers
Thin Ice
Crime of the Century
Earth Aid
The Foe from the Future
The Valley of Death
The Elite
The Children of Seth


July 31-Aug. 27


TV Stories
The Underwater Menace
The Sensorites
The Eleventh Hour
Warriors of the Deep


Killing Ground
Christmas on a Rational Planet
The Scales of Injustice
Return of the Living Dad
The Shadow of Weng-Chiang
The Death of Art
Twilight of the Gods
Damaged Goods
Speed of Flight
So Vile a Sin
The Plotters


The Guardians of Prophecy
Power Play
The First Sontarans
The Masters of Luxor
The Rosemariners
The Dark Planet
The Queen of Time
Lords of the Red Planet
The Mega

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Toy Soldiers by: Paul Leonard: Fluffy Bears from Hell

Steven Moffat gained fame as a Doctor Who writer by taking mundane things and making them scary.  He’s made shadows, children, clocks and statues the stuff of nightmares, but he wasn’t the first one to do it.  That honor goes to Paul Leonard who in today’s novel found a way to make teddy bears of all things horrifying as in Toy Soldiers a race of giant teddy bears led by a computer give small versions of themselves to children which teleport them to a warzone where they are conditioned to fight and kill without any mercy.  This is a brilliant premise for the novel and Leonard knows how to make it work well within the context of the story especially considering this is a novel to primarily feature the companions completing the tasks while the Doctor is in the background.


The premise of the novel is enhanced first and foremost by the setting.  The teddy bears steal children from France and Germany in the aftermath of World War I which allows Leonard to explore what it is like for the children after a conflict.  Everyone in France and Germany were hungry as there were food shortages and the children felt it.  There is also a bit of social commentary on what happens when war doesn’t end as before World War I was the last time that there wasn’t a major war going on as the major powers went from conflict to conflict with disregard to breaking in between.  Leonard shows this in that the Recruiter, the computer that recruits the children, doesn’t have a word in his vocabulary bank for peace.  For them war is endless and there is always a need for soldiers to fight in a war.  Leonard also has the aliens use kids to highlight how their morality isn’t formed until they were adults so they are easily manipulated into killing others.


The characters of the novel also are a highlight as the children are for the most part written as children.  They aren’t stupid but they don’t have the experiences of an adult either at least most of them don’t.  There are a few exceptions like Gabriella who sounds a lot like an adult along with Josef who wants to kill Benny when she is found on the battlefield.  Leonard also has the best characterization of the regulars since Original Sin.  Benny gets about half the novel devoted to her as she deals with factory work in 1918 to being brainwashed into leading an army and having to break her programing.  When cornered Benny reverts not to worrying, but almost becoming rather head strong as she gets as much information out of her captors as she physically can before they transport her off to a foreign world.


Roz gets to have a lot of characterization here as she and Chris stay on Earth investigating how the children are going missing.  She tries to make a connection to the people of France, but can’t simply because they are racist.  When she is investigating a child who went missing at a wedding immediately after the event, she becomes the main suspect in the proceedings just because she happens to be an African American.  Leonard also writes in a deeper examination of Roz’s morality in this story where she is often compared to the Doctor in that she wants to save everyone, but knows that some people have to die for the majority to be saved.  This is enhanced near the end of the novel where it is revealed that five million children have been stolen and could be killed, while she cannot do anything to stop it from happening.  She has a break down which is subtly done.  Chris on the other hand is a weakness as Leonard continues the bland streak of character that has been defining Chris since Sky Pirates!


The Doctor takes a part in the action for a very minimal amount of this novel’s length but about halfway through when he gets the chance to take part his relationship with the captured children whom he helps out is great.  He isn’t quite the clown from Season 24, but his characterization is closer to that funny uncle that you like to have around.  It is a nice change of pace as he has been darker and brooding of late.  He knows how to play the soldier and play the kindly old grandfather.  He is out of his depth as he has only known that peace is the way to go when finding a final solution.  His battle of wits with the Recruiter is the highlight of the novel and it fun to watch.  Sadly there are flaws with this as the villains have literally no character outside of warrior teddy bears, but hey at least the Ogrons are in it for a while and that is a bit of fun while it lasts.


To summarize, Toy Soldiers stops the streak of lackluster novels in their tracks before they can become like the streak between Strange England and Warlock.  The characterization of the regulars is great and Leonard shows that he knows how to write compelling Doctor Who much more efficiently than his debut novel Venusian Lullaby.  There are of course a lot of problems in the novel especially concerning children sounding like adults and the evil teddy bears being a bit off, but a lot of them can be forgiven.  80/100

The Next Life by: Alan Barnes and Gary Russell directed by: Gary Russell: Charley Through the Looking Glass and What She Found There

The Next Life stars Paul McGann as the Doctor with Daphne Ashbrook as Perfection, Paul Darrow as Guidance, Don Warrington as Rassilon, India Fisher as Charley and Conrad Westmass as C’rizz.  It was written by Alan Barnes and Gary Russell, directed by Gary Russell and released in December 2004 by Big Finish Productions.


The Divergent Universe Arc is often slated for being quite a bad story arc which the writers had no idea on how to figure out where they wanted to go with this.  The arc doesn’t ever have its actual villains show up at all in the arc and it was cut short by two seasons with the returning of the show to television.  This was of course done not to alienate potential new listeners coming to see what the fuss was about with these audio dramas and of course the fact that Gary Russell was unsure of whether or not Big Finish would have their license renewed for another year.  My personal thoughts on the arc is that it is flat out underrated.  Yes it is extremely flawed and never takes full advantage of going further into the crazy nature of the universe and the pacing of the two seasons is way off as it was supposed to be four seasons.  On the pacing there is a way to fix it all so it works better.  Start by making it three series and deleting The Twilight Kingdom from the entire story arc.  Add a third season with the stories being Scherzo, The Creed of the Kromon, Faith Stealer, and then end the season with one of the stories originally planned for season 3, probably Time Works.  Have the second season open with The Natural History of Fear, followed by Scardey Cat, then The Last and of course finish with Caerdroia.  The third season open with Something Inside, followed by the unnamed script from Gary Hopkins, then have Alan Barnes or Nicholas Briggs write a penultimate story ending in the TARDIS crash from the beginning of The Next Life and then continue with The Next Life.  This would make for a much tighter arc and while we still would have had some duds, the pace would have worked out for the better and we probably would have gotten a better reception from the fans.  The wasted potential is the big problem with The Next Life as it concludes the arc in a very hasty fashion even though the story is an extended six parter.  Good news however that most of the rest of the story is on top form and it’s only the rather messy ending that takes down the story quite a few pegs.


Russell and Barnes are both great at writing the structure of this story as it splits up the story into a two part opening story and a four part closing story.  The two part opening story is the stronger of the two stories as it takes an introspection on what the impact of Charley and C’rizz have on the total of history.  Charley is taken back to Cardington where her mother again played by the brilliant Anneke Wills, to help her find out that her decision to get Simon Murchford drunk and take his place on the R101 actually helped save a lot of lives and had larger consequences on the Web of Time.  India Fisher is great in these sections as she gets to flex her acting chops and deal with the fallout of her decisions which is great.  Something similar happens to C’rizz who instead of seeing the ramifications of his actions, he sees some of the strings being pulled and we actually get a backstory.  He was originally a monk of the Church of the Foundation which teases us to the idea that he has killed people before.  It is revealed that it is his lover L’da whose family saved him from this life of murder and fell in love with him.  Of course the story ends with the Kro’ka, who is working for the Divergence, pulling them out and acting pretty much like he is a god miles above them.  The Kro’ka here actually gets to be more menacing in the early two parts of the story and Stephen Perring is relishing his chance for a good role after Caerdroia pretty much destroyed him.


The final four parts of the story are also very much split into two parts.  Parts Three and Four for the most part takes the form of a Hinchliffe/Holmes style reimagining of The Most Dangerous Game where the Doctor is accused of killing a little girl and he is to be hunted as sport which is a perfectly fine idea and the minimal plot allows for a lot of character development in this section of the story.  The Doctor is paired up with Perfection played by Daphne Ashbrook who killed the girl’s mother to be hunted with the Doctor.  Perfection is pretty much the embodiment of sexual temptation and Daphne Ashbrook is a great performer.  She is the wife of Daqar Keep who bought her for her looks and abuses her and Ashbrook in these parts displays a lot of subtlety throughout the story.  Her relationship with Charley whom she meets eventually is very much like two catty teenagers vying for the attention of a boy which is great.


The rest of the supporting cast really only shine in Part Five and Six where we get the plot surrounding the payoff to the anti-time infection and the Zagreus entity and the sound creature from Scherzo.  Now the ending is disastrous with it not being resolved, but comically stopped in its tracks as the Doctor, Charley and C’rizz are sent back into the universe proper.  I’m going to spoil a lot here so continue with caution, but it is revealed that the villain working with the Divergence to try and gain control of our universe is Rassilon played by Don Warrington who has been exiled as well and wishes to depose Romana as Lord President of Gallifrey.  Warrington is the best of the actors to play Rassilon, yes even better than Sir. Timothy Dalton.  The three main supporting characters are Perfection, Guidance and Keep.  Perfection in these parts has the character shift as she is revealed to be the Zagreus entity wanting to get into the TARDIS and get to infect time.  Ashbrook is great with this as well as Paul Darrow as Guidance who really doesn’t have a big reveal except he is C’rizz’s father.  Yes don’t ask me how but he is a religious leader trying to tempt C’rizz.  The performance is great as it is Paul Darrow playing the role.  Keep is also the other character who is the sound creature from Scherzo.  He is there to conclude the story and sign out the fates for the other characters.


To summarize, The Next Life is definitely a mixed bag of a story, but it does have a lot of good things even though it could have been done a lot better than it was.  70/100

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Caerdroia by: Lloyd Rose directed by: Gary Russell: The Ball of Yarn That Gets You Through the Maze

Caerdroia stars Paul McGann as the Doctor with India Fisher as Charley and Conrad Westmass as C’rizz.  It was written by Lloyd Rose, directed by Gary Russell, and released in November 2004.


From the worst of the second season of the Divergent Universe Arc, we go to the absolute best of the second season as it actually feels like there is nothing in this story that could be done in the regular universe.  The plot sees the Doctor tricking the Kro’ka into taking them to the administrative area of the Divergence which is its own planet connected to the Interzone which is where the TARDIS is being held.  This is Caerdroia which is at some points is a labyrinth while at other points is a maze and is basically a parody of the Matrix on Gallifrey as seen in The Ultimate Foe.  It is trying its hardest to keep the Doctor and the TARDIS separated, but of course the TARDIS is clever, it splits the Doctor into three persons based on the three aspects of the Doctor’s personality while the Kro’ka in one last chance is trying to bring the Doctor in to his masters and gain access to his mind.  Rose’s plot and writing style allows for an experience that can almost be described similar to the effects of a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster.  That of course is in a good way as the experience, much like the writings of Douglas Adams, made me laugh out loud at several points.  There are hearing gags and even a few cleverly done sight gags and forcing Paul McGann into three very distinct versions of the Doctor only adds to the clever dialogue and great performances.


The Doctor is split up into, as he puts it, the Brains, the Brain-Dead, and the Manners and I could of course go on for hours on how it is a dissection of Freud’s id, ego and superego in many subtle ways, but that really isn’t important.  What is important is that it seems Paul McGann has finally gotten over being bored with the role and actually has a script to sink his teeth into.  From the beginning of the story the Doctor, while not quite happy, is getting his revenge on the Kro’ka and the Divergence by taking a nap in the Interzone in a sequence which is just hilarious on so many levels and it brings a smile to my face when I realize how well the team works.  By the end of Part One the Doctor has split into the three persons and this allows McGann to pull off an incredibly layered performance.  There are several points where it is the Doctor arguing with himself which get extremely crazy as each of the Doctor’s make good points that conflict each other.  Now you may be thinking that doesn’t make much sense and no it doesn’t, but at the same time it sort of does.  I just don’t know how to explain it but Lloyd Rose knows exactly how to write for the Eighth Doctor and the big shame is that this is her only audio drama, but she has written a few Doctor Who novels which I look forward to reading.


Now let’s talk Charley and C’rizz who are both on top form here.  Starting with India Fisher as Charley who feels for once like the developed version of the character seen in the first two seasons of Eighth Doctor adventures.  She is very similar to the one seen in Seasons of Fear while here she seems to have a lot of fun teasing the Kro’ka in some hilarious scenes.  She is also paired off with C’rizz for most of the story which helps with a lot of the character development.  While it isn’t a romantic relationship there, Charley and C’rizz are beginning to become closer friends which is really what both the characters needed to continue with their respective character arcs.  While in Faith Stealer and The Last we did get a lot of development with C’rizz, it often felt like it was trying to make up for lost time while in Caerdroia it all feels done very naturally.  This story also has C’rizz begin to come to terms with the concept of time which is a nice way to segue into his reaction to the TARDIS at the end as yes they get the TARDIS back and C’rizz doesn’t realize just how massive the ship actually is and what it means for the Doctor to have it back.  Conrad Westmass gives his absolute best performance yet and it is just amazing to see C’rizz get some interesting things to do.


Before I conclude the review there are a few things that I have to mention that are of note.  First off the sound design of the TARDIS at the end is amazingly done as the famous hum of the control room is missing.  This signals in a clever way to the listener that something is wrong without the Cloister Bell, that being of course that there is no time in this universe which the TARDIS is suffering from.  Even though there isn’t time however the Divergence have set things up as a way to imitate time as it seems they wish for their universe to have the concept of time.  In Caerdroia, there is a giant cuckoo clock at the center which doesn’t have hands, but has a cuckoo.  The area takes subtle influences from the pasts of the characters.  Signs are in English, Gallifreyean and Eutermese.  The bureaucracy of administration reflects the experience in the Matrix from The Ultimate Foe.  Even the torture of the Doctor by the Kro’ka uses clock tower bells to imitate time as an extra taunting.  It’s all done quite brilliantly by Lloyd Rose which I just love.


To summarize, Caerdroia is a fascinating story that continues to increase the quality of the arc leading up to what might just be a brilliant conclusion.  The story has the best portrayal of its characters for a while and the writer is a brilliant storyteller with some great ideas for the exploration.  100/100


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Invasion of the Cat-People by: Gary Russell: Just Distract Them With A Giant Ball of Yarn

Gary Russell knows how to create an interesting sounding premise and has it down to a tee when it comes to getting you interested.  This is apparent in the only two novels of his that I have read the second of which I am able to discuss today in Invasion of the Cat-People a Second Doctor novel that sees the Doctor and oddly Ben and Polly land in 1995 to fight the invading cat people.  While the story does everything that it says on the tin, what it promises should be something extremely interesting to read and allow for some very sixties style settings, characters and ideas which it does, but Russell’s writing style lets the novel down in several ways as the novel’s style comes across as extremely boring almost always throughout.  The plot has two alien races trying to invade the Earth as they have been since the time of the Australian Aborigines and some of the members have been integrating with human culture.  This is a fascinating idea as it seems like something that actually would happen.  Sadly when crafting the characters Russell falls into the trap of making the characters have unpronounceable names.  This stops the characters from being very relatable as you can’t pronounce their names with a couple of exceptions.


The queen of the Cat-People is a generally humorous character whom appears a few times in scenes that had me chuckling which is the only real thing I can say about her.  Atimkos is a character on the opposing side and sort of acts as Polly’s mentor as she is part of this prophecy about the invasion of the cat-people and there are bits of telepathy.  Tim is extremely manipulative of Polly which I find fascinating as she wasn’t very developed on television and seeing her here doing some great stuff actually gets me interested.  That segues nicely into the characterization of Ben and Polly who are both done really well by Russell.  Ben suffers from not really having much to do as this is Polly’s story, but they both get twenty pages or so to realize that the two of them have been taken out of time.  They both find the world they find themselves in is terrifying and rightly so but there are interesting parables, especially concerning fast food, of how it really isn’t very different from what they are used to in their own time period.  The Doctor also gets to have his own characterization being done very well, at least better than the one seen in The Menagerie.  It is Gary Russell who has a respect for Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor which comes through extremely well in this novel and is a highlight.  He feels very much like a transition of the character seen in The Power of the Daleks and The Highlanders.


Another large problem in the novel is that Gary Russell puts in a lot of continuity, especially in references to the Cheetah People from the final story of the classic series, Survival.  This causes the novel to suffer greatly as you keep being reminded of other stories.  Continuity references aren’t bad in their own right, but doing them correctly can become very difficult when you put too many put inside the novel.  The Cat-People also come across as very generic villains even if Russell’s fan casting in the back of the novel is jam packed full of actors and actresses who have been in Doctor Who before.  The same can be said about the other alien faction which just doesn’t come across very well in the grand scheme of things.


To summarize, Invasion of the Cat-People is a perfectly average story that really comes from a genuinely interesting plot that in the hands of say Jim Mortimore or Andy Lane could have been done a lot better.  Sadly as it has been given to Gary Russell who at this point is inexperienced in writing which causes the novel to go rather slowly.  The characterization of the regulars is mostly spot on but the supporting cast is really where everything falls apart as Russell falls into the trap of making them have names that are unpronounceable making them less relatable as a result.  50/100

The Last by: Gary Hopkins directed by: Gary Russell: They All Die in the End...

The Last stars Paul McGann as the Doctor with India Fisher as Charley and Conrad Westmass as C’rizz.  It was written by Gary Hopkins, directed by Gary Russell and released in October 2004 by Big Finish Productions.


Tonal whiplash can often be a problem in Doctor Who as you can have highly dramatic stories followed by highly comedic stories or vice versa.  It is a phenomenon where the contrasting tones diminishes the quality of a story as it changes rapidly and many would argue that The Last suffers because of it.  This is due to the story being summed up in the word bleak.  The Last takes place in a Zone where there is a nuclear winter.  Radiation permeates everything and much of the population has been killed in a war while the government is safely kept in their security bunker a mile beneath the surface with the leader being blissfully unaware of the casualties of war.  The setting however isn’t the only thing that is bleak as Hopkins uses his story to put the Doctor, Charley and C’rizz through hell and back in what might just be the best of the Eighth Doctor main range stories which I will of course explain why it isn’t near the end of this review.


The plot sees the Doctor, Charley and C’rizz go to the next zone where the Doctor immediately realizes that this is a nuclear winter where they must quickly find shelter when a massive rockfall paralyzes Charley, separates C’rizz and disorients the Doctor.  The Doctor and Charley end up inside the security bunker where they meet the leader of the zone Excelsior, who is mad, and her ministers for war and peace who are all working on the fact that the world is still at war even if there is nobody left to fight.  Excelsior is ready to go to the surface when the bunker begins to fill up and the rest of the story’s plot is basically escape the sinking ship.  The plot is traditional but extremely interesting as it focuses on the subplots of the ghosts of the inhabitants of this zone and Hopkins excels at writing it.  The great writing has Paul McGann in his best performance in ages as the Doctor is pushed to his absolute limit.  This is not the breathless romantic of the other adventures, but a man pushed past his limits and ready to kill so he can try and survive.  The things the Doctor sees in this story are horrifying to say the least as everyone in the story, but him, dies.  Yes even Charley and C’rizz don’t make it out of this story alive as they are murdered by Excelsior played by Carolyn Jones, who has gone mad.  Excelsior is a vile woman in every sense of the word.  She has kinetic powers to control acids and thinks she is doing Charley and C’rizz favors by putting them out of their miseries.  The character is fascinating as Jones does a subtle performance which works much better than an over the top performance other actors may have given.


Charley Pollard actually has stuff to do in this story as she gets paralyzed from the neck down and has come to accept that she is never going to walk again.  She offers herself to be sacrificed if someone has to stay on the planet and die a slow and painful death as she is only going to slow them down.  Her death is extremely tragic as we have spent the most time with Charley over the course of the adventures with her as the audience surrogate.  C’rizz also gets to have development as he watches over Charley whom he cares for immensely even though they have only known each other for a couple of weeks.  Their relationship in this story is great as C’rizz is truly a caring person who wants to see Excelsior dead when he realizes it could only be her who killed Charley.  C’rizz is also the only person who can see Requiem, the ghost haunting them.  Requiem isn’t a villain as he is the leader of the dead population on Bortrosoye who has the subplot that all must die so the titular last can reset everything to peace which segues nicely into the story breaking flaw of the story.


The following is going to contain major spoilers for the story which I have to reveal to accurately rate this story.  If you haven’t listened to this story yet stop reading now, buy the story and listen to it before coming back here to read the rest of the review.  So it is revealed near the end that the zone has been stuck in what serves as a time loop with the final survivor of the events having to be the one who resets everything.  He is the Last the title refers to and in this version of the loop it is the Doctor who remains standing once the dust settles and Requiem gives him a decision.  He can either commit suicide to reset everything most likely for the last time or just keep going until they naturally reset.  Of course he decides that he is going to reset everything so he can save his friends and get out which of course is the path he chooses.  This is just infuriating as Gary Hopkins is a writer with balls who has made us seen the character development of the Doctor which is only undone by this major twist that psyche everything is fine.  This deus ex machina ending ruins any sort of dramatic tension you have on relistens as you know that everything is going to turn out fine no matter what happens.


To summarize, until its final part The Last is a brilliant story with a writer who has the balls to kill off major characters and have the Doctor have critical reactions to the events taking place but it is ruined by its deus ex machina ending that just hurts.  60/100

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Faith Stealer by: Graham Duff directed by: Gary Russell: A Serendipitous Improvement, Whoops Be Praised

Faith Stealer stars Paul McGann as the Doctor with India Fisher as Charley and Conrad Westmass as C’rizz.  It was written by Graham Duff, directed by Gary Russell and released in October 2004 by Big Finish Productions.


Why wasn’t this used as a series finale instead of The Twilight Kingdom?  It’s got a fun premise to explore, characters who actually have character development and feels like it would just feel out of place in the normal Doctor Who universe.  Yes Faith Stealer is a great story in almost every sense of the word.  The plot sees C’rizz collapsing in the Interzone so the Kro’ka suggests taking them to the Multihaven, a Zone which acts as a haven for anyone of any faith.  That idea alone is amazing as one of the largest problems in this world is war from religious issues and a Zone where this isn’t an issue is a stroke of genius as it is something that could never happen in our universe.  Duff is an excellent writer when judged by this story as it isn’t taking itself too seriously which is just what the story arc needs as the last four stories have been emotionally taxing and to have one be lighter in tone.  This serves as a way to generate more interest in the arc and give us one of the best unique ideas since Scherzo’s test tube two-hander.


The plot is however a bit of a letdown when you realize with its premise it went with the most obvious storyline that could be done.  There is a cult in the Multihaven in the form of the Church of Lucidity which has been going around and forcefully taking over other faiths which is causing an imbalance.  Luckily the supporting characters surrounding this lackluster plot are extremely interesting.  The leader of the Church of Lucidity is Laan Carder who is your standard religious fanatic and isn’t written in an interesting manner, but it is the performance by Christian Rodska that makes the character come alive.  Rodska makes the man feel like an old bishop who has been corrupted by a power and has desired a lust for more.  He is also extremely charismatic as a character as he is able to brainwash everyone else in the Multihaven to submit to his set of beliefs.  This is seen in his assistant Jebdal, a young woman who is looking for something more out of her life and has gone to Lucidity to potentially make herself more lucid in mind and faith.  Jebdal is really not a bad person and actually gets rewarded for being a good example of a religious person in the end.  On the side of our heroes the only characters of note are the Bordinan, the woman in charge of the Multihaven who is basically the Pope of the Divergent Universe, and Director Garfolt, who is in charge of de-faithing people which is a lovely concept.  The Bordinan is a highly sympathetic character who wants to see everyone in the Multihaven find peace which is an idea that I adore while Garfolt is a mad scientist who causes C’rizz to go crazy for the Church of Lucidity in a twist of fate.


Speaking of C’rizz, we actually get a lot of character development from the character.  We are informed of his extreme feelings of guilt of killing his lover and has begun to have flashbacks to the event through the course of this story that only increase in their disturbing nature.  He has been trained as a monk, but is holding some darker secrets beneath the calm and cool exterior.  Conrad Westmass is on top form here as he does get to do some really fun things which cannot be said for India Fisher’s Charley Pollard.  Charley here suffers from bland companion syndrome as she is only there to tag along with the Doctor and ask the right questions.  It isn’t as bad as the characterization in The Twilight Kingdom, but it isn’t very good either.  Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor is on top form in contrast, as he is allowed to flex his comedic muscles.  The Doctor makes up his own faith where they praise C’rizz, begin each morning with a ritual cup of tea and of course are known as Tourists.  The Doctor’s interactions with other faiths are also humorous especially the Church of Serendipity whose moments in the story I won’t ruin, but will hint at with the line “Whoops be praised!”


To summarize, while Faith Stealer is really nothing to ride home about in the grand scheme of things it is in itself a good example of the weird type of situations the Divergent Universe should be.  The bigger problems in the story are some of the blander supporting characters and Charley not being an interesting character along with several plot holes bringing down the overall quality of the story.  72/100

Monday, May 23, 2016

Zamper by: Gareth Roberts: Doctor Who and the Planet of the Space Turtles

Gareth Roberts is an author whom I really have a soft spot for as his stories are almost always at least average at his worst to brilliant at his best, as the guy can give a good story whenever he is required to, but it seems that his Virgin New Adventures just don’t have that luck.  His first was still his best as The Highest Science actually works really well in an audio format while his second, Tragedy Day, is definitely his worst effort as it isn’t remotely good putting his third and final Virgin New Adventure somewhere in between the two as it never really comes across as bad as Tragedy Day, but it isn’t very good either.  Zamper is plain and simply a story that has a lot of potential for greatness without anything holding it together to keep me interested in what the plot has to offer.


The plot sees the Doctor, Benny, Chris and Roz land on Zamper, a business planet where things have been falling apart as the Management of Zamper has been dying.  The planet is doing business dealings with the Chelonians, aka Cyborg Space Turtles which are basically the shining light for this novel because Hermaphrodite Cyborg Space Turtles.  The Chelonian Empire is falling and the novel’s plot involves the Doctor and company freeing an enslaved native race in what could be an allegory for Britain’s subjugation of Indians and Africans in what is a really confusing metaphor to follow.  The plot for the rather short novel runs very thinly over the pages which really doesn’t help the case of the novel.  The stuff Roberts does to explore the Chelonians and their waning empire is quite interesting as there are quite a few things to enjoy about the sections dedicated to them.  Roberts also characterizes the specific Chelonians well as they have to overcome biases against humans whom they of course regard as parasite.  Their name for the Doctor is also pretty apt as he is described as an interfering idiot.


Speaking of characterization, a problem in the novel is that for about the first half of the novel Chris and Roz really don’t get much to do in the story and don’t have much character.  By the end we do get some more insight into Roz’s mind and how she almost views the Doctor as an old friend which is interesting at the expense of Chris who gets no characterization whatsoever.  This is really a problem as Original Sin and Sky Pirates! did enough to equal them both out as here Roberts seems only able to deal with two companions.  Yes two companions as Benny portrayed here is also in quite a good manner as Roberts uses the novel to reflect on her character development along the long course of Virgin New Adventures.  She originally started travelling with the Doctor to have some thrills and those first few adventures were full of thrills and surprises, but once Ace came back and they had to deal with IMC and the Monk, something changed making the adventures almost less fun.  She found the last few outings to have breathed new life into the Doctor which Benny is extremely happy for as they have new people to talk to who aren’t suffering from Ace’s baggage.  It’s also a clever way for Roberts to comment on the rest of the range which allows for some nice satirical sections added in with Roberts’s already comedic writing style.


The distinctive style is seen in the characterization of the Doctor who seems to be a lot more relaxed in this story and is actually having the chance to enjoy himself for once in this incarnation which is something that has been sorely missing from the other stories in some of the novel range.  The comedy in this story ranges from tongue and cheek satire to laugh out loud punchlines and even quite a few puns that really come out of nowhere and catch you off guard with their humor.  The novel does suffer from being badly paced with some passages flowing rather nicely while others are extremely bland as we have to deal with a lot of supporting characters with the motivation of simply being evil businessmen which has been done better in other stories.


To summarize, Zamper has a lot of potential to be a comedic story in a lot of aspects as Gareth Roberts knows how to write for Doctor Who, but through very weak characterization of supporting cast, a bland version of Chris Cwej and a cookie cutter plot that could come from any real story, there isn’t much here to enjoy.  The Chelonians and the characterization of Benny, Roz and even the Doctor do provide a few saving graces from keeping this story to be a bad story, but that doesn’t make it good.  50/100