Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Daleks by: Terry Nation directed by: Christopher Barry and Richard Martin: You Will Go Ahead of Us and Follow My Directions

The Daleks stars William Hartnell as the Doctor, William Russell as Ian Chesterton, Jacqueline Hill as Barbara Wright and Carole Ann Ford as Susan Foreman with John Lee as Alydon, Virginia Wetherell as Dyoni, Robert Jewell, Kevin Manser, Michael Summerton, Gerald Taylor, and Peter Murphy as Dalek Operators and Dalek voices by Peter Hawkins and David Graham.  The story was written by Terry Nation and directed by Christopher Barry and Richard Martin with David Whitaker as Script Editor, Mervyn Pinfield as Associate Producer and Verity Lambert as Producer.  It was originally broadcast on Saturdays from 21 December 1963 to 1 February 1964 on BBC TV.

 

An Unearthly Child, while including the pilot episode, works very much as the pilot to the overall series of Doctor Who in that it is mainly testing the waters for the series and it really began to take off with the airing of the second serial, The Daleks.  Almost every fan knows the story of how Verity Lambert, Christopher Barry and Terry Nation had to convince Sydney Newman to allow them to go forward with the serial, going against Newman’s explicit orders to not include bug-eyed monsters in the television series.  The rest of course is history as the viewing figures of this serial reaching 10 million by episode three and the series was allowed to continue on with the rest of the first season.  This makes the very first Dalek story become a bit of a legend among stories due to what it means to the series and I wish I could say that it is a perfect example of Doctor Who.  It is not of course as it is still in the very early days of forming what would become the show we now know and love.

 

The plot of course comes straight off the end of An Unearthly Child where the TARDIS crew have landed in a petrified jungle.  The first episode of this story “The Dead Planet” sets up the trope of the first episode exploration where the episode would often would just feature the main cast exploring the area before the story would actually take off which after the characters became established, it would often be the more tedious section of a story, instead of just getting on with the plot.  “The Dead Planet” however actually uses its runtime to allow us to explore the first TARDIS team and help establish their relationships a lot better.  The Doctor is still horrible to Ian and Barbara in a selfish way as he sabotages his own TARDIS so they have an excuse to go down to the city and explore.  I will speak of how this effects the character of the Doctor overall later on, but without him doing this he would never be able to grow as a character as he has to take up the responsibility for someone more than just his granddaughter.  This is seen mostly through his rocky relationship with Ian who is really the star of the show here while the Doctor is the real side character.  Ian doesn’t trust the Doctor and honestly why should he?  The Doctor is responsible for ripping them out of their time and now refuses to get them home.  This is juxtaposed with Barbara who is more inclined to trust the Doctor as he is the only one who can actually get them back to their own time.  Barbara also gets to be the mediator between the Doctor’s old age and Susan’s youth, actually connecting them together especially considering after the first three episodes of the story Susan has nothing to do.  The end of “The Dead Planet” sees the introduction of the Daleks who in their first appearance are far from the conquering force they would become and the story is really two storylines.  “Escape from the Daleks” which takes up “The Dead Planet” to “The Ambush” and is about the TARDIS crew escaping the Daleks and “Revenge of the Daleks” which is “The Expedition” to “The Rescue” which concerns getting back the fluid link.  Honestly the plot for the most part is good except for the final two episodes, “The Ordeal” and “The Rescue”, which feels like one episode spread over two.  The story in “The Ordeal” comes to a screeching halt and you really cannot get invested in the Thal’s exploring the cave plotline as the Thals as individuals aren’t very interesting characters which becomes an even larger problem.

 

Outside of that we have the enormous character development for the Doctor with William Hartnell as the Doctor.  Now right now he is not the Doctor that we know and love today as here he is still an awful person.  He puts everyone in danger in this story by forcing them down into the city to see what exactly there is to explore which in turn causes everyone’s lives to be at risk by the Daleks.  You don’t see this stated on screen, but in the subtle way Hartnell acts you see that the Doctor is extremely remorseful for what has happened to his companions and this is where he promises himself that he is going to help those who are in danger of injustice.  This is because of the theme of the Daleks’ pure sense of survival and hate for the unlike versus the Thal’s sense of pacifism.  Terry Nation of course says that both are wrong and that you need to fight for your freedom which opens the Doctor’s eyes to the injustice in the universe and that it isn’t just about Susan’s safety.

 

The production design of this story is also rather interesting in how on and off it actually is.  The sets and props for the most part are designed really well.  The Dalek city and the petrified jungle both hold up really well along with the Dalek designs, but there are those moments where they fail.  Mainly the petrified lizard in “The Dead Planet” looks extremely stupid and there is bad continuity to what the lifts in the city looks like.  The only set that is lackluster is the cave sets which just kind of look like a black backdrop for no real reason.  The other problem with the production is the two different styles of direction between Christopher Barry who tries to make everything look a lot more dramatic and Richard Martin who just makes everything look really flat.  There are several points when Martin is behind the camera where shots start almost too early and you are just left waiting for a second for things to resume.

 

To summarize, The Daleks is a story that begins the real development of the Doctor and allowed the show to have its staying power.  It isn’t perfect however as there are several production problems in the story with continuity and some lackluster sets and differences in direction style between two directors.  It’s still a great watch and well worth the purchase.  77/100



Monday, June 27, 2016

June Update #2


Well that month of June didn’t go nearly as well as I may have hoped.  Yay for me failing but I hope the next three months will be better, but the rest of this week will be a bit lax on content as I am really busy.

 

June 26-July 30

 

TV Stories
The Daleks
The Edge of Destruction
Marco Polo
The Dalek Invasion of Earth

 

Novels
Shakedown
Lords of the Storm
Just War
Downtime
Warchild
The Man in the Velvet Mask
SLEEPY
The English Way of Death
Death and Diplomacy
The Eye of the Giant

 

Audios
The Kingmaker
The Settling
Something Inside
The Nowhere Place
Red
The Reaping
The Gathering
Memory Lane
No Man’s Land
Year of the Pig
Circular Time
Nocturne
The English Way of Death
The Ultimate Adventure
The Seven Keys to Doomsday
The Curse of the Daleks
The Nightmare Fair
Mission to Magnus
Leviathan
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
Animal

 

July 31-Aug. 27

 

TV Stories
The Time Meddler
The Myth Makers
The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve
The Savages
The Smugglers

 

Novels
Who Killed Kennedy?
Happy Endings
The Sands of Time
GodEngine
Killing Ground
Christmas on a Rational Planet
The Scales of Injustice
The Death of Art
Twilight of the Gods
Damaged Goods

 

Audios
Earth Aid
The Foe from the Future
The Valley of Death
The Elite
Hexagora
The Children of Seth
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
Damaged Goods

 

Aug. 28- Sept. 24

 

TV Stories
The Tenth Planet
The Power of the Daleks
The Highlanders
The Underwater Menace
The Macra Terror

 

Novels
Speed of Flight
So Vile a Sin
The Plotters
Bad Therapy
Cold Fusion
Eternity Weeps
Burning Heart
The Room With No Doors
A Device of Death
Lungbarrow

Time Works by: Steve Lyons directed by: Edward Salt: You Will Die in Five Hours

Time Works stars Paul McGann as the Doctor with Ronald Pickup as Kestorian, Tracey Childs as the Figurehead, India Fisher as Charley and Conrad Westmass as C’rizz.  It was written by Steve Lyons, directed by Edward Salt and released in March 2006 by Big Finish Productions.

 

This is just one of those stories that really feels like it belongs in the middle of the Divergent Universe Arc.  It’s a story that takes place on a planet where everything is regulated by the concept of time.  Everyone is forced to work in a specific shift and live until their assets to society are determined no longer useful to society which is when the clockwork men come.   Steve Lyons does a great job at making this planet just feel alien very much in the same vain as Conundrum and Head Games which of course just gets you wrapped up in the setting and the characters of Time Works and just how the mechanics of this world works.  What really becomes striking when concerning the way Lyons writes the story.  It isn’t done in the traditional plot point A to point B to point C, but mixed up scene by scene as time on this planet isn’t working as a line from cause to effect, but almost events running parallel with Tracey Childs’ magnificent Figurehead manipulating the events from behind the scenes which actually makes it feel a lot like a spiritual successor to Head Games in that it comments a bit on the Seventh Doctor.  Paul McGann is great as the Eighth Doctor but there are points in this story that Lyons goes out of his way to show the Doctor has changed from the manipulative man that was the Seventh Doctor was, but of course his time came and he died.

 

Lyons is great at crafting the supporting cast of this story as they are all really interesting and have fleshed out characters, but this actually causes Charley and C’rizz to suffer.  Now India Fisher and Conrad Westmass are both doing their very best in this story to be engaging, but they don’t really have much to do except explore.  They’re both doing a lot of enjoyable things in the story but it almost feels like their parts were meant for Chris Cwej and Roz Forrester from the novels, not because they are out of character, but they just have things that feel more like those characters.  The story’s style also causes the pacing to suffer early on as Part One is pretty much divided into little snippets of story before it actually allows us to go on.

 

Time Works is just an extremely difficult story to talk about, even more so than The Natural History of Fear and Creatures of Beauty, as it does a lot of the same style of storytelling in the nonlinear fashion.  It is done for a really good story that wouldn’t feel out of place in a lot of different ranges, especially the Divergent Universe Arc which was sadly cut severely short or the Virgin New Adventures.  87/100

Night Thoughts by: Edward Young directed by: Gary Russell: Requiem for a Dream

Night Thoughts stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor with Sophie Aldred as Ace and Philip Olivier as Hex.  It was written and adapted for audio by Edward Young, directed by Gary Russell and released in February 2006 by Big Finish Productions.

 

I’m a little bit glad that Night Thoughts wasn’t ever included in the late McCoy era on television, not because it is a bad story, but because it is tonally similar and has a similar setting when compared to Ghost Light.  It is this similar tone and setting that would most likely have caused viewers to overlook just how different these stories actually are.  Where Ghost Light is a story about evolution and stopping change driven very much by its characters while Night Thoughts is a very different sort of character driven story.  It is a story of pride and how one man’s pride can lead others to ruin.  I am going to remain intentionally vague about this story’s plot as there are a very many twists and turns in this story that just deserve to be heard as you go along.  Much like And Then There Were None every character has a deep, dark secret that they may be holding to their grave and the murderer is trying to bring it out of them before they get torn down.  The Doctor, Ace and Hex arrive on a remote Scottish island whose inhabitants in a mansion are performing time travel experiments when of course the power goes out and a murderer starts killing people.  That’s all the plot is as Ace and Hex start to unravel the mysteries of the house while the Doctor is the one who is in the background leading people on to the mysteries and trying to solve the problems with the time travel experiments before anything bad could happen.

 

Let’s take a minute to talk about the supporting characters of this story, starting with Sue played by Lizzie Hopley, who is an orphan working in the house who is quite mentally disturbed.  She wants to know where she came from, but due to a muddled psychosis can only process her emotions through her creepy toy rabbit, Happy, who constantly reminds her “Mother dead, Father gone, we think your sister’s drowned” which is something that she cannot get away from.  Sue has several moments of clarity but when things go a bit sour she reverts behind her toy rabbit and being plain creepy.  Ace ends up becoming the only one who gets Sue to give up her darker secrets as they both had bad relationships with their families.  Of course these secrets have to do with the main antagonist of the story Major Dickens played by Bernard Kay, who is the epitome of a prideful bastard who only cares that his own good name gets spread and almost wants to bring everything down around him.  Yet he still has more complexities as he doesn’t really want to see the people he is working with die as although he has bear traps spread around the mansion, he is aghast when he finds out Ace and Hex could have been trapped in them.  He’s still completely evil and does get his just desserts in the end, he still has a well-developed character.

 

The other two characters in the supporting cast of this story of any real note are the Bursar who is the woman who owns the mansion and is leading the experiments and the Deacon who allows the secrets of the past to cause her to become depressed.  They both are a bit one note yet Edward Young writes the story in a way to make you care about almost all the characters which I feel is mainly down to the setting of a remote island in the middle of nowhere.  There really is this sense of hopelessness that permeates the area.  You can almost feel the freezing rain falling on the island and the foggy danger in the distance.  Sadly this audio’s biggest fail is that it tries to explain that the experiments worked which while it is a brilliant final scene, it isn’t necessary as the ambiguity of whether the experiments worked and history was changed, but that just makes relistening to this story impossible as you know exactly how it is going to end and any dramatic tension is lost.

 

To summarize, Night Thoughts is a lost classic that really should have been made in Season 27 with most of its actors on hand and emulating the feelings of the Virgin New Adventures.  Hex was integrated into the plot brilliantly and Ace and the Doctor are both great along with most of the supporting cast of the story.  Young however has the problem of giving too much away at the end when he really should have just left it vague enough to have the possibility of it working, but going the other way.  80/100

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Pier Pressure by: Robert Ross directed by: Gary Russell: Daisy, Daisy, Give Me Your Answer True

Pier Pressure stars Colin Baker as the Doctor with Roy Hudd as Max Miller, Doug Bradley as Professor Talbot and Maggie Stables as Evelyn.  It was written by Robert Ross, directed by Gary Russell and released in January 2006 by Big Finish Productions.

 

Why do I get the vibe that Pier Pressure may have originally been to be an audio adaptation of the famous Season 23 opener The Nightmare Fair, but was changed vastly because Robert Ross couldn’t get the rights from Graham Williams to do so?  I mean look at the plot of the opening two episodes where a faceless, all-powerful villain is possessing people in Edwardian Brighton, which was originally meant to be Blackpool, and the villains have a grudge against the Doctor for something he did in his past.  It really feels that after Medicinal Purposes didn’t have the best critical response, Robert Ross decided to pay homage to the famous lost story in an attempt to make his story better in the eyes of the fans, but fails to do so.  Ross actually has the problem of making his story worse as a result, because he attempts to make the final two episodes in the darker style seen in Medicinal Purposes which causes another example of tonal whiplash.  The first two parts, while they do have their darker moments are, outside comparisons to The Nightmare Fair, is really just this tribute to the beginning of British television and almost the vaudevillian style of acting seen in those early days.

 

This is seen through the character of Max Miller played by Roy Hudd who along with the villain is the only character who stays as a delight throughout the second half of the story.  Miller is an actor who much like actors of that time were famously pretty impoverished whenever they were between jobs.  He of course cures this poverty by getting extremely drunk which is honestly hilarious in so many ways, but then you realize the main flaw in the character.  He’s a carbon copy of Henry Gordon Jago from The Talons of Weng-Chiang and the Doctor is written as George Litefoot.  That story is a great example of an author who thinks that reminding us of better stories will make us like his story a lot better.  This is just something that cannot be done without the repercussions of making the story seem a lot weaker on the whole.  This has nothing to do with the actors however as Colin Baker and Roy Hudd both are doing their best at making the script a lot better.  Colin Baker does this in every Doctor Who project he is involved in and it feels like his performance is bringing the other actors energies up from the depths of mediocrity especially with Hudd and the villain.

 

The villain of the story is the Indo which is an entity that inhabits people, turning them into their zombie puppets in what I think should be a horror style Doctor Who story, but really falls flat in an attempt to possibly be an homage to the Universal Monster Movies of the 1930s and 1940s.  Their main puppet is Professor Talbot played by Doug Bradley who should go down among the greats of crap Doctor Who villains.  He’s up there with Zaroff from The Underwater Menace, Solded from The Horns of Nimon, the Borad from Timelash and Kroagnon from Paradise Towers in levels of corny enjoyableness in Doctor Who history.  He has this Jekyll and Hyde thing going on which is honestly hilarious to listen to and helps you get through the second half of this story when the plot gets extremely thin.  The plot is basically people are turning into zombies after falling off a pier and into pressurized waters and we have to stop them.  Seriously that’s really all that we have to go on for this story.

 

It’s funny as Robert Ross’ first audio drama has its highest creativity in its plot while some of its characters suffered while here it is almost the opposite except both the plot and characters suffer.  Emma, the first victim, is just that, a victim, and has nothing to do except receive exposition and die and come back to life.  Also the plot ends in a complete deus ex machina.  There is also one point in this story that really bugs me.  To try and create drama Ross has the villain state he has rigged the TARDIS to explode if he tries to take off.  Then two minutes later Evelyn calls this out on how stupid the villain is taking them for as even though it is an all-powerful being it has no idea how the TARDIS works and because it is isomorphic the Indo can’t have it rigged to explode.  Other than the brilliant acting from Maggie Stables, this just highlights how bad the story is.  The holes are so big even the characters inside the story are pointing them out to the audience.

 

To summarize, Pier Pressure has some things that go for it in the tributes to an early form of acting and trying to be a story that tributes classic monster movies, but the story really doesn’t get itself off the ground.  The villain is corny and hokey beyond belief which is so bad it’s good while other characters are ripping off other stories and the plot itself is trying to be a story that never was.  40/100

The Empire of Glass by: Andy Lane: If Laputa is in Italy, is Lilliput in France?

There’s a very 1960s quality to Andy Lane’s first Virgin Missing Adventure, The Empire of Glass in quite a few places, but for the majority there is this very 1990s feel to a lot of the story.  Now the plot is one of the things that just feels straight out of the Hartnell era of the show as it is a meandering story that takes its time to go through its thin plot which is an enjoyable change from a string of brilliant books that are at a breakneck pace.  It’s a novel that you enjoy to savor through the pages and absorb the story whenever the tonal issues are at a minimal and Andy Lane is allowed to write a period piece.  I am of course getting ahead of myself and should really just get down to the plot of this novel.  It’s basically the spiritual successor to The Time Meddler with the Doctor, Vicki and Steven landing in Venice in the early 1600s where they get embroiled in political intrigue, Christopher Marlowe being an agent for the government, Shakespeare and suddenly a giant floating city appearing out of nowhere bringing with it an intergalactic peace conference led by, oddly, Irving Braxiatel.  This plot is all over the place in terms of solid pacing and just possible to make sense.


The biggest problem is that there really isn’t much conflict in this story outside of the usual peace conference going wrong and some slightly interesting espionage bits in there, it just doesn’t do much to be interesting or even that engaging.  What the plot does extremely well is the historical setting and atmosphere as well as getting Steven Taylor into the oddities of the past which he doesn’t understand.  Even in that there are quite a few problems as there is Christopher Marlowe being alive even if he was supposed to be dead and the actual history says that there is no way that is a mistake.


Lane however is brilliant on how he characterizes the First Doctor and Vicki who are pretty much written as they were in The Romans.  They’re pretty much two best friends mucking about in history and honestly it is hilarious.  The characters are having this wonderful time figuring out just what is with the weird murders in Venice and the giant floating city before Braxiatel even shows up.  Now Braxiatel is also interesting as this novel decides to reveal a few little details from his past and the Doctor’s past.  Vicki is initially suspicious of Braxiatel because she is reminded of the Monk, but the Doctor obviously knows and even respects Braxiatel.  It is almost implied that they are related by blood.  It’s really interesting as the Doctor seems to have incited a little rebellion to encourage people to go travelling in time which is a really interesting idea.


To summarize, The Empire of Glass on the surface is an extremely mixed bag with quite a few problems in the fact that it really doesn’t have a lot of plot to go through, yet tries its hardest to be fast paced.  There are quite a few problems in its supporting cast in the area of execution even though they are really ambitious ideas.  Comparing it to his other work The Empire of Glass is extremely weak, but it is still pretty good overall.  65/100

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Other Lives by: Gary Hopkins directed by: Gary Russell: Pictures at an Exhibition

Other Lives stars Paul McGann as the Doctor with Ron Moody as the Duke of Wellington, Mike Holloway as Jacob Crackles, Francesca Hunt as Georgina Marlow, India Fisher as Charley and Conrad Westmass as C’rizz.  It was written by Gary Hopkins, directed by Gary Russell and released in December 2005 by Big Finish Productions.

 

Taking C’rizz into the Victorian era on Earth is an idea that presents the main problem that being an alien that resembles a humanoid chameleon, he cannot go to that period of Earth without being mistaken for a freak.  Gary Hopkins of course doesn’t forget this and makes it one of the three subplots that makes up Other Lives.  The story is surrounded by the Doctor taking Charley to see the Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace where two French Ambassadors steal the TARDIS, C’rizz is taken to a freak show, Charley meets the Duke of Wellington and the Doctor is mistaken for the long lost husband of a poor woman.  Each of these stories serves as a way to show just how the characters act when put into an odd situation and each is extremely entertaining to listen to.

 

Starting with the Doctor’s story, we have another situation of the Doctor meeting up with a random doppelganger of himself for no reason except because why not and is confused for the missing husband of Georgina Marlow played by Francesca Hunt.  This portion of the story is definitely the weakest, but not for McGann or Hunt’s performances, but for the writing from Hopkins who beats around the bush to explain why Mrs. Marlow would confuse the Doctor for her husband until Part Four where the plot gets interesting and the motivations behind Mrs. Marlow are revealed.  You see she and her husband are very poor and are living in the home of his uncle Rufus Dimplesqueeze played by Maitland Chamber who has it under contract that if George disappears for more than a year his wife and kids are left on the street with nothing.  This alone makes you sympathize with Marlow’s plight and of course the Doctor is only happy to help with convincing Dimplesqueeze that George has returned and they can keep the home.  Paul McGann really feels invested in his story which just brings back the breathless romantic that we all know and love.

 

Moving on to Charley who has an almost comedy of errors happen to her.  First she gets separated from the TARDIS, but that’s okay because she meets the Duke of Wellington played by veteran actor Ron Moody and gets into his good graces.  She then gets kicked out of the Great Exhibition and mistaken for a prostitute by Rufus Dimplesqueeze and gets drunk and kicked to the curb.  Everything begins to come up roses when she gets accepted into the Duke’s home for the night, helps solve C’rizz’ storyline, but they have to impersonate French diplomats which for C’rizz is just a chance to get some witty wordplay and then it’s all over.  Now I like India Fisher and she has quite a lot of good stuff in this and is at the top of her game, but a lot of Charley’s plot in this also has the feeling of extreme padding except for the French diplomat stuff.  It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just sort of sticks out like a sore thumb in this story which just diminishes the whole piece some.

 

The real meat of the plot is C’rizz’s plot which reviewer Stuart Hardy described as fun, well as fun as a man being forced into a freak show and degraded for his outward appearance actually could be.  He really sums up this portion of the story in a nutshell Part Four of his overview to the Eighth Doctor Adventures which is a worthwhile watch for anyone wanting to get into Big Finish.  This story is really good at giving us leaps and bounds for C’rizz as a character as he is captured by Jacob Crackles who he eventually promises to save in a scene that is absolutely terrifying as we know what it means for C’rizz to save someone actually is.  This story outside of the disturbing freak show subplot has a lot of comedy in it with the absolute best being Charley’s reaction to being called a prostitute and the Janet! Brad! Dr. Scott! Rocky! Piss Off! Moment at the end of the story.

 

To summarize, Other Lives does just what it says on the tin, giving you a good glance into the other lives of Victorian era.  It relies on a lot of coincidence and quite a lot of it happens to feel like filler, but it is still a really good photograph into another time that I say must be enjoyed by people.  80/100

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Also People by: Ben Aaronovitch: Four Drunks and a Murderer

I gave Ben Aaronovitch’s first Virgin New Adventure, Transit, a 30/100 saying just how bad of a novel writer he seemed to be, especially in the way he handled his characters.  It then becomes odd when you realize that his second Virgin New Adventure, The Also People, is a novel that is extremely light on plot and is completely devoted to fleshing out the characters of the Doctor, Benny, Chris and Roz in the frame of your classic murder mystery which really is just the background for most of the story.  With the track record of Transit’s characters being extremely unlikable, you would think that The Also People wouldn’t work as a story, but this is a real return to form for Aaronovitch who returns to the writer we saw in Remembrance of the Daleks and Battlefield which honestly makes this novel just work.

 

The plot of the story picks up right where Head Games left off with the fallout between the Doctor and his companions brings them to the Worldsphere for a vacation where they eventually get embroiled in a murder mystery.  That is the outline for the entire novel of The Also People and on the surface it shouldn’t really work as a story, but because of how Aaronovitch writes everything to be so enticing, it becomes one of the best Virgin New Adventures out there with some concepts that really come across well and even more adult content that Aaronovitch actually writes well.  I’m going to get the supporting characters out of the way first as none of them are human.  The cast is made up of a race of artificial intelligence known as the People who are watched over by God who on this planet is another piece of artificial intelligence.  They all come across as truly alien beings which is extremely difficult to pull off which is emphasized by their interactions with Benny, Chris and Roz.  Chris and Roz in particular as they both get respective lovers in this novel which has love scenes done really well.  It isn’t pornographic as taking the route of Love and War handles the sexual elements by explaining what the characters are feeling and not trying to make you feel stimulated in a sexual way.  I’m not going to go into the supporting cast individually as while they do have extremely different character, Aaronovitch doesn’t make it easy to type their names with random capital letters and punctuation marks denoting the weird grammar of this novel.

 

I’m instead going to take a minute to reflect on the main cast as it is extremely important to notice just how much the characters have grown.  Let’s begin with the Doctor who after the events of Head Games has realized that his duties as Time’s Champion should be over and he needs to start respecting his companions more to make their own decisions.  The problem is that he has embodied Time’s Champion for such a long time he isn’t able to become the Doctor again which is a terrifying implication that doesn’t bode well for the Eighth Doctor.  He wants to allow Benny to make her own decisions, but ends up almost accidentally manipulating her into saving Kadiatu, who has completely gone mad after the events of Set Piece which just terrifies him to pieces.  He has an interesting stance on Chris who it is subtly implied that they are of the same feather as the Doctor wants to have the naivety of the young Adjudicator.  Roz actually scares him more as he finds her to be the soldier who while not always agreeing with him, doesn’t question him which scares the Doctor to no end.  Aaronovitch uses The Also People to have the third person omniscient narration get into the head of the Doctor which is great.  There is some great imagery which can be seen on the cover which makes the novel as a whole feel like it is written by Douglas Adams.

 

Benny is handled much better in The Also People when compared to Transit as here she is allowed to be her usual character.  Her interactions on the Worldsphere with the People are interesting as she just uses this as a vacation which of course means to get drunk and have a good time.  She eventually gets to have more to do which is good as she tries to keep Kadiatu sane for the second half of the novel is great.  There is also a chapter devoted to her dream where she, a Dalek, a Cyberman and a Sontaran called Grinx have a philosophical debate which is just hilarious to read and serves as another example of Douglas Adamsian humor which just works for the novel.  This also gives a great segue into Kadiatu Lethebridge-Stewart who really doesn’t appear much in the story, but when she does she works as a foil for Benny.  She has gone insane, but is allowed to change over the course of the story and become a female version of the Doctor, travelling time much like Ace had in the end.

 

Chris actually gets to have some of his best material as he expresses just how childlike he actually is.  He finds travelling with the Doctor amazing for just how imaginative the universe is.  His bedroom in the house they stay in actually floats around according to his brain patterns allowing for his imagination to run wild.  He gets to have a sexual relationship with one of the People obsessed with airplanes who serves to make him feel better after the events of Head Games.  It is really difficult to describe the portions of the book dedicated to Chris without giving away some of the funniest scenes that come from the novel.  Roz on the other hand doesn’t get much time in the novel, but when she gets the focused it is done extremely well to explore her past.  She is ashamed of her middle name, but not of her heritage.  She had an affair with Martel before his death which the novel explores and her scenes with Benny are just hilarious.

 

To summarize, The Also People really should be adapted for audio, but without anything dumbed down for the adaptation process.  I could easily see Ben Aaronovitch himself, Andrew Cartmel or even John Dorney adapt it into the form.  100/100

Singularity by: James Swallow directed by: Gary Russell: In Soviet Russia, Aura Kills You

Singularity stars Peter Davison as the Doctor with Mark Strickson as Turlough.  It was written by James Swallow, directed by Gary Russell and released in November 2005 by Big Finish Productions.

 

After listening to the awful Scardey Cat I really needed a break as that story left me emotionally drained.  Luckily James Swallow’s first Doctor Who audio drama is miles better than that tripe story that draws you in with an Invasion of the Body-Snatchers style story that sees the Doctor and Turlough arriving in the middle of the twenty-first century Moscow where they get embroiled in the mystery of the Somnus Foundation which promises to know the future of mankind and promises to read your aura, but because it is a day ending with the letter y, not all is well.  The Doctor and Turlough save Lena Korolev, a woman whose brother Alexi has disappeared into the Foundation and it is up to the Doctor and Turlough to save him.  They find not all is what it seems as people who submit to the Somnus Foundation have their souls ripped from their bodies and put into alien bodies in the future on a dying planet.  The first thing that strikes me about Singularity is the fact that it feels very much like an espionage thriller for the first half until it morphs into a traditional science fiction B-movie thriller which is honestly some great stuff.  The idea behind the plot is nothing new and we’ve seen it before, but Swallow’s writing just draws you in to the story which is great, but by the end it does become a bit predictable and after the villains are defeated there are still fifteen minutes which are rather boring.

 

Swallow is a man of characters and he nails the dynamic between Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor and Mark Strickson’s Turlough.  They are both antagonistic to each other because of their differing philosophies and Swallow uses this to show how close in thought they actually can be as they both will help out wherever they can, even if Turlough doesn’t want to admit it.  Peter Davison while closer to the wet noodle we saw on television mixed a little bit with the characterization of Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor, still gives a really effective performance in this story as he plays the Doctor very much in the background of the story.  Mark Strickson actually gets to shine more in this story than he did in any other story as he plays in the foreground for most of the story.  He gives very much the same performance seen in Loups-Garoux and it really works here with a few exceptions, mainly when there are winks to the audience that he has a dark side which just takes you out of the story, making it harder to enjoy fully.

 

The supporting cast don’t really stand out as individuals, but that really isn’t much of a problem in this story as most actors and actresses are playing double roles due to the rather easy to guess premise of bodies being stolen.  The performances often have to compensate switching from a Russian accent, to an English accent to a voice modulation to sound a bit more robotic throughout the story.  One of the perks of audio is that this can be recorded out of order so to have a continuity of accents to stand out much better.  The music also really feels like the story is taking place in Russia and I can’t really tell why.  It’s probably the choice of instruments to realize the score that does it.  There are problems with the story however as some of the Russian accents are really stereotypical and some performers just slip out of them at times when they really shouldn’t be.  The plan of the Somnus Foundation also could have been fleshed out much more than it actually was.

 

To summarize, Singularity author James Swallow really knows how to balance between two different genres and write compelling Doctor Who.  He fails however at keeping the pacing consistent throughout the story with the ending coming out at you for being dragged out to the proportions of The Web Planet while some of the early material just goes by really quickly.  The acting is also not really that good in comparison for some actors who have problems sustaining their different accents and Gary Russell doesn’t fix it when he really should have.  65/100

Scaredy Cat by: Will Schindler directed by: Nigel Fairs: Kinda Plus The Twilight Kingdom Equals Failure

Scaredy Cat stars Paul McGann as the Doctor with India Fisher as Charley and Conrad Westmass as C’rizz.  It was written by Will Schindler, directed by Nigel Fairs and released in October 2005 by Big Finish Productions.

 

I read a review of this story where the reviewer posited that this story is the first traditional Eighth Doctor story in a long while.  I agree wholeheartedly with this fact that this is a traditional story, and it would make a nice return to form if it weren’t for the fact this story was a completely terrible story from a terrible author.  Will Schindler last wrote The Twilight Kingdom which wasn’t a good story and with his second effort he proves that he suffers from Terry Nation syndrome where he basically rewrites the main ideas of The Twilight Kingdom, adds in some boring subplot about a creepy child to add as a deus ex machina and almost half the runtime to tell the story and you have a recipe for disaster.

 

The plot sees C’rizz ask the Doctor and Charley to take them to a world untouched by human hands to see something like a Garden of Eden so the Doctor pilots the TARDIS to the twin planets of Caludar and Endarra.   Endarra is famous for the fact that because of a treaty involving a convoluted backstory concerning a war, no one has stepped foot on the planet for millions of years.  Of course because this is Doctor Who there are people on the planet and experiments are being performed on a criminal who begins to exhibit psychic abilities and take over much like the villain in The Twilight Kingdom and it’s up to the Doctor and C’rizz to find a way to save the day while Charley acts like an idiot.  The many problems of this story begin here as the plot is shoehorned into a quick seventy minute story that has no time to work out what it wants to do with the plot.  The plot just sort of happens without the Doctor having to do anything to save the day as the TARDIS travelers are just there for exposition to how the plot is going to eventually complete itself.

 

The characters of the story are also completely boring to listen to as the supporting cast of scientists and the criminally insane has been done much better in Kinda and doesn’t need to be attempted again.  There are only two characters I remember, the villain Flood who is standard crazy played by Michael Chance who is the only actor having any sort of fun in the role and Galayana who is the annoying child who keeps chanting scardey cat and acting as the deus ex machina to complete the story.  The actress Linda Bartram is extremely annoying in the role and really should just be replaced with an adult as she could have been super creepy.  The regulars don’t come across much better.  Paul McGann is the worst offender as he gives a performance that is one of his dull days where he can’t be asked to put in effort for anything he is giving.  India Fisher comes next and is giving an alright performance, but in this story Charley is portrayed as an idiot who falls for Flood’s lies which I just can’t stand.  Conrad Westmass as C’rizz is the closest thing we get for a good character even if his morals are completely reversed and contradictory with Terror Firma which I just cannot believe as that was only three releases beforehand.

 

To summarize, Scardey Cat is really just a story that could have been good and has very little to shine through the darkness.  It wants to be a horror story but fails without any real scares and the acting is some of the worst in Big Finish’s catalogue.  20/100

Thursday, June 16, 2016

LIVE 34 by: James Parsons and Andrew Stirling-Brown directed by: Gary Russell: Good Night, And Good Luck

LIVE 34 stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor with Sophie Aldred as Ace and Philip Olivier as Hex.  It was written by Andrew Parsons and Andrew Stirling-Brown, directed by Gary Russell and released in September 2005 by Big Finish Productions.

 

Making a Doctor Who audio story with the framing device of a news broadcast is such a great idea that is done perfectly in LIVE 34 which in essence is the gimmick that makes this story stand out from the crowd.  This becomes especially apparent when you notice that the plot of the story is the basic plot of The Happiness Patrol but told from the perspective of the citizens of Colony 34 as events are unfolding.  As a listener it gives a unique participation factor as you are a citizen living through these events as they play out which I think elevates this story to an almost classic status for just how out there the styling it is.

 

The main characters of the Doctor, Ace and Hex don’t actually feature heavily in the story as it is the supporting characters taking the foreground of the story and telling us what is going on in the colony’s government and behind the scenes.  These supporting characters take the form of three journalists working for the radio station, LIVE 34.  There is the main anchor Drew Shahan played by Andrew Collins who is na├»ve to what is going on in the colony, having his associates do a lot of the work for him, Charlotte Singh played by Zehra Naqvi who is the proactive reporter wanting to actually report the news no matter what it will reveal about the government or make the station look bad and finally there is Ryan Wareing played by Duncan Wiseby who is the weakest link.  Wareing is just your standard reporter who reports on events and he isn’t as memorable as the other two characters.  This doesn’t mean that he is a bad character, he just doesn’t come across as interesting as the other two characters.

 

The news show format of the story allows the villain of the story to be described in the background of the story.  The villain in Premier Jaeger who is the evil totalitarian dictator who promises elections but is secretly working behind the people’s back for his own greedy purposes.  He’s been hiding mountains of dead bodies which only come across as the news stories develop over the course of the broadcast.  When he does show up the actor playing him, William Hoyland, gives a great performance as he feels like your standard politician who has his own interests in mind whenever he is making decisions and is motivated by greed.  His downfall at the climax of the story isn’t done very well however as it acts more like an anti-climax with a mob turning against him and the story just ending abruptly with the Doctor and company leaving the planet with Charlotte in charge of getting elections going.

 

That brings us to the main characters who are shoved into the background in their own story, but Parsons and Stirling-Brown do a great job whenever they use them.  Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor just comes across as a politician whenever he is brought on to comment on events or make speeches and there are even some moments where he is using the radio to give out messages to Ace and Hex commenting on their actions in the story which is a great idea.  Sophie Aldred and Philip Olivier in turn are great whenever they are on but that is very little with Aldred getting a very powerful scene near the end and Part Three devoted solely to Hex’s discovery of mass graves which is great and morbid.

 

To summarize, LIVE 34 is a classic without really much to discuss as the untraditional storytelling has a lot of the story without the main characters.  This is not a bad thing for the story to have as it reflects what it is trying to do, but is actually flawed in the ending of the story which acts very much of an anti-climax which destroys a lot of the tension seen in the earlier portions of this story.  95/100

An Unearthly Child by: Anthony Coburn directed by: Waris Hussein: A Thing That Looks Like A Police Box Can Move Anywhere in Time and Space

An Unearthly Child stars William Hartnell as the Doctor, Jacqueline Hill as Barbara Wright, William Russell as Ian Chesterton and Carole Ann Ford as Susan Foreman with Derek Newark as Za and Jeremy Young as Kal.  It was written by Anthony Coburn, directed by Waris Hussein with David Whitaker as Script Editor, Mervyn Pinfield as Associate Producer and Verity Lambert as Producer.  It was originally broadcast on Saturdays from 23 November to 14 December 1963 on BBCTV.

 

It was that cold November’s evening that begun the trip of a lifetime as what would become the BBC’s flagship show began airing to millions.  It was the first non-news related program to be airing since the previous day when American President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.  It served to get the public’s mind off the show even if the viewing figures were less than the production team would have liked to see and it wouldn’t be until the second serial, The Daleks, that Doctor Who would cement itself with staying power by winning over the audiences.  That doesn’t mean that the first serial, An Unearthly Child, is without merit, as it has quite a few things that there are to admire about the story.  It starts from the opening title sequence which was done reflecting a light down a camera lens to produce a chilling effect.  It is enhanced by the plain weird sounding theme music written originally by Ron Grainer, but truly brought to the screen by Delia Derbyshire.  After the theme the first shot is a beautifully filmed tracking shot into the I.M. Foreman junkyard where the camera stops on a perfectly ordinary police box where we get the episode title.

 

The actual story introduces the viewer to the principle characters of the show and the basic concept of being lost in time and exploring different historical and scientific topics which is all done in the first episode.  It pulls it off really well as we are introduced to Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright played by William Russell and Jacqueline Hill respectively, who are two schoolteachers (Ian teaches science and Barbara teaches history).  They are curious about one of their students, Susan Foreman played by Carole Ann Ford who has been performing badly in school.  They are fed up with her not knowing everything and decide the smart thing to do is follow her home to speak with her grandfather and tell him to take an interest.  They discover her home is a junkyard where they find that Susan lives in a police box that is bigger on the inside and can travel in space and time.  She and her grandfather, the Doctor played by William Hartnell are aliens and so they don’t become the laughing stock or exhibits in a freak show the Doctor takes off with the schoolteachers inside where they have to escape a tribe of cavemen for three episodes.  The first episode of the story is really where it shines the brightest as it does a great job with the atmosphere that something is about to happen which only makes it just as crazy when the TARDIS is revealed.

 

Anthony Coburn’s script makes the cavemen storyline suffer as it is just an hour and a half of politics with characters who really aren’t that interesting.  This part of the story is almost unbearable to sit through as it continues at a really slow pace and a boring story that needs a bit more action to make it better.  The regulars on the other hand are characterized brilliantly by Coburn as we are introduced to the main players in this show.  Ian and Barbara are introduced in a scene that shows just how much chemistry they have as actors and characters.  They feel very much like coworkers and both have a reason to be fed up with their student.  This carries across the story with Ian being the skeptic while Barbara is the optimist.  Ian doesn’t want to believe that a police box could possibly be a time machine.  Barbara believes it just because of the impossible things she had seen with something being bigger on the inside which is of course impossible and while Barbara eventually goes into hysterics at one point it makes sense as she would be terrified of going to a different time without any sort of warning.  Susan on the other hand isn’t handled nearly as well as in the first episode she is just as mysterious and is able to create the escape for the travelers in a great yet morbid way, but in the middle of the story she has more hysteria than Barbara even though she has already traveled in time before.

 

William Hartnell as the Doctor in this story deserves a review of his own.  He is not the Doctor that we all know and love, but a young impulsive man who will do anything to protect his granddaughter from harm even if it means hurting people.  When he is introduced he tries his hardest to get Ian and Barbara to leave him and Susan and when they break into his ship he gives Ian an electric shock and proceeds to kidnap them all to protect his granddaughter.  He even tries killing an injured caveman just so they can try and get back to his ship.  He isn’t completely unlikable here however as there are moments where it shows that he may be able to change.  His words about fear to Barbara are extremely comforting and you see the glimpse that he might just change for the better.

 

To summarize, An Unearthly Child without its brilliant first episode, could have killed the show immediately as the plot is extremely slow and the cavemen politics really aren’t trying to comment on anything.  The main characters however save this story from this awful fate as they are done extremely well that paints a real picture of where the show is going to go in the future and the eventual development that is going to happen.  This balances the score of the episode out to the slightly above average 52/100.