Saturday, July 30, 2016

Mission to Magnus by: Philip Martin directed by: Lisa Bowerman: Greed is Evil, Sexism is Bad and Ice Warriors

Mission to Magnus stars Colin Baker as the Doctor and Nicola Bryant as Peri with Maggie Steed as Madamme Rana Zandusia, Nabil Shaban as Sil and Nicholas Briggs as Vedikael.  It was written and adapted by Philip Martin, directed by Lisa Bowerman and released in December 2009 by Big Finish Productions.


After The Nightmare Fair Big Finish had the initial plan of adapting Waly K. Daly’s The Ultimate Evil in the second slot for the Lost Stories.  It was an obvious choice as like The Nightmare Fair it was novelized and the original scripts exist and Big Finish did hold one of their copies.  Sadly negotiations with Daly fell through so the adaptation of The Ultimate Evil fell through as he asked far too much money for the rights to use the one story.  So the original plans of doing the original Season 23 with of course the exception of Yellow Fever and How to Cure It as Holmes never got far enough to create even a storyline before his death as a seven story season had to be changed.  They would of course rely on Point of Entry and The Macros to fill in the gaps left, but they decided to then move Mission to Magnus up in the release schedule.  This is really where the Lost Stories hype lost momentum for a bit as it was the only other story to be novelized.


Mission to Magnus’s plot sees the Doctor and Peri trapped by a bully of the Doctor’s, Anzor played by Malcolm Rennie, in the orbit of the planet Magnus.  On Magnus there are five real plots going on.  Yes Philip Martin writes in five plots into his story.  First, Anzor is on the titular mission for the Time Lords to try and investigate if the inhabitants of Magnus are getting out of hand.  Second, Sil, again played by the brilliant Nabil Shaban, is trying to establish trade relations which is wrong, because greed is evil you guys.  Third, the young males who are treated as sex slaves for the female population of Magnus are trying to start a revolution, even though they are just children as they fear the sun.  Fourth, the female inhabitants led by the Rana played by Maggie Steed, are trying their hardest to discover the secrets of time travel because men are pigs and women deserve to rule, or so they believe.  Fifth and finally, the Ice Warriors who now in the fortieth century, are dying out from the collapsing Federation and are on Magnus trying to find a new home.  Martin fails to flesh out any of these plots except for two.  The third plot about the young boys trying to have the revolution is fleshed out as it is the one that the Doctor and Peri follow for the first part of the story and the final plot about the Ice Warriors as that was the gimmick of the story, the returning of the Ice Warriors.


The three other plots while full of quite a few good things especially the Doctor and Anzor’s banter and the Doctor cowering in fear from Anzor, as well as Sil as Nabil Shaban as Sil is always great, but it really fails in about everything else.  A big complaint about the plot is how sexist it is and well it is sexist, but that is balanced out as everyone is discriminated against at one point.  Anzor represents the old order of men being dominant while women are submissive while the Rana has that statistic flipped.  Everyone discriminates and it really feels that Martin is trying to say that sexism is actually dead and is slowly flipping against men, but it really doesn’t come through in the story.


Colin Baker as the Doctor, Nicola Bryant as Peri and Nabil Shaban as Sil are all great here.  Sil especially considering after Part One he has extremely little to do.  The Ice Warriors also get to have a good presence in Part Two which is great as the Ice Warriors until this point were still very underrated and not seen since The Monster of Peladon when the story was going to be in production.  Nicholas Briggs is great in the story doing the Ice Warrior voices as he always does a good job with the voices.  People often complain about the child actors in this story and to be honest yes they are both really awkward and I am taking points off for that problem, but they aren’t the worst actors in Doctor Who.  Maggie Steed is also great as the Rana.  Really the acting in this story is top notch, it’s just the overstuffing of the story that really lets it down.


To summarize, Mission to Magnus has a lot going for it, but it is a definite step down from Vengeance on Varos and Mindwarp.  It isn’t a bad story, but as the plot is extremely overstuffed completely and totally so that any message it was trying to convey is completely mixed up in the five total plots.  Anzor is at least an interesting idea as it sees Colin Baker cowering in fear which is just entertaining.  65/100

Friday, July 29, 2016

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by: J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is an extremely significant novel in terms of my personal life.  It was the first novel I ever read and really became a kick start to my love of reading and a love of stories.  I had originally seen the DVD of the film at a yard sale about a year after it came out and as I was very young I asked my parents if I could watch it as it looked really cool.  My parents were of course apprehensive about someone as young as I was watching a PG rated film so they said you can watch it with your grandparents if you read the book first.  So we went to the local library and picked up a copy and I only got as far as Chapter Eight before we stopped as it was my birthday and my uncle sent me my own copy of the novel.  I finished reading it with my father and I eventually did see the film.  This was in 2002 and it became tradition that every year my uncle would send me a copy of the next Harry Potter book which of course stopped in 2007 with the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  There was one exception to this of course, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban which I bought on my own in 2004 when I realized that the film had come out and we wanted to rent it on VHS.  Yes we rented it on a VHS tape.  Needless to say I am a big fan of this franchise, and with the release of the script for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on July 31st it’s time for me to look at where it all began with the original novel Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, (I am using the American title as that is the version of the novel I read).  For these novel reviews I will be taking an in depth look at how well the novel is written and how the story is told by breaking the plot up into segments.


The story opens by introducing us to Vernon Dursley a fat man who works for a drill company who goes to work to see a lot of strange people in robes and owls on the street.  I point this out as it allows author J.K. Rowling to set up the world the story is set in.  Rowling makes everything initially seem normal, but hooks the reader by showing us hints that not everything is what it seems until the end of Chapter One which sees Albus Dumbledore, Minerva McGonagall and Rubeus Hagrid leaving the newly orphaned Harry Potter on the doorstep of 4 Privet Drive, the home of the Dursleys who are of course Harry’s only surviving family.  This is the first real glimpse that magic not only exists in this world, but also that it is hidden from ordinary view and that the Dursleys are connected by blood to a wizarding family.


Chapter Two however plants us right back into the normal world as we flash forward ten years to see that Harry has been abused by the Dursleys and is a social outcast.  Now fans will know that Harry is going to become the Chosen One for the Wizarding World and doing this could have been a great flaw for Rowling, but as this wasn’t decided until well into writing the novel, Harry is given a defined character.  He is socially awkward and has his own insecurities.  He isn’t flawless as he wants to see his cousin in pain and even makes little jabs at Dudley as retaliation for the constant bullying.  It doesn’t take long however for the magic of the world to rear its head as it is Dudley’s birthday and the entire family and one of Dudley’s friends go to the London Zoo.  Harry even gets to have a semi-decent time at the zoo until they go to the Reptile House where he takes sympathy on a snake which eventually talks back to him.  Dudley pushes him to the ground and the glass on the exhibit disappears forcing Dudley and his friend to fall into the tank and the snake escapes.


Chapters Three, Four, Five and Six work as transitions from the Muggle world into the Wizarding World as letters start arriving for Harry at Privet Drive.  These letters eventually overrun the house and force the Dursleys to pack up and leave the home.  They eventually stop at a rundown hut in the middle of the sea where in the middle of the night Hagrid reenters the narrative to tell Harry he’s a wizard.  He gives Dudley a pig tail and takes Harry away to Diagon Alley where we actually get the backstory to what happened to Harry’s parents, they were killed by Voldemort and somehow Harry survived making him famous.  Harry gets his schoolbooks and equipment in Chapter Five which is the heaviest on the exposition on how this world works and we see Harry’s eyes opened to the wonder of this new world.  We get to meet Draco Malfoy who utterly confuses Harry with his knowledge of the wizarding world and once everything is done at Diagon Alley we actually remember that it’s only July 31st and Harry has a whole month left at the Dursley’s.  This is a slight flaw in the storytelling as it does stop to a halt to show just how terrified the Dursley’s are of their nephew.  Chapter Six of course is the final transition as Harry leaves the Muggle world far behind to go on to Hogwarts.  On the way he meets Ron, Fred and George Weasley and they become close friends almost immediately once they get over the shock of meeting a celebrity.  Hermione Granger is also introduced in this chapter, but as she is a complete know-it-all at this point of the story they don’t become friends.


Chapter Seven and Eight become the final chapters in exposition as we get to know Hogwarts, what Harry thinks of his professors and an introduction to the supporting characters.  The other students outside of Harry, Ron, Hermione, Fred, George, Neville and Malfoy are where Rowling fails.  In this novel they really don’t get to be extremely fleshed out and while they aren’t forgettable they are reserved to being one note.  Some of the professors don’t fare much better.  That said with the massive amounts of exposition Rowling’s prose throughout the novel is incredibly easy to read. She takes Stephen King’s advice of just putting what’s necessary and letting the reader fill in the gaps which really works.  However this causes the back half of the novel to suffer as the first eight chapters are dedicated to two months, Chapters Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen take us through the next seven months in an extremely sped up time period.  Harry gets the position of Seeker for the Gryffindor House Quidditch team and has his duel with Malfoy that makes them discover Fluffy, have their encounter with the Mountain Troll developing the main trio’s friendship rather quickly, has Harry’s broom jinxed, have Snape referee the next match immediately following, gets the Invisibility Cloak, discovers the Mirror of Erised and who Nicholas Flamel is in these five rather compacted chapters.  As the book is trying to be a mystery it is going through the rising action extremely quickly to get to the climax which is a real problem for the novel.  These chapters however do take time to develop Oliver Wood as he explains what Quidditch is, McGonagall as she gets to show that she does in fact care about her house, and Dumbledore as he shows just how much of an oxymoron he is as a character.  Harry gets his biggest jump in character in Chapter Twelve as the Mirror of Erised allows for us to see just what he wants.


The pace however slows down to a more manageable speed for Chapters Fourteen, Fifteen, Sixteen and Seventeen.  This is where we really get the most development for the characters as Harry, Ron and Hermione work out what Fluffy is guarding and that it is Voldemort trying to steal the famous Sorcerer’s Stone to regain his power.  It’s how they try and confront Voldemort that is the highlight of the novel as Rowling closes their character arcs as they get to have their own trials.  Harry shows just how much he has grown, not allowing Voldemort to intimidate him as he confronts adversity.  Ron shows just how loyal he is as he sacrifices himself in the giant chess game and Hermione actually gets to use her logical skills as she comes from the Muggle world.  The final chapter, Chapter Seventeen, however almost makes the falling action happen way to fast after a climax of trials and reveals.  The end of the book however does the right thing and leaves the reader eager for more of the adventures at Hogwarts.


To summarize, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a great example of how a novel should be written even if it does have some pacing issues.  It isn’t the best of the Harry Potter series by any meas, but that mean that it is bad, just a way to kick start the franchise.  75/100.

The Nightmare Fair by: Graham Williams adapted and directed by: John Ainsworth: One Final Game, Doctor

The Nightmare Fair stars Colin Baker as the Doctor and Nicola Bryant as Peri with David Bailie as The Celestial Toymaker.  It was written by Graham Williams, adapted and directed by John Ainsworth and released in November 2009 by Big Finish Productions.


It is safe to say that most if not all Classic Doctor Who fans know about the lost Season 23 and how it eventually became The Trial of a Time Lord.  For those who don’t in 1984 John Nathan-Turner and Eric Saward had pulled together writers and directors for Season 23 before Michael Grade had the show put on permanent hiatus.  The original Season 23 had an entire layout of eight stories which would have gone as follows: The Nightmare Fair by: Graham Williams, The Ultimate Evil by: Wally K. Daly, In the Hollows of Time by: Christopher H. Bidmead, Yellow Fever and How to Cure It by: Robert Holmes, Mission to Magnus by: Philip Martin, The Children of January by: Michael Feeney Callan with Leviathan by: Brian Finch and Point of Entry by: Barbara Clegg as backups in case something went wrong with another script.  The entire season would be cancelled with three of the scripts (The Nightmare Fair, The Ultimate Evil, and Mission to Magnus) being novelized in 1990.


Fans speculated about these missing stories for years until 2009 when Big Finish announced The Lost Stories, a range dedicated to recreating this lost season along with many other lost stories.  They kicked the range off with The Nightmare Fair with John Ainsworth using the novelization and a copy of the script provided by Williams’s widow.  The plot remains mainly in tact with the Doctor after the events of Revelation of the Daleks taking Peri to Blackpool for a vacation, but not all is well as the Celestial Toymaker has been waiting for a final game between the two of them.  The Doctor is forced into playing a deadly videogame while Peri is stuck playing through other games with Kevin.  It works a lot better than The Celestial Toymaker, mainly because it actually uses the Doctor and the Toymaker going up against each other to create a better hero to villain dynamic that was missing in the original serial.  The plot however does have one major problem.  The buildup to the reveal of the Toymaker and the Doctor playing a game takes the entire first episode which covers the first disc.  Now it isn’t bad that we get some time devoted to developing the Doctor and Peri, but the other characters really are just as one note as they would be if this was a television story.


Colin Baker mentioned in the extras that this was a return to the Doctor as seen in Season 22 and a way to develop the relationship from an adversary to a friendship between the Doctor and Peri.  This is however not really how the story feels as the Doctor actually feels like he did at the end of Revelation of the Daleks, not a perfect friendship, but definitely the two of them are friends to say the least.  Colin Baker is great as the Doctor and his personality really works against the Celestial Toymaker as the Doctor is still very much arrogant.  The Doctor knows that he is going to win as he has won in the past and he plays up this aspect when he eventually confronts the Toymaker.  He just wants to get on with it and not have to deal with the Toymaker again which is admirable.  Nicola Bryant as Peri also gets to have moments in the spotlight here while she is separated from the Doctor, but these are just a few moments in a sea of story.  David Bailie makes his debut here as the Celestial Toymaker as Michael Gough refused to return.  As much as I like Gough as an actor, Bailie gives a much more nuanced performance as the Toymaker as he has been studying the Earth more and more and has even taken on an apprentice in the form of the camp Stefan.  Bailie really steals the show as the Toymaker which is honestly great.


John Ainsworth and Jamie Robertson work really well together at directing the story and placing the music in a way that it feels very much like a story from the 1980’s.  Robertson’s score really feels a lot like something that Paddy Kingsland would have composed in that period.  It really does work well as a score for the story and takes you right back to the Colin Baker era of Doctor Who.


To summarize, The Nightmare Fair really does deserve its title as a lost classic story as it would have seen the return of the Toymaker as a credible threat and a definite continuation of the Doctor and Peri’s dynamic into the area of friends.  The biggest problem in the story is its pacing which takes way too long to actually get going.  Still a great opener to the Lost Season 23.  80/100

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Curse of the Daleks by: David Whitaker and Terry Nation adapted and directed by: Nicholas Briggs: We Got Our Power!

The Curse of the Daleks stars Michael Praed as John Ladiver and Nicholas Briggs as the Daleks.  It was written by David Whitaker and Terry Nation, adapted and directed by Nicholas Briggs, and released in November 2008 by Big Finish Productions.


The least well known of the Doctor Who stage plays was The Curse of the Daleks, a story that didn’t even feature the Doctor or his companions.  Written at the height of Dalekmania, the story focuses on a possible solution as to how the Daleks were reactivated in between The Daleks and The Dalek Invasion of Earth with our main characters being the crew of a spaceship which has had to land on Skaro for repairs.  It is a product of its time.  The characters are standard pulp fiction and there are strong first-wave feminist motivations.  It was by no means progressive or regressive, but sits in the middle of that political spectrum.  The original play was by David Whitaker, from a summary of Terry Nation’s, and that credit really shows.  Once Nation gets the Daleks back to full power, the plot is a rehash of The Daleks.  This is where the main flaw of the story lies, with all David Whitaker’s efforts in the characters actually creating a diverse cast, the flaw is still present.  It rears its ugly head and any fan will realize exactly where the story is going to go next and exactly how it is going to go.


The plot is at the very least, the most consistent in structure of the stage plays as outside of the rehash it doesn’t follow the traditional Doctor Who format.  It instead follows the format of an adventure play as we get introduced to the characters, the crisis happens, an unlikely ally appears, there’s the twist of the traitor revealed and finally the escape.  It’s a formula that works really well on stage in the two act structure as the climax can be right when the Daleks have the hero’s captured and all things seem lost which is really how we end the first act.  The characters follow the clichés of adventures stories.  The main character is John Ladiver played by Michael Praed.  Ladiver is the typical hero in quite a few regards, but his actual gimmick is that he is a convict heading for prison for hiding millions in treasure.  He isn’t a space pirate as he has the galaxies interests at heart as he had already been to Skaro to investigate if the Daleks were actually dead.  Praed is the actor who steals the show here just by how smooth his voice is on audio.  Ladiver was originally played by John Line who returns here to play Professor Vanderlyn.  Vanderlyn is the absent minded professor, too wrapped up in his own work to really care.  He serves comic relief for the story which is funny enough and barely intrusive to the narrative.  It’s almost sweet that Big Finiuh tracked him down and made him a part of the proceedings.


The adaptation as written by Nicholas Briggs includes a narrator in the style of linking narration for the Missing Episode Soundtracks.  It is how the adaptation opens as a way to set the scene and just keeps interjecting at scene changes which would be done on stage.  Now I don’t have a problem with the narration in theory.  The opening poem, the ending and description of the spaceship really works, but whenever else it interjects into the action takes the listener out of the action really easily.  Briggs narrates the audio and has a voice that really works for the position of narrator, but he is barely needed.


To summarize, The Curse of the Daleks is honestly the best of the stage plays.  The plotting and pacing is great even though it is basically The Daleks without the entire Doctor Who plot.  Nicholas Briggs did his best to adapt the story into audio, but failed when he decided to add in a narrator when it really wasn’t needed.  The best things in the story are the acting with Michael Praed and John Line both being the best parts of the story and the characters  who are all archetypes that for once really work at creating a period piece.  70/100

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Seven Keys to Doomsday by: Terrance Dicks directed by: John Ainsworth: A Glimpse into an Alternate

Seven Keys to Doomsday stars Trevor Martin as the Doctor, Joe Thompson as Jimmy and Charlie Hayes as Jenny featuring Nicholas Briggs as the Daleks.  It was written by Terrance Dicks, directed by John Ainsworth and released in October 2008 by Big Finish Productions.


Doctor Who and the Daleks in Seven Keys to Doomsday was the second of three stage plays to be adapted by Big Finish Productions with the title shortened to just Seven Keys to Doomsday and it is a definite improvement over The Ultimate Adventure.  The story follows quite a few of the same story beats by having the Doctor and his companions landing on the planet Karn where they have to find the titular keys to doomsday before the Daleks do then get on to Skaro to defeat the Daleks.   It’s a simple plot, but it is much less cobbled together than The Ultimate Adventure and this time the Daleks feel like a threat here as they are collecting the crystals to take over the universe.  It isn’t anything new for the Daleks, but it does still feel like something the Daleks would do to try and become the supreme race.


What immediately jumps out to you about Seven Keys to Doomsday is just how much spectacle this play actually was.  The planet Karn is a hostile place, not unlike its counterpart in The Brain of Morbius, where there are creatures that are a cross between crabs and tarantulas, an enormous Venus flytrap like alien a la Little Shop of Horrors in control of the planet and of course the Dalek Emperor from The Evil of the Daleks is featured in Act Two.  That becomes the play’s downfall as the abundance of spectacle is what caused the stage show to stop touring as the price of moving the set pieces became too great.


Trevor Martin plays the Doctor in the adaptation much as he played him in the actual stage show.  Martin’s Doctor is a toned down version of William Hartnell’s Doctor, but with the major difference of having the universe’s best interests above that of his companions.  It’s a really interesting way of portraying the Doctor and Martin really deserves to return if Big Finish ever decide to revive the Unbound range of adventures.  While on stage he regenerated from Jon Pertwee, in the adaptation he regenerated from Nicholas Briggs’ Doctor which may place this story into the Audio Visuals range of stories.  Jimmy and Jenny, played by Joe Thompson and Charlie Hayes, are this Doctor’s companions in this story and they are the weakest point of the story.  They’re both one-note copies of Ian and Barbara with Jimmy being the skeptic and Jenny being the realist in the situations.  They serve the purpose of companions admirably for the most part, but the real draw to then is the fact that Jenny was originally played by Wendy Padbury in the original show, but now her daughter is taking on the role.


A problem with The Ultimate Adventure that Seven Keys to Doomsday manages to avoid is that it’s supporting cast isn’t too large so that you don’t remember who everyone is.  This supporting cast are the Daleks who are actually a threat, and four space explorers who while without too much in way of character, they at least feel like actual people.  Nicholas Briggs of course is great as the Daleks as he always is.


To summarize, there really isn’t much to say about Seven Keys to Doomsday except that it amounts to a good story with a Doctor with the potential to become one of the greats.  Nothing too special to see here.  65/100

The Ultimate Adventure by: Terrance Dicks directed by: Jason Haigh-Ellery: Doctor Who: The Musical

The Ultimate Adventure stars Colin Baker as the Doctor and David Banks as Karl.  It was written by Terrance Dicks, directed by Jason Haigh-Ellery and released in September 2008 by Big Finish Productions.


Doctor Who did a musical once in the 1960’s.  That was The Gunfighters and it had only one song, “The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon”.  The Gunfighters received mixed reception on initial airing and reviews post have stayed consistently mixed over the years.  The same cannot be said for the second musical Doctor Who tried.  The year was 1989 and Jon Pertwee debuted on the stage in Terrance Dicks’ The Ultimate Adventure.  The show had three songs, all diegetic and all despised by Terrance Dicks.  You would think that he would have at least two of them cut as they really aren’t necessary for the story, but his orders were clear that he wasn’t allowed to cut them for the audio adaptation.  Yes the infamous Doctor Who stage plays were adapted by Big Finish in late 2008 as a precursor to see how that type of story would fare before rolling out their Lost Stories range beginning with what is the most famous, and most seen Doctor Who play.


The plot as Terrance Dicks describes is a simple nostalgia filled romp throughout the galaxy in a similar manner to The Chase while the TARDIS crew are chased by Daleks and try to hunt down the American envoy for a Peace Conference.  Really that’s all there is and as a spectacle for the stage it really works as a plot as it is supposed to get us from one set piece to the next and to do it very quickly.  On audio however it is a very lacking plot, even though there isn’t much wrong with it, the story falls into a lot of the traps of show, don’t tell.  This is purely down to the adaption process forcing Terrance Dicks to add in things like “look at that, Doctor” and “Who’s that coming out of the doors?” which you really shouldn’t do when you’re doing an audio drama as it takes the listener out of the story really easily.  What makes this worse is that Terrance Dicks was aware of the problems he was writing in and did very little to change them.


Dicks however is very good at writing two of the three one off companions, Jason and Crystal.  Jason is a Marquee from Revolutionary France which is a great idea for a companion, even though he is a bit of a chauvinist and Crystal is a nightclub singer who gets dragged along.  They serve their purpose which is really all you could do for a story like this.  There is a companion who is insufferable.  Zog is a fluffy creature that the Doctor picks up on the travels and drags along with them for a bit of deus ex machina when it comes to the Daleks and the Cybermen.  The Doctor is also great in this, as Colin Baker of course gives another one of his patented perfect performances as the Doctor which is the standard for Colin Baker performances.  The same cannot be said for the villains of the story who are the Daleks and the Cybermen voiced by Nicholas Briggs.  They both suffer from you can’t have Doctor Who without them syndrome.  The Cybermen in particular as they don’t do anything even though David Banks is a part of the production.


To summarize, The Ultimate Adventure is a decent way to spend a couple of hours on a dreary afternoon.  You won’t have to know too much of what is going on to get the story as it emulates stories such as The Keys of Marinus and The Chase.  60/100

Friday, July 22, 2016

Shakedown by: Terrance Dicks: You Sunk My Battleship!

It’s hard to really come to grips with how bad of a time for Doctor Who fans the Wilderness Years actually were.  They had the novels of course, but other than that they really had nothing else especially if you were a fan in North America.  In the UK and in Europe however, independent companies BBV and Reeltime Pictures produced Direct to Video films based on Doctor Who monsters.  Now two of these are especially legitimate in canon as they have been novelized in the Virgin New Adventures and Virgin Missing Adventures.  The first of these was done by the king of novelizations.  I am of course talking about Terrance Dicks who in writing the novelization of Shakedown: The Return of the Sontarans, shortened to simply Shakedown and extended from your standard one hundred page book to a three hundred page Virgin New Adventure.  Now it shouldn’t be a surprise that this is a good novel even if Dicks had to piece together two plotlines, the one of the original video and an original plot connected to it featuring the Doctor and company.  You would think that would make the pacing of the story feel off which really it doesn’t.  The novelization portion is the second part of the novel and what Dicks manages to do is create an engaging lead in to a portion without any real tonal whiplash.


It helps that the plot is simply Chris and Roz on the trail of a murderous Rutan while the Doctor is in jail setting up his master plan for this adventure and Benny is off on a university trying to figure out what the Rutans have discovered.  The best parts of this plotline is Chris and Roz being cops in basically space Vegas mixed with space Detroit.  Basically it’s a hellhole where everyone is completely corrupted.  Of course they cannot succeed in finding the Rutan as it ends with the actual story of Shakedown: The Return of the Sontarans which isn’t the weakest link in the story.  It follows the crew of the space yacht “Tiger Moth” in your traditional base under siege storyline where the Sontarans invade while a Rutan is killing off the crew one by one.  While the crewmembers are the weakest characters and are only there for the Rutan to impersonate and kill off, Lisa and Kurt both get ample time to develop.  Lisa is the take no nonsense captain of the yacht while Kurt is the thief with his own motivations.  They have simple characterizations, they are effective in what they need to do while feeling like actual people.  The weakest link of this story is the conclusion as Dicks stuffs it into a really short amount of time which has the Doctor, Chris and Roz meet up with Kurt and Lisa, get to Sentarion where Benny is, discover that the Rutan weapon is a wormhole and stop both Rutans and the Sontarans.  This is all done in a matter of fifty pages when the story, especially beating the Sontarans should have been done in about seventy.


As this is written by Terrance Dicks the characterization of the main cast is spot on.  The Doctor, while being in the background for quite a bit of the novel, really feels implemented into the story as he has everything set up.  This team really works well together as although Chris gets on his nerves at times, the Doctor knows just what to have his companions do without making it feel like they’re being manipulated.  Roz is the brains, Chris is the brawn and Benny is the researcher, at least in this scenario.  The Doctor really doesn’t have to do much to save the day except explain the Sontarans and Rutans to his companions.  Chris and Roz actually work best here in their pair of good cop and bad cop.  It is a cliché, but they do feel like separate characters especially through their different thought processes.  Chris is the very rough around the edges lovable idiot who accidentally gives up the solution to the problems while Roz is the calm and rational thinker that usually has to save Chris from danger.  Roz is still the more interesting of the two characters as she has a lot more dramatic baggage stemming from her history as an Adjudicator while Chris is still the novice for the novels.  There is one large flaw in the novel and that is what Dicks does with Benny.  Much like in Blood Harvest he has Benny separated from the Doctor until the last third and while when the TARDIS team meets up at the end, separately Benny has very little to do.  A simple rework of the material would suffice to fix a lot of the pacing problems.  Just do what Andy Lane did in All-Consuming Fire and have Benny appear in the third part and focus on her time at the university planet as it is a good plot, but it isn’t worth interrupting the other plot.


To summarize, Shakedown proves once again how great Terrance Dicks actually is as a writer and how versatile he is working with different characters.  The biggest flaw in the mess is what he does with Benny, but not because of bad pacing as the pacing with three different plotlines going on is actually done really well.  The problem is having her story interrupt the main story when it really shouldn’t.  90/100

Nocturne by: Dan Abnett directed by: John Ainsworth: A Song to Dull the Senses

Nocturne stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor with Trevor Bannister as Korbin Thessinger, Sophie Aldred as Ace and Philip Olivier as Hex.  It was written by Dan Abnett, directed by John Ainsworth and released in February 2007 by Big Finish Productions.


In 2006 Gary Russell announced he would leave Big Finish as producer and principal director and Nicholas Briggs took over.  Briggs taking over was a rocky time for Big Finish as again they had to get the license reapproved and really wanted to begin more ranges for Doctor Who.  The first story he had recorded was Nocturne which is honestly a shaky start for what should be a new era of stories being told from a new creative team.  The plot itself is interesting with the Doctor taking Ace and Hex to one of his favorite planets, Nocturne a planet of musicians at the edge of an intergalactic war, where robots are murdering people when music is played as bait.  The story continues on to be stop the evil robots which happens in the last five minutes in a way that is extremely rushed before the Doctor and company leg it from the planet.  The story doesn’t feature any crazy revelations about the characters except some exposition from Hex’s school days explaining he went to Venice on a trip.


Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor is doing his very best with the material of the story, but that isn’t the problem.  The problem is that McCoy really isn’t suited to playing a Doctor as the way that Abnett decides to write him.  The Doctor here really feels more like the part was written for the Fifth Doctor, especially with the numerous references to the previous visit to Nocturne he was the Fifth Doctor.  Now I’m not against giving the Doctor a place to escape to, but there really isn’t much interesting being done with the concept and what is done feels a lot like something out of an earlier era.  That can’t be said for the flaws in Sophie Aldred as Ace, as it isn’t the writing that lets her character down as it is Aldred’s rather stilted acting performance.  I don’t know if Aldred or Ainsworth are to blame, but for some reason anything Ace says, especially the one liners, just comes out in what must be a forced monotone.  Philip Olivier as Hex is really the only character who feels like he is in character and it helps that the most memorable portions of the story comes straight from the fact that it is devoted to following Hex around as he explores the planet.  The supporting cast has a few interesting characters, but the idea of a planet of artists was done a lot better in Dust Breeding.  The sound design and music are actually really good for the most part as it is several piano pieces and even a few nice nocturnes thrown in to keep the theme of music pervade the score.  Steve Foxon knows how to write music and his score actually feels unique not only to the story, but to the era as the story is enhanced with almost an air of sadness.


To summarize, Nocturne is simply an underwhelming story to begin a new era on.  The main cast and supporting cast are both boring even if the ideas are genuinely interesting.  Hex is the only character to rise above mediocrity.  The story does however succeed in creating a captivating score to listen to on its own.  50/100

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Circular Time by: Mike Maddox from a story by: Paul Cornell directed by: John Ainsworth: Season's Fade

Circular Time stars Peter Davison as the Doctor with Sarah Sutton as Nyssa.  It consists of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.  Spring guest stars Hugh Fraser as Zero, Summer guest stars David Warner as Sir Isaac Newton and Autumn guest stars John Benfield as Don.  All segments were written by Mike Maddox from four stories by: Paul Cornell, directed by John Ainsworth and released in January 2007 by Big Finish Productions.



This is the story that opens the first anthology of Big Finish’s catalogue, and while it is still an extremely good story it’s the weakest of the release.  The plot representing the green spring, sees the Doctor and Nyssa sent on a mission to a planet where the children of criminals are punished for their wrongdoings of their families while those who actually committed a crime go scot free from punishment.  It’s a really good idea with a Time Lord played by the wonderful Hugh Fraser, already on the planet there to rule the planet, but peacefully.  The biggest weakness is that the story really doesn’t have a good enough conclusion, the Doctor and Nyssa show up, the Time Lord forces himself to regenerate accusing them of a crime, they leave, he in a new avian body repeals the original law of punishing families and the story is over.  Hugh Fraser is great however in his role as Zero as he always is and the writing does work well for being a short story even if it almost feels like it’s going to be like The Ark and the next part is going to return to the planet, but it doesn’t.  70/100



The stifling heat of summer is what this story is meant to represent and honestly it does that.  It is the comic relief story of the release with many jabs taken at Doctor Who and its penchant for running through corridors.  The Doctor and Nyssa are captured in the castle belonging to Sir Isaac Newton who is a crotchety old man that is trying to get his ideas across to a public who won’t listen to him.  The portrayal by David Warner is a comedic great alongside other characters who have to put up with the constant complaining of their master.  Again this story keeps it brief, but gets some extra points mainly down to the fact that the Doctor recites “I am the Doctor” while Nyssa lets slip to Newton exactly what is going to happen in the future to Newton.  80/100



From a story poking fun at Doctor Who to a story that is the evolution of Doctor Who.  It’s a story that would fit in nicely with the Virgin line of Doctor Who novels.  As a short story it has as much story as a full two hour story translated extremely well into a small thirty minute short story.  The plot is that in the golden autumn while writing a novel Nyssa falls in love and we get to see the rise and fall of that relationship.  Like the Virgin novels, it is not afraid to shy away from the adult topics of love which is all there and it becomes quite a good story for the things going on.  Sarah Sutton really shines as Nyssa as she has never felt feelings of love or attachments especially since her father was taken over by the Master which of course affected her completely.  It ends with some great soliloquies from the Doctor and Nyssa in reflection which was great to listen to.  It’s a really good story and for this purchasing the audio is worth it.  95/100.



And now on to a story that just kills you in the feels even more than Autumn did.  It is the only story not taking place in succession as it takes place during the final scene of The Caves of Androzani.  The Master has set a trap for the Doctor with an older Nyssa and her husband’s consciousness being dragged into the mind of the Doctor which is now inhabited with his family.  Yes the Doctor is given a family and it is up to Nyssa to try and save his life.  This is a story that is extremely informative on the end of Logopolis explaining just exactly the Watcher’s place in what the Doctor’s mind is and the ending is honestly heartbreaking and I don’t want to give any more away except that it feels different this time. 100/100


To summarize, Circular Time is an anthology release that has continually increasing quality and must be judged as the average of it’s part leaving us with a final score of 86/100.

Year of the Pig by: Matthew Sweet directed by: Gary Russell: You Did Good Pig

Year of the Pig stars Colin Baker as the Doctor with Maureen O’Brien as Miss Alice Bultitude, Michael Keating as Inspecter Charladot and Nicola Bryant as Peri.  It was written by Matthew Sweet, directed by Gary Russell and released in December 2006 by Big Finish Productions.


The BBC has always been known to do period drama extremely well especially when set in Victorian or Edwardian times and Year of the Pig, while never intended for television, actually plays to this fact as it takes place in Ostend in 1913 on the eve of World War I and takes inspiration from the freak shows and carnival oddities of the period, more specifically the famous Toby the Sapient Pig.  This was of course just a pig that had some Pavlovian experimentation done to make it react to stimulus, but the fame came from the fact that its owner wrote an ‘autobiography’ for the pig.  Really the plot of the story is obvious, Toby the Sapient Pig is an actual Sapient Pig and is being chased down by the villainous Inspector Charladot into Ostend while the Doctor and Peri are awestruck that there could be a Sapient Pig.  The plot is nothing that special and is the main weakness of the story or lack thereof.  There really isn’t much plot going on but Sweet makes up for this with the brilliant characters.


Toby the Sapient Pig played by Paul Brooke steals the show as he plays the part convincingly as an actual pig.  He loves sweets and survives on the things that really aren’t good for him.  He also doesn’t have the morality of a human being and threatens to eat Peri when he thinks she’s a threat.  The performance gives off this sort of dark comedy that really fits with the foreboding setting of the tense period before the outbreak of World War I.  The reveals about what Toby actually is also makes a lot of sense as really what else could he have been.  The story also boasts the return of Maureen O’Brien as Miss Alice Bultitude who is a complete fangirl.  Now Vicki is probably the fourth best Hartnell companion mainly due to O’Brien and here it shows through as she has this voice that has this sense of delight in the story.  It’s really a great performance that makes the setting come alive as she is your typical aristocrat from the early 20th century.  There is also Toby’s nurse Albertine played by Adjoa Andoh which represents the working class in this story.  She doesn’t care that her client is a pig as it gives her a chance to live her life decently.  She also is a nurse and will help the sick even if it is a villain as that is her first duty in life, to help those in need of it.  The only shame is that Andoh wasn’t credited on the cover of the story as she is as integral as O’Brien and Keating.


Speaking of Michael Keating, he returns to Big Finish to play another villain, this time Inspector Charladot who really doesn’t come across as a villain.  He’s more of an antagonist and Keating plays the part as a gentleman.  He is introduced as drowning and the Doctor saves him and the Inspector is extremely grateful for the assistance.  He has only kindness for Peri, Nurse Albertine and even Toby, but still wants to control his “experiment” until the very end where the real twist about Toby and the Inspector is revealed.  I won’t ruin it, but if you’re clever you may be able to guess it as there are several hints scattered throughout the story.  That said Sweet keeps his supporting cast miniscule which allows him to devote a lot to their characters.  This works in a story like this where the characters are at the forefront.  The Doctor and Peri are also rather interesting here as the story takes place following the events of Timelash so we’re still in the portion of their relationship where they are antagonistic and this story works as the bridge to make them friends.  They still will fight, but now they just enjoy each other’s company and are ready to travel on together.  Baker and Bryant are both really good at doing these characters and are having an extremely good time working together again.


To summarize, Year of the Pig is really a diamond in the rough of a story as the thing on the outside really didn’t have a lot going for it.  It takes place at a turbulent time for the show and has an absurd Season 24 like premise, but manages to be something close to a classic.  The characters and setting are both extremely well developed even if the plot leaves quite a lot to be desired.  92/100

No Man's Land by: Martin Day directed by: John Ainsworth: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Another Lost

No Man’s Land stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor with Michael Cochrane as Lieutenant-Colonel Brook, Sophie Aldred as Ace and Philip Olivier as Hex.  It was written by Martin Day, directed by John Ainsworth and released in November 2006 by Big Finish Productions.


Taking Hex and putting him into historical bloodbaths seems to be becoming a recurring theme with The Settling showing him why he cannot change a lot of history and now No Man’s Land showing just what can be changed.  The story set during the First World War in a hospital shows just how desperate the Allies were to win the war after trench warfare caused stalemate after stalemate as well as a grim picture of hospital morale in the story mixed in with urban legends of experiments occurring on soldiers.  The plot is the Doctor and company trying to figure out who a murderer may be at a hospital, before a crime is even committed which is just an excuse to keep them stuck at the hospital.  It’s a standard Doctor Who plotline that has your standard mystery element from the offset, but what the hospital is hiding underneath the façade of healing is what really drags you into the story, almost kicking and screaming.


Before getting into the standard acting performances note must be made of John Ainsworth’s wonderful direction of this story and David Darlington’s sound design.  They both make the period come alive especially on Darlington’s end as Darlington did not write a single note of music for this story.  Instead samplings of public domain music were taken from the period and converted onto vinyl for playing in the story itself.  It really adds layers to the episode as whenever something bad happens this music kicks in the background which allows the subconscious of the listener connect with the conditioning long before the characters do.  It’s an extremely interesting concept and Ainsworth has it implemented at just the right times for it to really matter and he pulls off the reveal of the twist of who the hospital staff are working for brilliantly.


Brilliant however cannot be said about the supporting cast.  While they all have characteristics of soldiers who are tired of war, there really isn’t much else to be interested in as they are cut outs of the wonderful characters as seen in Steve Lyons’ excellent Colditz.  There is the exception of the villain played by the wonderfully disturbing Michael Cochrane.  Cochrane imbues Lieutenant-Colonel Brook with this sinister sense of Britishness with the whole stiff upper lip gambit all the while the experiments he is performing on the wounded soldiers are completely immoral.  He’s trying to condition them not to become shell shocked and never give up fighting which the wording of that plays a big part in his downfall which is gloriously portrayed at the end of the story.


While the supporting cast doesn’t make any real impression which heavily lets the story down, the main cast does.  Sophie Aldred honestly gives a powerhouse of a performance here as while Ace doesn’t do much, her presence is felt throughout the story.  She actually provides a little bit of comedic relief near the beginning which is alright, but honestly she doesn’t do much which is a testament to how Martin Day can only write one companion.  That one companion is Hex who shines as the one who actually wants to help out at the hospital, being a nurse and the Doctor allows him to do so in whatever way he can, as long as he doesn’t let anything slip about the future.  We also get quite a bit of setup for the arc that is beginning with Hex as he questions about his mother who we and the Doctor know was Cassie, but he doesn’t know that.  Yet.  Philip Olivier gives a great performance and I’m really warming to his character more than I did in his last performances.  Sylvester McCoy is also great here as the Doctor as he is up against probably his best match, which even at what is an early stage is not an individual, but an organization which has enough resources to out manipulate the manipulative Time Lord.


To summarize, No Man’s Land has some great ideas and works really well as a period piece and is a great setup to what is going to be happening with Hex, but as an actual story it fails with almost all its characters on some level.  It is by no means a bad story as the conditioning plotline actually works really well for the most part.  65/100.