Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Downtime by: Marc Platt: The Web of Intelligence

Getting Marc Platt to write another Virgin Novel in the middle of the run was a great idea and after the success of Terrance Dicks’s Shakedown it became obvious for Platt to adapt Downtime from video to novel.  Like Shakedown, the novelization of Downtime tells a very different story to its video counterpart, all while having the events of the video occur in the novel in what is vivid detail.  I will eventually get on to reviewing the original production, but the plot of it and the novel follow three previous characters from Doctor Who.  First is Victoria Waterfield who is out of her time in the 1990s goes searching for her father at the Det-sen monastery from The Abominable Snowmen where the Great Intelligence, inhabiting the corpse of Professor Travers, takes her over.  They establish New World University where they are using the newly established Internet to bring the intelligence back into the world.  Victoria as a character in the novel is extremely sympathetic.  Platt’s prose make us feel her loneliness and desire to see someone she knows again.  Platt adds in a scene immediately after The Web of Fear where we actually get a lot of the formation of this loneliness as it is very close to her departure.  There is also detailing on how she came to the monastery where you really feel the sense of dread as the cover gives away that the Intelligence is back.  Her story arc does end very nicely as she breaks away and accepts her position while going in to hiding.  The Doctor doesn’t forget about her as his Fourth and Third incarnations do pay her a visit.  It becomes very nice that she gets her own little happy ending while of course she will meet the Sixth Doctor in Power Play.


The second character is Brigadier Lethebridge-Stewart who while investigating New Wave Unversity and being the one to defeat the Yeti, his story is about how he makes up with his daughter, Kate and gets to meet his grandson.  His blood and thunder days are indeed long past as Chricton is in charge of UNIT until the end of this story where Bambera takes over.  What is nice is that this takes place in 1995, two years before the events of Battlefield which nicely bridges the gap of emotions between The Five Doctors and Battlefield.  Kate Lethebridge-Stewart is introduced here and you immediately care for her not because she is the Brigadier’s daughter, but because she is a genuinely good person who doesn’t deserve any ill will.  The third character is actually Sarah Jane Smith, but she is rather underused in the novel as there really isn’t much for her to do.  She is relegated to exposition dumping and liaison between the Brigadier and UNIT as there are people working for New Wave University who have infiltrated the organization.  There are some nice scenes where she is at a zoo doing a story on a Yeti, the creatures seen at the end of The Abominable Snowmen which are actually endangered.  It’s a real shame as Platt writes for her really well as a character in almost every regard and we even get a lot of K9 in the novel to enjoy.


Platt also must be commended for the way he writes the Intelligence.  It is written very much like Josiah Smith and Light from Ghost Light as an all knowing being.  The prose takes the idea that the Intelligence is a Lovecraftian horror to the next level and it fits right in with Craig Hinton’s wonderful Milennial Rites.  There is a lot of horrifying imagery in the novel be it the scenes in the monastery where Victoria spends a rather rough night, the astral plane which is described as a pure void or the Yeti who have an upgrade. Platt is good at getting the audience ready for a scare and it really works here.  The Yeti are also terrifying as along with the webbing they turn people into them by having upgraded spheres absorbing into them.  It’s a really terrifying concept for the novel to pull off and Platt makes it work really well and there is a threat that nobody is really safe in this story.


To summarize, Downtime is a brilliant novel that manages to tell a great story without having to use the Doctor.  While there are scenes with two Doctors they really are just a prologue and an epilogue for the story to allow us to continue.  Platt has mastered writing the characters in the novel even if Sarah Jane Smith and K9 are both underused in the story.  It is really worth it as it adds a lot to the story and is not limited by a low budget to describe with horrific relish what is going on at New World University.  95/100

Thin Ice by: Marc Platt directed by: Ken Bentley: Do Ice Warriors Eat Fish Fingers?

Thin Ice stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace with Beth Chalmers as Lt. Raina Kerenskaya/Sezhyr, John Albasiny as Major Maxim Alaxandrovitch Felnikov, Ricky Groves as Markus Creevy and Nicholas Briggs as Ice Lord Hhessh.  It was written and adapted by Marc Platt, directed by Ken Bentley and released in April 2011 by Big Finish Productions.


Having the feature of the second season of the Lost Stories be Season 27 was the next logical step after doing the original Season 23.  Seasons 25 and 26 are a definite improvement and in the excellent “Endgame” documentary shows what the stories would have originally been for Season 27.  The premiere would again be written by Ben Aaronovitch in cooperation with Andrew Cartmel with Earth Aid, a Star Trek parody involving the Metatraxi a warrior race created by the two for a possible Doctor Who Stage Play.  It would continue with Marc Platt’s Ice Time which would see the departure for Ace to enter the Academy on Gallifrey.  Raine Cunningham a safecracker would be introduced as a new companion in Crime of the Century to be written by Andrew Cartmel.  The finale for the season would have been either Night Thoughts by Edward Young or Illegal Alien by Mike Tucker and Robert Perry.  When adapting this original season however, Big Finish started by getting rid of the original finale and replacing it with Earth Aid, moving Ice Time and Crime of the Century up in the running, changing Ice Time to Thin Ice and filling the gap left by Andrew Cartmel’s original idea for the novel Warlock with Animal.


Marc Platt adapts his own script for Thin Ice so most of the original plot of the story remains intact.  The Doctor and Ace land in Moscow in 1967 where the Russians are working with a British smuggler called Markus Creevey for retrieving a Martian helmet of one of their greatest warriors.  There is also another Ice Warrior conspiracy, a romance between Creevey and a Russian Lieutenant who is carrying his child, and Ace being appraised by Time Lords to see if she is fit to join the Academy on Gallifrey while the Doctor is in charge of watching from the sidelines.  Platt’s plot as how it is adapted into audio with several ideas changed to tone down things that would have brought up the Cartmel Master Plan which does make the plot suffer in several places.  It really feels a bit all over the place with some threads that seem very much like they were going to be much deeper on television with more visual cues.  It is still a very good story plot wise overall even if some key moments are shifted and cut out.  The biggest change of course is the ending where Ace does not actually leave and decides to stay with the Doctor and many call this a problem.  I would agree if it wasn’t for the fact that she eventually does go to Gallifrey.


The acting hinges on Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred and they pull it off marvelously.  The Doctor is nervous about going through with his master plan as the events of The Curse of Fenric has changed their relationship.  He doesn’t want to manipulate her and is even afraid that Ace may die in this situation.  While he tries his hardest to be out in the background, his interfering nature comes back in as here he doesn’t have a master plan.  He is not in control which causes him to act out of character for the most part.  Sophie Aldred has to have the rest of her character arc completed here for the most part.  She is again betrayed by the Doctor as here she feels like she’s been manipulated which the Time Lords actually test her by revealing her presence.  Ace still shows that she has the makings of a Time Lord as she is the one to take the active role here in the story and it is still a slight disappointment when this does not end in her leaving although the Time Lords would have passed her.


The supporting characters are also really interesting.  The biggest supporting character is Markus Creevey and Raina Kerenskaya played by Ricky Groves and Beth Chalmers.  Creeveey and Raina are lovers who barely have time to see each other.  The story actually gives them a Romeo and Juliet story as Raina actually puts on the helm of Sezhyr and is possessed.  She does make it out alive, but changed as she gives birth prematurely and the Doctor has to deliver the baby.  John Albasiny plays Felnikov a major for the Soviet Union who is the villain along with Sezhyr and it is interesting that the story really keeps to a human villain.  His gang of bikers is really cringeworthy as they have Ice Warrior style helmets because reasons.  Finally Nicholas Briggs is Hhessh, an Ice Lord who likes fish fingers and has a good relationship with Ace.  They both admire each other as leaders which is an interesting dynamic to be sure.


To summarize, Thin Ice is a great way to open up the Lost Season 27.  The adaptation sees Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred give some of their best performances as their characters complete an arc.  There are several problems mainly due to the adaptation as the story would have worked better if actually made for television, but it is still something that should be listened to.  75/100

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Just War by: Lance Parkin: If You Were Really From the Future Miss Summerfield You Would Be A Nazi

Lance Parkin’s debut novel, Just War, is now tied in first place with Andy Lane’s All-Consuming Fire for my favorite Doctor Who novel.  It is a story that takes a nearly pure historical look at World War II and does the great thing of pushing its characters to their limits in a situation where they are out of their natural element.  The plot sees the Doctor, Benny, Chris and Roz sent to Guernsey which was one of the British Isles under Nazi occupation in World War II, where they are trying to stop the Nazis from winning the actual war which with an alien weapon is a high possibility.  As a story it is again simple, but extremely character driven not only by our main characters, but also by the supporting cast.


Parkin paints a vivid picture of Guernsey under Nazi occupation through the citizens that we explore there and some of the Nazi’s who are stationed there.  First is Ma Doras, the woman in charge of a boarding house that has to house the Nazis as well as the Doctor and friends.  She knows that she is in a bad situation as she commits passive resistance to the Nazis while still trying to live her life.  She is the example of a British woman with a stiff upper lip and the hope that the war is going to be won eventually, but the realism that things will be getting darker before they get lighter.  She serves her purpose and Parkin knows that she needs to leave the story as the focus becomes on the other characters.  One of the Nazis staying on Guernsey with Ma Doras is Gerhard Flur who is a young man who enlisted with that classic sense of patriotism and nationalism.  He believes what the Nazis are doing are right and just, as is the war, but Parkin writes him as a real person.  He falls in love with Benny early on in the novel of course before he realizes that she isn’t going to be compliant to the Nazis and he gets himself killed.  It is an event that shatters Benny which I will get to later when I discuss her, but his dead body still has another bit of purpose in the novel later on.  The villains of the story are Oskar Steinmann and Joachim Wolff who are two ruthless Nazis who have to be the evil ones for the main characters.


Speaking of the main characters, they are split up into three groups with Chris and Roz being undercover agents in London going against the Nazis from Canada and South Africa respectively, Benny being on Guernsey before being taken to a Nazi prison to be tortured and the Doctor actually becoming a Nazi.  So there is a lot of ground to cover with these characters and to be honest Chris is probably the weakest of the group this novel.  He is sent on a suicide mission and eventually meets up with the Doctor and is partially responsible for how the novel actually concludes.  His character however is much clearer here than in some of the other novels as here he feels like a little kid in a candy shop surrounded by history.  He researched movies from the time period and history textbooks yet still has a lot of things to go through before he realizes how screwed up the world of 1941 actually is.  He really is there to make things quite a bit lighter and also to ask the moral dilemma as why can’t they just kill all the Nazis?


Roz is the one of the pair used much better as she has to go through the sexism and the racism of the era while she ends up getting engaged.  She has to be the one to try and find a solution to the problems of the war while Kendrick, her boss in this story doesn’t really take her seriously.  It becomes an interesting dynamic as Roz is forced to take things when really she is a no nonsense type of person in all respects.  She also delves in to the sexual repression of the period as she falls in love with Reed, a lieutenant who is obsessed with African culture.  It’s really something that is interesting as she has to let down her defenses and create a lasting relationship with someone.  It was very possible that she could have been left behind as she agrees to marry Reed and Parkin doesn’t make the misstep of killing off Reed.  Roz really feels like a well thought out character here as it is nice to let her have the spotlight again.


The Doctor actually shows just why I have the Seventh Doctor as my favorite Doctor.  He can stay in the background and still do detestable things and actually be in the right here.  He has to become a Nazi to get information and signs himself over to the Third Reich and I can’t help but love it.  He is doing all this for two reasons.  First he is guilty that he let Ma Doras’s own daughter die of an illness in 1913 and second just before the events of Dragonfire he and Mel met the German who was using the technology to let the Nazi’s win and they became friends.  Mel made him promise that if that German went anywhere he would be there to stop it.  He and Mel both have a stake in events and are portrayed great.  The Doctor’s plotline also is responsible for the villain of Oskar Steinmann who is a power hungry Nazi who wants to even surpass Hitler and spread information about the “glorious” cause.  He is the one to convince the Doctor to become a Nazi by treating him like a friend and treating him to secrets.  The Doctor knows too much not to become a Nazi.


Finally we have Benny who is the real star of the show here.  She kills a man and gets captured and tortured by Joachim Wolff and his sympathetic nurse.  These scenes of torture are brutal as we get to see Benny broken down and almost become a normal twentieth century girl.  It is a very good writing for Benny and is an easy plotline to convert into a Benny standalone, helped by the fact that the plotlines are kept very separate from each other which is honestly a good thing.  Benny also has to be Celia Doras in Guernsey as she takes an identity which really doesn’t have a lot of light moments.  She acts very much like a conman here which is something that also shines through.  I don’t want to ruin anything else from this novel as it is brilliant.


To summarize, Just War is a novel there to ask the hard questions about political ideas, the spread of power, racism, sexism and just plain character drama.  It is a story that everyone should have the chance to read quickly and immediately. 100/100

Lords of the Storm by: David A. McIntee: For the Greater Glory of the SonRutan Empire

Every good writer can always make a flop if the wind is in the right direction and Lords of the Storm is the story that is David A. McIntee’s flop.  It tries creating prestige by touting itself as a prequel to the brilliant Shakedown without sharing any of the characters from that novel or even the story.  Yes the Sontarans and Rutans feature in the novel and technically it does lead in to Shakedown if only peripherally, it really has no connection to the other book.  It actually sees the Doctor and Turlough landing on a planet influenced almost entirely by a toned down Islamic culture where the Sontarans invade.  To defeat the Sontarans the Doctor has to make a deal with the Rutans to allow them access to the TARDIS to get it back and save the planet.  The plotline really isn’t anything interesting to shake a stick at and it is hard to avoid comparing to Shakedown which does all the same things, but a lot better.  There is a nice twist where one of the Sontaran commanders is actually part of the Rutan Host which is the obvious twist which should have happened at least once on television as the Rutans are shapeshifters.  A positive for the prose is that McIntee is still a very compelling writer and the prose is very easy to get through as McIntee at least makes the writing style easy to get through when the story is not very good.


McIntee isn’t very good at writing for the Fifth Doctor as he actually comes across as possibly the Fourth Doctor or maybe the Third Doctor, but not the Fifth Doctor.  He really doesn’t do much in the story except try and stop the Sontarans and doesn’t make an impact on the plot for the story.  Turlough at least feels closer to the idea of what he was supposed to be on television as the Artful Dodger type character.  He has to lead large sections of the novel and works pretty well as an unreliable narrator which is really how Turlough should be portrayed.  I can easily imagine this being adapted and improved in a Companion Chronicle style with Mark Strickson and Dan Starkey doing a reading together.  The supporting characters for this story are really bland in most sections, so much so that I don’t remember who they were as people or what distinguished them from each other.  There is a really good idea present however of translating an ancient Indian caste system which is a system I have studied and forcing it into a society in the far future.  It could be a good commentary on how old ideas can change as while the caste system is rigid it is no longer motivated by religion or reincarnation.  You could hypothetically change caste as things are changed differently in ways here which is a really good idea present.  This is really one of the ways that the novel is easy to read as the culture for the planet is very deep and makes a very good point.


To summarize, Lords of the Storm is not a very good novel.  There are good ideas present for exactly what is going to go on with the Doctor and Turlough which I really like and a deep culture for the planet.  The problem is that most of the conflict has been done before and done much better in Shakedown with a really good twist having quite a lot of ramifications for the Sontaran clone batch.  There are scenes of the Rutans which are also good, but nothing else really stands out.  35/100

The Daleks: The Destroyers by: Terry Nation adapted by: Nicholas Briggs and John Dorney directed by: John Ainsworth: Seek! Locate! Destroy!

The Daleks: The Destroyers stars Jean Marsh as Sara Kingdom with Alan Cox as Mark Seven, Chris Porter as Jason Corey and Nicholas Briggs as the Daleks.  It was written by Terry Nation, adapted by Nicholas Briggs and John Dorney, directed by John Ainsworth and released in December 2010 by Big Finish Productions in The Lost Stories: The Second Doctor Box Set.


Terry Nation is a man who knows just how to make a quick buck with an idea.  Working for the BBC had him keeping the rights to use the Daleks and in late 1967 he took his creations which couldn’t be used in Doctor Who again and took them to America.  He pitched “The Destroyers” a pilot for a science fiction show about the Daleks conquests of the galaxy in a time where Star Trek was just getting started.  Details on the entire series remains scant and Big Finish did make a Dalek spin-off a reality with Dalek Empire, but the script for “The Destroyers” does survive and was adapted in the same set as Prison in Space because it would have aired around the same time as Prison in Space.  Terry Nation may be a good idea man, but sadly he suffers when it comes to the actual plot of his pilot.  He takes Sara Kingdom and gives her a story about her first encounters with the Daleks before The Daleks’ Master Plan.  It’s a bit odd however as she doesn’t really understand how evil the Daleks are in that story while here she gets the full force of their evil right to her face.


Jean Marsh however is great here, I mean it is Jean Marsh she can’t not be great and Sara Kingdom is an extremely interesting character.  She doesn’t have the baggage of killing her brother Bret as she would in The Daleks’ Master Plan and I feel that if it wasn’t for the fact that when this was recorded Nicholas Courtney had contracted the cancer that took his life, Bret Vyon would have made an appearance here.  Instead David Kingdom is used and let’s be honest he really doesn’t make an impression at all.  Alex Mallinson plays David Kingdom and is alright as the character but he really feels like there isn’t much to him.  The same can be said for Chris Porter as Jason Corey, the brother of Mark Corey from Mission to the Unknown.  The question is why are all the characters changed as this takes place before any of the events on Kembel?  Well it is probably because of the fact that an American television network will not be interested in already established characters.  If that is the case however then why is Marsh as Sara Kingdom included?  She only appeared for two months on Doctor Who and really only had her death be her defining feature as the show went on.  I really don’t know why any of this story turned out the way it did.  Mark Seven however is a really good idea of the future giving us an android that is the perfect human, but still acts like your stereotypical android, not understanding human colloquialisms or clich├ęs.  It’s Doctor Who does Kryten from Red Dwarf just not very well.  Nicholas Briggs however is great as the Daleks.  The Daleks here are the ones seen in Mission to the Unknown and The Daleks’ Master Plan as totally ruthless killing machines with no regard for any life other than themselves.  They are murderous and are planning to create the Time Destructor which is where I think the series would have gone if it was actually sent to series.  It does however lead nicely into Dalek Empire.


To summarize, The Daleks: The Destroyers is a story that really shows the flaws in Terry Nation’s writing.  It’s a pilot that never would have been picked up for a series as the science fiction being presented on television in America was of an optimistic future while Nation is trying to make a dystopia.  The adaptation is an interesting little time capsule and it’s got some good moments but really there isn’t much here that wasn’t done better in Nicholas Briggs’s own Dalek Empire.  50/100

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Prison in Space by: Dick Sharples adapted by: Simon Guerrier directed by: Lisa Bowerman: Who Runs the World? Girls

Prison in Space is performed by Frazer Hines as Jamie McCrimmon and the Doctor and Wendy Padbury as Zoe with Susan Brown as Chairman Babs.  It was written by Dick Sharples, adapted by Simon Guerrier, directed by Lisa Bowerman and released in December 2010 by Big Finish Productions in The Lost Stories: The Second Doctor Box Set.


Doing a Box Set for the Second Doctor is a bit of an oddity as there weren’t many stories that were never made that could be done in a four disc box set with the fourth disc being bonus features.  Big Finish pulled something weird by doing a four part story that wasn’t made and an unmade spin-off from the time of the Second Doctor.  The four part story was the story that was originally going to be in the spot of the first four episodes of The War Games, Prison in Space.  Prison in Space was never made for two reason, Dick Sharples, the writer, couldn’t finish the script on time as he was never sure if he could include Jamie and second, the budget was running out and the ratings were falling.  Luckily the scripts survived and were in the hands of Frazer Hines so Big Finish could of course adapt it into its own little audio drama.  Simon Guerrier was brought in to write the adaptation and he had his job really easy as the script was a complete script and only had to have the more visual elements toned down.


The plot of Prison in Space has the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe land on Earth in the far future where women have taken over and are ruled under the fascist Chairman Babs played by Susan Brown.  It paints a picture of society where all men are suppressed as basic sex slaves and plain regular slaves.  If a man has any desire to revolt from their suppression they are sent to the OCSE a prison in space where men are sent.  There they will live in cells and fed only nutrition pills.  Of course the Doctor, who cannot stand any injustice, and Jamie, who has the mindset of a highlander, get themselves locked up in the prison while Zoe is reconditioned to be a man-hater.  As a plot Sharples is making a statement about what happens when there isn’t a gender balance in society.  It’s a piece of absurdist satire about the feminist movement and what could happen if it went too far towards one gender in a highly unrealistic way.  Several scenes of the story are very much products of their time which is especially obvious in the final scenes of Jamie giving Zoe a spanking to break her out of her conditioning and a lot of the awkward scenes with Chairman Babs and her cronies.  Many of these scenes come across as humorous even if they feel really awkward in context and show really why this story couldn’t have been made on television other than the extensive budget it would have required.  It really doesn’t know how to pace its satire which is honestly good satire and a good thing to note, but gets muddled in execution.


Frazer Hines is of course great at playing Jamie McCrimmon in the story even if Jamie is there for comic relief.  He really shines when he’s playing the Doctor as if Big Finish credited Patrick Troughton to performing in the story, you really couldn’t tell the difference between their voices.  This is partially down to Lisa Bowerman being a great director, but mainly due to the fact that Hines and Troughton were best friends when they were making the show and kept up a healthy relationship after they left.  Hines spent so much time with Troughton and observing his mannerisms, he has mastered an impression of Troughton as the Doctor which can be translated into the audio medium so well.  Wendy Padbury is almost pushed into the background in this story which is odd considering the conditioning should be put into the forefront in the story, but it doesn’t happen until over halfway into the story and even when it happens not much is done with it except the spanking scene.  Padbury does a good job as one of Babs’s minions, and is really entertaining though.  Susan Brown is over the top as Chairman Babs as she is a leader who is still hard as nails but is subconsciously longs for a relationship with a man which shouldn’t be surprising as she has really had nobody to share her empire with.  Her assault on the Doctor at the end is hilarious in every way as you imagine Troughton who is very childlike in his mannerisms, accosted by a women who wants to have her way with him.


To summarize, Prison in Space is a highly underrated story that actually has a lot of interesting ideas present but a story that really doesn’t do well at pacing itself to tell a good story.  Sharples does a lot of writing choices inherent of a first time writer for science fiction in general, while being great at the absurdist satire.  The acting is good even if Wendy Padbury is criminally underused in the story and some of the scenes do come off as awkward, but I think it would be good if you gave this one a second listen and reappraise your opinion of the story.  72/100

Monday, August 22, 2016

Doctor Who and the Crusaders by: David Whitaker: This Room is Full of Arabs

 Doctor Who and the Crusaders is written by David Whitaker from his own story, The Crusade.  It was the 3rd story to be novelized by Target Books.


Doctor Who and the Crusaders is an interesting approach to a novelization as while it does go over the key events of the televised story.  The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki land during the time of the Third Crusade, Barbara is captured, Ian goes to rescue her while the Doctor and Vicki mess around in King Richard’s court.  The difference in this novel is that David Whitaker instead of just taking the events of the televised story and adapting them, he is no longer hampered by William Russell’s week long vacation for “The Wheel of Fortune”.  The novel focuses much more on Ian’s journey to meet with Saladin and how he ends up rescuing Barbara from El Akir.  It’s an adaptation that relishes in the fact that it can actually make some changes to the source material, especially since The Crusade as a story has a very flat ending without any real sense of accomplishment.  Doctor Who and the Crusaders however does create a sense of a complete story as we get an actual arc with how Ian feels towards Barbara.  Now nothing was ever really stated on television if Ian and Barbara were in a relationship, but Whitaker’s insight into the thoughts of Ian show just how much he has begun to realize that yes he does have feelings for her.  He is very subtle in creating the characterization but as the original script editor for the program he gets the job done rather well.  Whitaker also devotes more time to showing what effect the time travelling has had on Barbara which is much more of a mental change for her.  Her eyes were opened to the differences and the vastness in the universe.  This has created an appreciation in Barbara for just how good everything can be and an almost steel like resistance to the evil as always the good out ways the bad.  The bad in the novel is worse than in the televised story as although it is still the 1960s, the book gets away from the restrictions and has it very clear how awful El Akir actually is.


To summarize, Doctor Who and the Crusaders takes what was already a great television story and amplifies it by adding in a lot of character depth.  It fixes the flaws of “The Warlords” by telling both sides of the story, focusing on Ian’s journey to rescue Barbara and just what happened to Barbara.  This all happens without really leaving anything out in the adaptation process and Whitaker really did a good job of keeping everyone as in depth as they were on screen.  100/100

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance by: Moris Farhi adapted by: Nigel Robinson directed by: John Ainsworth: Yellow Turns to the Blue of Sorrow

The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance is performed by William Russell as Ian Chesterton and the Doctor and Carole Ann Ford as Susan Foreman and Barbara Wright with Helen Goldwyn as Melody and Harmony and John Dorney as Rhythm.  It was written by Moris Farhi, adapted by Nigel Robinson, directed by John Ainsworth and released in November 2010 by Big Finish Productions in The Lost Stories: The First Doctor Box Set.


The First Doctor Box Set was always going to be four discs long and Farewell, Great Macedon was always going to take up three of the discs.  The second story used in the Box Set is The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance a forty minute example script written by Moris Farhi just to show David Whitaker what he could do as a writer and was at the odd length of for a forty minute slot.  It’s a rather self-contained story which details a truly alien society where instead of having a three part life cycle, they only have two.  The first portion of their lives are their childhood which ends when they fall in love and live the rest of their lives.  This is only if the love is reciprocated and if it isn’t the person who offered the love will go into a boat and sail off into the sun.  Yes this is a weird little story that has one purpose and that is to show off the society of Fragrance and how as a society the planet is a utopia.  It opens in media res with the Doctor and company being on Fragrance for several weeks where Rhythm falls in love with Barbara.  Of course his sisters, Melody and Harmony, played by Helen Goldwyn who are also in a relationship of sorts.  The plot is honestly the weakest aspect of this story as it is simply exposition about the world of Fragrance followed by the Doctor, Ian, Susan and Barbara escaping and the story’s over.


Nigel Robinson had to do very little work to adapt the story from the original script as the plot is character driven.  It’s about Barbara and Rhythm working off each other and the tragedy of the people of Fragrance.  The performances from William Russell and Carole Ann Ford are of course as good as they were in Farewell, Great Macedon and the direction from John Ainsworth this time around and again the music and sound design really works well for the story.  Helen Goldwyn is great at making her characters sound different and she makes the heavy exposition of the story much more enjoyable.


To summarize, The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance is really a story about what an alien utopia could be like and what happens if aliens to that society enter to make things be messed up.  The acting is fine and the direction is great just like it was for Farewell, Great Macedon in a story that really doesn’t have too much meat to it.  It’s a story that I quite like for the vivid world building on the alien society and has some really good characters but not much more.  70/100

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Crusade by: David Whitaker directed by: Douglas Camfield: The Only Pleasure Left for You is Death

The Crusade stars William Hartnell as the Doctor, William Russell as Ian Chesterton, Jacqueline Hill as Barbara Wright and Maureen O’Brien as Vicki with Julian Glover as Richard the Lionheart, Jean Marsh as Joanna, Walter Randall as El Akir and Bernard Kay as Saladin.  It was written by David Whitaker and directed by Douglas Camfield with Dennis Spooner as Script Editor and Verity Lambert as Producer.  It was originally broadcast on Saturdays from 27 March to 17 April 1965 on BBC1.


The Crusade is a story that was the second story to gain any real buzz with audiences before broadcast as it was one of the first stories to have an all-star guest cast.  This is in reference to theater actors Julian Glover and Jean Marsh participating as Richard the Lionheart and Joanna respectively which is a reason to give buzz.  Other than that the plot by David Whitaker is about the Doctor and company landing near Jaffa during the Third Crusade where King Richard the Lionheart is attempting to take the Holy Land back from Islamic Sultan Saladin.  This story makes a slight deviation from the historical of the Doctor being there just to observe as seen in Marco Polo, The Aztecs and The Reign of Terror, there is stakes in the action.  Barbara is captured by Saladin early on in this story so the plot is Ian trying to get her back so they can leave, getting knighted as Sir Ian of Jaffa in the process.  This is the main plot behind the story whereas the Doctor and Vicki are actually relegated to a comedy B plot for a little bit before the Doctor contributes to the main plot by being confidant for Joanna and just getting involved in the politics.  David Whitaker’s script is very fast paced, which is really helped by the direction by the brilliant Douglas Camfield in his first full story as director.  The writing especially feels like a six part story that Whitaker whittled down to a four part story which works for the better as there isn’t filler to get bogged down with.  There is only a little weakness in episode four, “The Warlords” as it sort of runs out of steam without anything really being accomplished


Camfield is also just a good director here as he knows exactly when to cut to a different angle to keep the direction rather fast paced.  This is apparent in the first episode, “The Lion”, which opens with a lengthy action sequence which is done in one take with multiple cameras.  It starts with an introduction to Richard’s forces before the fighting starts between the two factions that then moves to the side quickly so we can get the TARDIS landed and the title and author cards shown and then back to the fighting.  Next the travelers come out, Barbara is captured in the chaos while Ian and the Doctor both pick up swords and fight before the Arabs fled.  It’s a scene that lasts for about five minutes of the episode and it really goes by quickly.  It’s a shame that episodes two and four, “The Knight of Jaffa” and “The Warlords” respectively, are missing as they would have looked great especially the cliffhanger to “The Knight of Jaffa” which sees Barbara fleeing in terror from El Akir, a Saracen who stole her away from Saladin in a sequence which is extremely tense even in the reconstructed format.


The performances from the main cast are also all great.  William Russell is the real highlight of the story as although he had a week off for “The Wheel of Fortune”, he still had to come in to film a sequence to be inserted explaining that Ian was captured.  Ian really is still the main character of these early portions of Doctor Who and it really shows.  He puts in the most extra work to keep the show running smoothly.  He also just gets a lot of interesting things to do in this story as it is about him rescuing Barbara.  Jacqueline Hill as Barbara gets some really interesting scenes with Saladin, played by Bernard Kay, which shows that as a leader while he is a calculating villain, he is still reasonable and is the one being provoked by Richard the Lionheart.  Barbara also has to go through hell in this story as she is captured twice, escapes with guards following her with orders to kill her before being captured again and forced into a harem.  If this wasn’t a show for family audiences, well let’s just say she would have been executed under Sharia Law for adultery.  Hill really pulls it off and shows how strong Barbara is as a character as while she is suffering she will still keep everything together as she understands the dangers of travelling with the Doctor.


Speaking of the Doctor, William Hartnell and Maureen O’Brien are the two actors who really steal the show.  Be it from stealing clothes from a comedy shopkeeper who pops up or just getting into mischief the Doctor and Vicki are suited to each other as they act like two little children working together for every part of the story.  The Doctor even makes Vicki cross dress for this story and while he says he has a reason the way Hartnell acts it’s almost like he’s playing a joke on her.  They’re relationship is much more on the same level instead of the Doctor and Susan as they aren’t related this time around.  The supporting cast is all great.  Julian Glover is the rather petulant Richard the Lionheart who is honestly just a big child who wants to prove that he’s the best king.  His sister Joanna is played by Jean Marsh and because it’s Jean Marsh so it’s really great to see her freak out and practically work behind the scenes to keep her brother in check.  El Akir is the villain and he plays it really straight and is the true predator of a man looking for more power.


To summarize, The Crusade is probably the second best of the pure historical stories for Doctor Who as everything really works except for the fact that the plot seems to run out of steam in the last fourth and ends without anything really being accomplished.  87/100

Doctor Who and the Zarbi by: Bill Strutton: Doctor Who On the Web Planet

Doctor Who and the Zarbi is written by Bill Strutton based on his own story, The Web Planet.  It was the 2nd story to be novelized by Target Books.


The Web Planet today is regarded as one of the worst Doctor Who stories in existence and often cited as the worst William Hartnell story.  I happen to disagree with this as I give it a slightly above average 55/100 which is slightly more than the very first Doctor Who story An Unearthly Child.  It is by no means perfect, but fans today often forget just how popular this serial actually was.  It’s viewing figures at times were higher than The Day of the Doctor with critical praise from its audience, so is it really a surprise that it was decided to do three novelizations this was the second written?  Bill Strutton adapted his own work into Doctor Who and the Zarbi doing a straight novelization job, going so far as to splitting the chapters up into six chapters that are the names of the episodes of the serial.  This sadly is a large problem as the novel is a lot longer than many of the other novelizations and the long chapters make it a little bit more difficult to get through.  It’s also a bit jarring as Strutton’s story is one of few novels to refer to the Doctor as Doctor Who and refer to the TARDIS as Tardis like the Peter Cushing films.  It is really difficult to take it seriously as that’s how it works in this novel.  Strutton’s writing style however is especially engaging as unlike the television story where the Menoptera were males and females, gender is unknown in the novelization which makes the alien setting feel much more alien.  He however does make it feel like a product of the time as he didn’t have Dennis Spooner and Verity Lambert to tell him not to treat Barbara like a traditional 1960s woman.  Yes she still is very much responsible for saving the day.  Strutton also does a lot as to not write the Animus by name, but only referring to it as the Voice.  This makes it feel much more Lovecraftian in nature much like it would be revealed to be in the Virgin New Adventures.  The novel also has a lot of illustrations showing just how Strutton really imagined the sets which are really nice to look at and beautifully drawn.  It still is a little bit of a drawn out novel as the story really wasn’t suited to the six episode format, which is what really plagued the television story from the offset.


To summarize, Doctor Who and the Zarbi is a novel that really shows just how good the television story could have been.  It shows that it isn’t a story that deserves to be loathed by fandom for what is honestly just a lot of bad execution and some awful directing choices.  Yes the pacing is still really off for a story and some of the unrestrained Strutton doesn’t really work here as Barbara is really out of character for the novel.  70/100

Farewell, Great Macedon by: Moris Fahri adapted by: Nigel Robinson directed by: Lisa Bowerman: Nearly Four Hours of Political Intrigue and the King of the World

Farewell, Great Macedon is performed by Willam Russell as Ian Chesterton and the Doctor and Carole Ann Ford as Susan Foreman and Barbara Wright with John Dorney as Alexander the Great.  It was written by Moris Farhi, adapted by Nigel Robinson, directed by Lisa Bowerman and released in November 2010 by Big Finish Productions in The Lost Stories: The First Doctor Box Set.


Season 23 was always going to be the original idea for the Lost Stories and it was originally just meant to be the one season before preorders were off the scales so Big Finish commissioned a second season for the Lost Stories.  The question became what exactly to adapt and early on they got Sylvester McCoy to come in to record the missing Season 27, but the problem there is that it’s only four stories to adapt to actually do that season and Big Finish really didn’t know what they could do to make the length match the first season.  So in their wisdom looked to other eras of the show to have stories to adapt and came up with three box sets, two released before the Season 27 releases and one released after as a special treat as a hint of things to come.  The first two box sets were adaptations of stories from the eras of the first two Doctors starting of course with two stories that were in consideration for the very first season before being dropped.  The first story is Farewell, Great Macedon a six part pure historical adventure surrounding the final days of Alexander the Great.  There are two reasons this story was rejected, first the sets would have been impossible to create without going over the allotted budget especially if it was put in the airing position of The Reign of Terror as it would most likely have been and second the cast is extremely large especially with a story made in the 1960s which could usually have a cast of about fifteen to twenty.  If it was made it would have been interesting to see just how they realized the sets and characters.


The story is really the ideal historical adventure as it does the initial intention of having the Doctor and companions not interfering, but observing and does this very well.  Really the Doctor and company really don’t do much.  Yes Ian has a fight in the arena and the Doctor gets a brilliant scene where he walks over burning coals while Barbara goes doughy eyed over Alexander the Great, but other than that there isn’t much there.  This presents the problem that Farhi has to make the history that is being told be an interesting history which is really where An Unearthly Child fails as a story.  Fahri does this brilliantly as he builds suspense as we know that Alexander’s generals are planning their leader’s death and falsifying a successor which as Barbara knows is why the empire falls apart.  Nigel Robinson is responsible for adapting the story into the audio medium and does a fantastic job at doing it.  Fahri’s original script is very much relying on the visuals of the sets as parts one and five, “The Hanging Gardens of Babylon” and “In the Arena” respectively, are reliant on the beauty of the gardens, the spectacle of the arena and the fights.  The rest of the story can easily be done on audio, but those two episodes in particular were Robinson’s hardest work and he did an extremely good job.  Robinson’s adaptation of the story however does have one flaw in that Robinson’s added narration increases the original length of the story from two and a half hours to nearly four hours long.  It is a beautiful story and the added narration is brilliantly done, but it still drags just a little in the middle.


The main players in this story are William Russell and Carole Ann Ford playing all the different characters as this story is done in the style of the Companion Chronicles.  Russell and Ford really are good actors here and they each come with slightly different voices for each of the characters by giving a slightly different inflection.  They both have to imitate the sadly departed Jacqueline Hill and William Hartnell and they both do great at getting those characters right.  Ford’s Barbara is a voice that isn’t so much an imitation of the actual voice of Jacqueline Hill, but more of the inflection and mannerisms of Barbara Wright.  It really works well for Ford as Ford’s voice is a very distinct voice.  Russell is on the other end of the spectrum with his impression of William Hartnell as the Doctor sounds very close to what Hartnell sounded like on television. There are moments where you forget that it is Russell doing the voice.  John Dorney who would later pen some of the best Big Finish stories actually debuts as an actor here playing Alexander the Great which is a really good performance.  Dorney plays the king with a wide range of emotions especially in episodes two, four and six, “O Son, My Son”, “The World Lies Dead at Your Feet” and “Farewell, Great Macedon” respectively.  “Farewell, Great Macedon” is especially good as it is where Dorney has to act out the death of Alexander the Great as he is poisoned and has to die.


The story was directed by Lisa Bowerman who is great at directing the actors and I partially put the success of her ability to get performances out of William Russell and Carole Ann Ford, especially Russell who was in his late eighties when this was recorded.  It isn’t an easy feat and she also has to make this story feel like it is from the 1960s which is a hard feat.  Toby Hrycek-Robinson, maker of the Big Finish lunches, was responsible for the sound design and music for this story and was great at getting the sort of empty feel of the era down really well.  It works as let’s be honest the 1960s stories rarely relied on music and Toby was great at getting it done quickly.


To summarize, Farewell, Great Macedon is a great opener for the second season of The Lost Stories with the ability to transport you back to those black and white days of Doctor Who.  It’s a story that really works with just about everything.  It’s got the only flaw is that it is nearly four hours long which really drags down the story with a lot of narration which I just cannot forgive and is the only reason I can’t give it 100/100 so it gets 95/100.

Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth by: Terrance Dicks: Return of the Daleks

Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth is written by Terrance Dicks based on The Dalek Invasion of Earth by: Terry Nation.  It was the 30th story to be novelized by Target Books.


Other than its rather striking cover art showing a Roboman which seems to be inspired by Nazi imagery and the screw up on the Dalek’s plunger and gun stick, Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth is a boring affair.  The only important factor of note is that it was one of very few Hartnell stories to be novelized before the 1980s when episodes were being sent back to the BBC.  The only other two outside of the original three 1960s novels were The Tenth Planet and The Keys of Marinus so the smattering of William Hartnell stories were very slim.  Terrance Dicks was in a pickle as he only had Terry Nation’s notes and memories of the episode to go on when writing this book but that really didn’t matter as just about everything from the story makes it in.  The plot stays the same, but here the supporting characters are able to be told apart from one another because their names are given with so and so said followed by a line of dialogue.  One criticism however is that the speech the Doctor gives to Susan is changed and while Dicks does his best to have a good speech written in, it isn’t nearly as good as the speech Hartnell gave on television.


To summarize, Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth is the equivalent of its television counterpart down to the tee.  There isn’t enough changed to really account for any more detail on what the story has to do.  85/100