Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Happy Endings by: Paul Cornell: I Now Pronounce You Husband and Wife...

“Somewhere else the tea is getting cold.  Come on Ace, we’ve got work to do” is the final line from Survival.  Doctor Who then left the screen until a brief respite in 1996 and a continuation in 2005.  It stayed alive through this era of no content with books showing just what work had to be done with the Doctor.  Yet the license for the books was running out in 1996 for Virgin Books and the people in charge of the range thought the incoming Eighth Doctor would make them end the stories for the Seventh Doctor after fifty books.  They commissioned Paul Cornell to prepare for the change by writing Happy Endings, which may have been the final book they published.  Of course they were able to extend the license to produce Doctor Who novels for another year which allowed them focus to keep the range towards a conclusion, but Happy Endings went ahead.  It was a celebration for the range as the fiftieth book published which is a good achievement to celebrate and of course to say goodbye to longtime companion Bernice Summerfield.

 

Yes this novel is the exit of the professor of archeology as we see her married off to Jason Kane after the events of Death and Diplomacy.  In typical Virgin fashion Happy Endings exclusively focuses on the wedding of Benny and Jason and all the mishaps, guests and cameos brought with it.  This novel features or at least mentions one character from each novel in some way.  I’m not going to bore everyone with listing everyone off, because there are nearly fifty characters to remember, but I will mention at least the important ones.  You would think that there would be difficulty to remember every character, but really that isn’t a problem in this novel as every character at least gets something done really well.  I will be spoiling some of the best bits of the novel as Cornell writes a comedy of errors so do not read on until you have read the novel or if you don’t care about having somethings spoiled for you.

 

Let’s start with Reverend Annie Trelaw, neice of Reverend Ernst Trelaw from Timewyrm: Revelation.  Annie of course accepts the Doctor at face value and has the honor of marrying the happy couple.  Saul the sentient church also makes a brief appearance to add a few quips into the mix of chaos in the story.  Peter and Emily Hutchings also make a return as the story is primarily set in Cheldon Bonniface and of course does the Timewyrm, Ishtar Hutchings.  Ishtar gets the most character development as she develops a relationship with Chris Cwej over the course of the novel and they have a child together.  Ishtar is a great character as instead of the domineering Timewrym, she’s much closer to a mischievous little pixie.  She and Chris really do fit well together in the relationship, even if they leave each other at the end of the novel.  She still has his child who in turn gives birth to the eternal Time.  Basically the way the Seventh Doctor acts in his incarnation is all Chris’s fault.  Ishtar is still a great character and Chris is just as wide eyed and innocent as always as Cornell is the first to point out.  The way Chris acts you just want to have him around for the laughs it would cause.

 

The Ice Warriors from Legacy are brought in as peace mediators for the wedding which is a fault for this novel as really they only get to partake in a bar fight which is a great scene.  The bar brawl and pub quiz section of the novel shines as a genuinely good moment because of all the culture clashing as wordplay becomes misunderstanding and misunderstanding becomes violence.  Cornell also brings in two Silurians/Earth Reptiles to represent Blood Heat and Plasticine from No Future to serve as the music for the wedding. The Silurians are of course part of a chase reminiscent to the cliffhanger to Episode Four of Doctor Who and the Silurians and are of course in a relationship.  They bring that style of comedy to the novel while Plasticine allow us to reminisce on Benny’s past relationships in some beautifully done nostalgia tripping.  Then the Doctor brings in Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson who go on their own little mystery to solve in some hilarious running gags.  Holmes and Watson are two of many show stoppers and give Roz something to do in the novel which is great for all three of them.  Add in some sexual tension between Benny and Watson and you have a recipe for comedy genius.

 

Now it’s time for us to get to the happy couple, Jason and Benny who tie the knot after over two hundred pages of arguing like an old married couple.  Yeah they’re pretty much meant for each other and of course the antics that they get up to in this novel are hilarious.  There is slapping, sleeping around, clones, the Master, and of course a marriage to be had.  The crazy is upped in every scene and Benny really earns her middle name of Surprise as everything tries to go wrong as there are Pakhars there to have a lot of problems and a cricket match that lasts fifty pages.  The amount of humor with the two characters as they have to learn to live with each other is just hilarious and you believe by the end of the novel that they will live a happy, if dysfunctional, life together travelling through time with the Time Rings they were given.  The Doctor actually gets to be the one to give Benny away as her father is still missing somewhere out there.  The Doctor has to plan the wedding and the man is trying his best to master manipulate things into place, but of course none of it works.  He has great ideas that really allow the characters to explore their dynamics with each other for a lot of what amounts to a great novel.

 

To summarize, everything will come to an end eventually and Happy Endings starts preparing for that inevitable goodbye from the Virgin line.  Benny gets her happily ever after with Jason and the Doctor is allowed to go on with Chris and Roz.  The cameos come fast and you can play a great game of spot the reference.  This review only mentioned less than half of the brilliant characters which include, the Brigadier, Doris, Benton, Yates, the Master of the Land of Fiction, Keri, Kitai, Hamlet Macbeth, Ruby Duvall, Muddwych from Birthright, and of course many more.  It isn’t perfect as a lot of the story doesn’t have a plot but still it’s a happy ending.  90/100

Power Play by: Gary Hopkins directed by: Ken Bently: The World Will Go Up in a Fiery Blaze of Fallout

Power Play stars Colin Baker as the Doctor and Nicola Bryant as Peri with Miles Jupp as Dominic, David Warwick as Dysart and Deborah Watling as Victoria Waterfield.  It was written and adapted by Gary Hopkins, directed by Ken Bentley and released in June 2012 by Big Finish Productions.

 

This one is a wasted potential.  A story for Doctor Who revolving around the dangers of nuclear power, brought into the audience’s minds by the Chernobyl meltdown, isn’t a bad idea.  It could have been the 1980s equivalent of The Green Death as coal power was replaced with nuclear power.  It should be a social commentary on the dangers of nuclear power, but Hopkins falls into the trap of hiding his message too far into the background to allow any sort of effective conveyance.  The closest thing we get to a message is that nuclear waste needs to be disposed of properly, but that really isn’t a problem in the world today and really wasn’t that big of a problem to begin with.  It wasn’t controversial or would have made people lose their jobs so why do it?  The plot really tries to follow the style of The Green Death with a group of protestors doing what they do to a nuclear power plant where there is a conspiracy by aliens to dispose of the waste in the Cambrian Period.

 

The villain, Domonic played by Miles Jupp, has a plan that doesn’t make any sense in the grand scheme of things as the power plant is really a spaceship that can travel through time.  I guess it’s an interesting idea for a story, but doesn’t really have a lot of things to keep the listener interested in the plot at large.  Jupp also isn’t the best as Domonic as he plays the role as a flat villain.  The little inflection used in the performance really makes the villain feel little under a bombastic Colin Baker performance, where Jupp should be trying to outdo Baker to allow us something of note to keep the character fresh in our mind.  The same can be said for the protestors bar one of course, as they blend right into the background for most of the story without any interest in their plight or their characters.  There is a nice pun for Marion Tudor, even if it is extremely cheesy and predictable, but the impact makes them feel almost like non-humans.

 

The story really shines when it is a scene with Victoria Waterfield.  An aged Deborah Watling is reprising her role as the ex-companion in this story as what might be a companion to Jamie’s return in The Two Doctors.  Her performance however is only really heightened if you realize Victoria has already gone through the events of Downtime, so is trying to reform.  As a story is makes a good loose trilogy with Fury from the Deep and Downtime as a way to get Victoria’s character up to snuff after her departure.  A downside is that she has too few scenes with Colin Baker as the Doctor and many of them are spent trying to kill him.  It would have been nice if Victoria worked out that the strange man in the clown coat is the Doctor she knew, but we never really get that in any way.  Nicola Bryant as Peri is also in a bad way as the character has nothing to do as the focus is on Victoria.

 

To summarize, Power Play just doesn’t know what it wants to be.  When it’s trying to continue the story of Victoria Waterfield it does a really good job at getting everything across well.  It however focuses more on a power plant plot that could have had a lot of tension if the characters were in any real way interesting.  50/100 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Guardians of Prophecy by: Johnny Byrne adapted by: Jonathan Morris directed by: Ken Bentley: Melkur - A Fly Trapped in Honey

The Guardians of Prophecy stars Colin Baker as the Doctor and Nicola Bryant as Peri with Graham Cole as Ebbko and the Melkur, Stephen Thorne as Malador and Simon Williams as the Guardian.  It was written by Johnny Byrne, adapted by Jonathan Morris, directed by Ken Bentley and released in May 2012 by Big Finish Productions.

 

Doing a second trilogy of Sixth Doctor audios is an interesting idea for the reason that many four part stories were suggested for Season 23 when it was announced to be the Trial of a Time Lord arc.  Doing just a trilogy is also something really good for Big Finish to do because it’s a format that really works for them as a mini season.  This trilogy of Sixth Doctor audios starts off very well with The Guardians of Prophecy.  The Guardians of Prophecy is a story taken from a seventeen page story outline by Johnny Byrne for a sequel to The Keeper of Traken set after the fact on the last planet from the Traken Union in the far future.  Johnny Byrne wrote an outline with great ideas as the story sees the Doctor and Peri land on Serenity where a thief and a scholar are resurrecting Malador, the creator of the Melkur and the most evil being in the universe.  Byrne has a script with good ideas such as a labyrinth of death which brings some great imagery, but it is Morris who has to expand most if not all of the original ideas into a full script to be performed.  Morris does an excellent job of doing this for the audio adaptation as it is a story that wizzes by from one set piece to the next with a coherent plot with these great characters and rising tensions for the Doctor and Peri to work off against.

 

Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant feel very much like they are coming well off Season 22 and have adjusted to each other perfectly.  The Doctor is of course going for a lot of the light humor as he realizes that he is completely safe on the planet as Serenity cannot hold evil even though it is still politically corrupt.  His interactions with Prophecy, the computer equivalent of the Source are also great as like any computer, it can easily be confused and be on the Doctor’s side throughout the story.  It however makes a real tension as the computer is flip flopping on its positions about the Doctor which worked.  Nicola Bryant as Peri however isn’t perfect here as really she is supposed to be the standard companion role.  Bryant does not give a bad performance in any sense of the word, but she doesn’t have too much to do.  Peri is captured and kept off to the side for the first half of the story which is honestly alright as there isn’t a need, but the back half fails at doing anything interesting with the character to justify her inclusion in the story.  It’s a trap Byrne falls into often especially in his television stories.

 

Graham Cole plays the thief Ebbko and voices the Melkur in this story.  It’s interesting that Cole was brought in as in the classic series of Doctor Who, he played villains who would stand in the background and get a very small credit.  He did play the Melkur in The Keeper of Traken, but there was no voice used for that character in the story and why should there be.  It was secretly the Master’s TARDIS, but this story gives them a very gravelly voice like the stone they are created from.  It’s a performance that works very well as it emulates their master, Malador.  Ebbko who is also played by Graham Cole and is a real chance for Cole to stretch his comedy muscles as he is an honorable thief.  Ebbko is basically a companion for the Doctor, who admires his work, which is really quite good for everything in the story.  I really do like Cole as an actor and looking back on his performances in the actual show he was heavily underused in the stories he featured in.

 

Stephen Thorne famous for playing Azal, Omega, and Eldrad, plays Malador here as the booming voiced villain.  I think the best justification for my thoughts on his performance is that it is Stephen Thorne so of course it is a good performance and depth is actually brought to the character.  Finally, Prophecy played by Victoria Pritchard which as I said earlier is a computer that is basically the Keeper from The Keeper of Traken mixed with the Source and female. Pritchard gives the computer this airy quality in her voice which adds to an already good performance for everything to really work well in the story.

 

To summarize, The Guardians of Prophecy is much better than The Keeper of Traken with the biggest flaw in the story actually being the underutilization of Peri as companion and using Ebbko in the same role as companion.  Morris is great at creating a good story from Byrne’s original outline in just about everything.  93/100

Who Killed Kennedy? by: David Bishop: The Made Me Care for Dodo!

Virgin Publishing had two Doctor Who novel ranges going in 1996 when it was apparent Sylvester McCoy was leaving as the Doctor.  This made the higher ups think that they could start a third range of Doctor Who novels that would be semi-regular as the license should be extended to accommodate the influx of fans brought by Paul McGann.  This speculation however was wrong when BBC Books decided that in 1997 they would be taking back the license for themselves and the third range never materialized past David Bishop’s inaugural book, Who Killed Kennedy?

 

Who Killed Kennedy? Posits an interesting approach for a Doctor Who novel as it doesn’t recount a particular adventure with the Doctor, but focuses on investigative journalist James Stevens.  James Stevens is a journalist who from 1969 to 1971 investigated a series of terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom where conspiracy theorists are convinced that these attacks were caused by aliens.  The novel is a collection of documents taken from Stevens’s own account of events as he attempts to uncover what he thinks are horrors at UNIT.  These documents are intertwined with secondary sources documenting appearances of a group of men collectively known as the Doctor as well as letters found from a UNIT Private posted to the soldier’s mother, with certain words and phrases censored under the Official Secrets Act.  The idea behind the novel gets you interested from the word go as it begins by recounting events from Season Seven and Season Eight in the style of the film, All the President’s Men.  Stevens even has his own Deep Throat as informant to what UNIT are up to and where to go to find how everything sort of fits together.  The novel is divided into three parts and the first part as well as the first half of the second part are dedicated to the recounting of television stories with the few dossiers and an interview with Isobel Watkins from The Invasion.  What carries this section of the novel is the many little references to the stories of the era and just how obsessed Stevens becomes in these sections.

 

The Claws of Axos is the final story to be recounted in that style as Stevens is made aware of C19 and the Glasshouse.  C19 is a government organization and the Glasshouse is some sort of hospital.  While UNIT seems to be doing things under the table, Stevens finds that the Glasshouse is guilty of worse crimes as he falls in love with Dodo Chaplet.  It turns out that after The War Machines, Dodo was captured by the Glasshouse and has become emotionally broken, much how Stevens is after the loss of his wife.  They are troubled souls who find happiness in each other.  Bishop then proceeds to reveal that like the rest of Season Eight it is the Master behind everything.  Your heart again is ripped out of your chest as Stevens loses any credibility after trying to expose the Glasshouse with UNIT Private Cleary, which allows Cleary to sneak off under hypnosis and shoot Dodo dead.  Yes this novel features the end of Dodo which is just a tear jerking moment in the novel as David Bishop has made you feel very sorry for the companion with very little effort put in.  The Master as seen in this novel is also portrayed brilliantly as the Roger Delgado incarnation who doesn’t care who dies as long as he can rule the world.  His actions are horrible and the conspiracy that he is at the Glasshouse, under the noses of UNIT is a terrifying concept to realize that he was there all along.  He also happens to the Stevens’s informant which helps the transition into the third act of the novel.

 

Stop reading here because there are massive spoilers to the highly emotional conclusion of the novel.  You have been warned.  The third act of the novel actually is the portion that deals with the Master trying to stop Kennedy’s assassination with the added bonus of forcing Stevens to be the one who actually kills him if he wants history to go back on course.  This action feels very much like something the Master would do, forcing someone to do something completely awful, something that would haunt them for the rest of their life, but without care for what happens.  This part of the novel isn’t completely downtrodden as Stevens finally gets a triumph when he is able to speak with the people at UNIT and the Doctor.  It is a series of sequences that shows in a moment how much the Brigadier and the rest of UNIT actually care for the civilians. The Doctor is also highly sympathetic as to Stevens’s plight as he has lost everything.  The big flaw is however that Jo doesn’t appear.

 

To summarize, Who Killed Kennedy? Embodies an experimental feel for writing a novel that would have been a very good range in its own right.  Bishop writes a brilliantly paced story in a solid three act film like structure that lends itself well for just about everything in the novel.  He makes you feel sympathetic for Dodo and have your heartstrings ripped out of your chest at her death halfway through the novel.  The only problem is that between the first and second acts is a great sense of tonal whiplash that brings the score down a little bit.  90/100

 

The Children of Seth by: Christopher Bailey adapted by: Marc Platt directed by Ken Bentley: It's All in the Binary

The Children of Seth stars Peter Davison as the Doctor, Janet Fielding as Tegan Jovanka and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa with Honor Blackman as Anahita, Adrian Lukas as Byzan and David Warner as Siris.  It was written by Christopher Bailey, adapted by Marc Platt, directed by Ken Bentley and released in December 2011 by Big Finish Productions.

 

Christopher Bailey is a writer who has two televised stories that are characterized by deeper metaphors for topics that influenced him as a writer.  He created the Mara which is a metaphor for the fears of humanity and exactly how we can let it consume us, but his third story is The Children of Seth doesn’t feature the Mara.  In fact it is all a metaphor this time for a lot of the fa├žades that we put on for society and how technology is being in control of our lives in every way.  The story sees the Doctor receive a message from someone who he had a previous relationship with because Nyssa used some technology to get the message, they arrive at a planet where there is a war being fought against the evil Seth.  There are terrors on Level 14 where people never return and androids for some reason are outlawed, except for the few hidden in guarding the queen.  The story is very much a story of a puppet king being manipulated by his court, a queen trying to save him, and an evil entity all created in the minds of the people.  Yes, the villain is just there because the fact is that it’s all an idea put into people’s heads by a fear so the government can get rid of people for things they don’t like.  Marc Platt does a brilliant job at adapting what was a detailed outline into a really chilling story.  It is one where paranoia runs very high and you know something is going to go wrong rather quickly and it is only going to get much worse with time.

 

The characterization of the Doctor is great as Peter Davison is enjoying being sucked into the action of the story where he takes on the role of Seth near the end.  Davison also shows that the Doctor has had a past flame of sorts in Anahita which is a very interesting dynamic.  Of course there is the really good idea as Davison is young while Anahita is very old and played by the brilliant Honor Blackman.  Anahita is also interesting in her own right as she is the crafty mistress of poisons for the planet and exiled queen which is honestly great for her story arc as you see the cogs turning in the character’s brain with the music of the story and Blackman’s good performance.  David Warner features in this story as Siris who is the oblivious king and let’s be honest it’s David Warner who just shines through in the script.  Vernon Dobtcheff also features as Shamur who also is glorious in that he gets to operate bits of the TARDIS really for no other reason.

 

Janet Fielding as Tegan once again is great in this story as she is the audience surrogate for the story.  Tegan is the one asking questions, but also is trying to figure everything out.  When of course the Doctor and Nyssa both lose their minds to Level 14 with the Doctor babbling in binary of all things and Nyssa is convinced that she is the Doctor, it is Tegan who has to be the one to figure things out.  Fielding is a great actress and after all these years gets the character down to a tee for the entire story.  Sarah Sutton however is the one who’s got the short end of the stick for this story.  The beginning of the story has Nyssa partaking in a large exposition dump as there is a lot of information to get out about how we get the story going.  Platt is a brilliant writer, but he isn’t able to get the exposition out in a compelling way.  Hearing Nyssa act like the Doctor is also very off because it is again another way that Nyssa is hypnotized or written out because why not.

 

To summarize, The Children of Seth is of the three Christopher Bailey stories, the absolute best of the stories.  It isn’t perfect: the pacing is something that does not lend well to easy listening, the cover art is off as to the descriptions given in the story, and Nyssa is also underused in the story; but as a story it has the most depth and once you get around to what exactly Bailey was intending with this story, it’s something good.  The acting is really good in almost every way and the adaptation is by Marc Platt, so who can complain? 95/100

The Eye of the Giant by: Christopher Bulis: Giant Crabs that Have Nothing to Do with the Macra

The Third Doctor has had two novels devoted to him, the first being The Ghosts of N-Space which was awful and the second was the brilliant Dancing the Code.  It’s interesting to see the third Virgin Missing Adventure of the third Doctor make a welcome return to Season 7 to continue the exile on Earth and get back to working with Liz Shaw as the companion in an adventure set in the genre of hard science fiction.  The Eye of the Giant sees the Doctor, Liz and Sergeant Mike Yates sent through a time corridor to an island where thirty years previous, a yacht carrying a film crew disappeared from time and there are giant creatures roaming around because of an alien crash.  Christopher Bulis’ fourth novel has the tone of a story from Season Seven down to a tee with the UNIT family coming together, Liz Shaw while being captured by the aliens once in the novel is just as proactive as the Doctor and the experiments on the TARDIS are partially the cause of the problem.  It’s extremely interesting to read the novel as even the biggest flaw of the ending, which let’s be honest goes on way too much of a tangent making Nancy Grover a demigod and having her rule the world through mist because Bulis is trying to have a message about vanity or something, isn’t all that bad.  It still is an ending that is especially easy to read and I finished it in a day.

 

Bulis is great at captioning the transition in between the relationship of the Doctor and the Brigadier after Inferno and before Terror of the Autons.  The Brigadier has had his eyes opened even more since Inferno which served as a real catharsis for the character as he and the Doctor finally buried the hatchet after the rather rocky start as seen in Season Seven.  The two characters really reach an understanding as the Doctor is given full command of the expedition through the temporal anomaly with the Brigadier holding down the fort at UNIT until the focus is brought back onto the Earth for the lackluster finale.  The novel also introduces the character of Mike Yates who at the time the novel is set is still a Sergeant with Sergeant Benton.  The cover prominently features Yates acting as if he will be a main character, but really his role could have been accommodated with Benton in the role as he is more of a gentleman while Yates is really nothing like that.  Sure he’s a nice guy in the series, but the gentleman of UNIT is Sergeant Benton.  Bulis did however give a little backstory as to how Yates took the news that aliens exist which is a very interesting idea as how do you get people to come around to aliens when their mind is hardwired to military way of running things which is at odds with the bizarre nature of aliens.  Osgood from The Daemons also makes an appearance here where he somehow has even less characterization than in that original story.

 

The crew of the film featured in this novel is almost a snapshot into the society of the 1930s film industry.  They’re all working off a very loose script and getting shots that will tie in with the finished product, not really caring if it will make sense.  Their only care is that it will look good in the end when it gets to the theaters and that their secret island isn’t discovered until they are finished with it.  Nancy Grover, who becomes the main villain of the story by the end, is the typical diva and prima donna as it is going to be her way or the highway.  Liz Shaw is also really good in the novel as she is portrayed straight out of Season Seven.  I can just imagine Caroline John being in the part as she is extremely snarky to Jon Pertwee’s egotistical Doctor.  It leaps right off the page and something great really happens as you realize just how good their relationship was on television and what we were really missing when Caroline John sadly left the series after only one season.

 

To summarize, The Eye of the Giant is a great novel overall as it deals with a very standard sort of adventure that was from the era of Season Seven.  It has a few glaring flaws in the fact that Yates is prominently featured on the cover, Osgood appears in really a way that doesn’t do anything to add much depth to the character and the last fourth of the novel goes and rips off Inferno with a parallel timeline bleeding through.  Nancy Grover is a great character until the end where she becomes a demigod who just wants attention which is weird.  83/100

Hexagora by: Peter Ling and Hazel Adair adapted by Brian Finch and directed by Ken Bentley: The Doctor Gets Married a Second Time

Hexagora stars Peter Davison as the Doctor, Janet Fielding as Tegan Jovanka and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa with Toby Hadoke as Mike Bretherton and Jacqueline Pierce as Queen Zafira.  It was written by Peter Ling and Hazel Adair, adapted by Brian Finch, directed by Ken Bentley and released in November 2011 by Big Finish Productions.

 

The brilliance of the Big Finish trilogy format is that it allows for mini seasons for the Doctors and have well done story arcs over the course of a couple of releases.  The flaw in the system is that if a part of the trilogy is below average, one third of that trilogy has its quality diminished exponentially.  Hexagora previously known as Hex is a story that is definitely the weakest link in the trilogy of Fifth Doctor Lost Stories.  It is by no means a bad story in any sense of the phrase, but it’s definitely lower in quality than the other stories in the trilogy.  It is written by Peter Ling, famous in Doctor Who for writing The Mind Robber.  Anyone who is expecting something as surreal as The Mind Robber should get rid of those preconceptions as the story is closer to a standard Doctor Who adventure.  Its plot sees the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan on the trail of Mike Bretherton, a friend of Tegan’s who was abducted to the planet Luparis, ruled by Queen Zafira which hides a dark secret.  It is a standard Doctor Who story for the most part which really works in the first half.  There are whispers of creatures called sleepers stalking the streets and for some reason the city looks like Tudor London, down to a tee.  The plot has a few good twists with the Hexagora of the title not being humanoids, but termite aliens who have been driven to the point of extinction.  Now here’s where the spoilers really kick in as well as the confusion happens.  Queen Zafira has been abducting humans to put the Hexagora in, but since the bodies are dying she wants to marry the Doctor and make babies with him to continue her race.  The DNA crossing wouldn’t work even if Gallifreyeans could reproduce sexually.

 

Mike is in a Hexagoran body while a Hexagora is in Mike’s body and both are played by Toby Hadoke along with the regular Mike at the end.  Hadoke is good in the role, but the character really falls flat as he is merely a plot device and someone for Tegan to talk to.  Dan Starkey plays one of Zafira’s husband’s Lord Zellenger who is at least over the top in his performance.  I mean the man gets totally jealous and tries to kill the Doctor because Zafira has fallen in love with the Doctor.  The supporting cast member to really steal the show is Jacqueline Pierce as Queen Zafira in a complete over the top starring role as her motivation while noble leads to hilarity.  I mean she sees the Doctor as intelligent and long lived so her mind automatically jumps to wanting to marry him.  It’s a hilarious idea and Pierce is simply a terrifying actress in the role that you really buy into it.

 

Peter Davison however cannot be said gives a good performance in this story.  He obviously isn’t taking this one seriously and has the Doctor almost act like a drunk throughout the story.  Davison is actually doing the story as a complete pantomime and really I don’t understand why he would.  It is a silly script sure, but there is some dark imagery there to bring the comedic moments down to Earth.  There is some interesting stuff near the end explaining how the hive minded Hexagora have become closer to humans as they believe in individuality now, but really that’s about all there is for this story.  Sarah Sutton as Nyssa and Janet Fielding as Tegan both have better outings in this story.  Nyssa is immediately praised for being royalty which gives a nice exploration of how the destruction of Traken has affected her on the inside and how she really doesn’t feel like she’s royalty.  This is a very good angle to approach the character and one that wasn’t explored that often on television.  Janet Fielding as Tegan also steals the show as well in this one she is treated like a complete peasant which of course royally pisses of the Australian mouth on legs.  Fielding is having a blast working off the other characters in this story as Tegan has to see her friend turned into an insect and demand attention from the royalty which is hilarious.  Tegan actually is the one to wander off and try to figure out the mystery of the planet which has her in the front and center which gives off a really good vibe.

 

To summarize, Hexagora is a definite step down from The Elite in terms of a plot.  The ideas are really bog standard for Doctor Who and there really isn’t a reason for this to have been made for television.  The supporting actors do give really good performance as well as Sarah Sutton and Janet Fielding, but it is the oddly flat performance from Peter Davison as the Doctor that really decreases the quality of the story.  Ling really should have kept with the surreal stories if he wanted to succeed and Brian Finch really brought in an above average adaptation.  60/100

Monday, September 12, 2016

Death and Diplomacy by: Dave Stone: Doctor This is My Fiance, Try Not to Kill Him

It’s been a while since I’ve had a good rant about something I haven’t liked as the bad Doctor Who stuff has been really boring.  Yes The Man in the Velvet Mask had some things that could be yelled at, but the last story I’ve gotten really properly angry at was Nekromanteia. That has changed as we get a novel written by Dave Stone.  This is Stone’s second novel and forms the second part of a trilogy that began in Sky Pirates!  Here we go.  Stone is arrogant in the purest sense of the word.  He wrote Sky Pirates! a thick novel with very little substance and a lot of hit or miss comedy that really doesn’t work well.  I gave that novel a 43/100 which of course defines it as a bad story.  It was by no means the worst story, but Stone starts his next novel Death and Diplomacy with a preface subtly coming right out and saying that the readers of Sky Pirates! are idiots because they didn’t get his deep and complex storyline and you are all meanies guys.  I put Death and Diplomacy down after reading this for a little bit so I could clear my head a bit before letting disdain for the author to infringe on my enjoyment of the novel.  Stone should not have been allowed to have this novel published and it should have been replaced with something else.  You do not insult your readers like that if you are an author and this could easily have been skipped as for the month of April 1996 Virgin Books had Missing Adventure The Eye of the Giant and spin off novel Who Killed Kennedy? And just moved on with Happy Endings instead.

 

Then I got angrier after I read Death and Diplomacy as while it is nowhere near perfect.  I mean the supporting characters are rather boring as the plot is really meant to be character drama for Benny, and the three plots aren’t well integrated with each other, but Stone actually pulls of creating compelling character drama and a good lead in to the fiftieth Virgin New Adventure.  The plot involves the TARDIS splitting the crew up into three groups while in a different galaxy some wars are being fought as part of a mysterious figure’s master plan, Benny meets and develops lustful feelings for space pirate Jason Kane and Chris and Roz get up to something that might be important to the plot.  Yeah when I said that this story was a character study, I wasn’t kidding as a lot of the plot is just about the characters.  The opening scenes of three warring factions meeting in a ballroom is great and so are the scenes with the extradimensional beings are good enough for a lot of the novel, the plot with the Doctor is really boring until he is reunited with Benny.  It is good however so we see a master plan that of course isn’t the Doctor.  We know this because Chris and Roz note that nothing has gone wrong with the plan.  It’s a lovely analysis of the character which really works for the novel.  Speaking of Chris and Roz their plot doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it does make a lot of fun to read as Stone has this fascination with how humanity has evolved by the thirtieth century.  Roz of course has a lot of things going for her in the novel.

 

Benny and Jason are really the two characters who shine in this novel as the story is about how they have fallen almost in love with each other.  Jason was abducted by aliens and for fifteen years has been acting as a space pirate trying to survive.  Imagine his shock when he sees Benny, a human whom he latches on to immediately.  Of course he tries to pull it off that he isn’t in love with her, but she misinterprets a lot of what has been going on in Jason’s mind and actions as love.  The epilogue actually sees them engaged and Happy Endings will concern their wedding.  They’re an interesting match as Benny of course acts very much like Benny always acts and Jason is a pervert pure and simple. The villains are actually evil hamsters so that adds to a lot of the humor in this book.

 

To summarize, Death and Diplomacy is an oddity as second time is the charm for Dave Stone after a failure writing Sky Pirates!  The book has a lot going for it as the plot is extremely weak even if the twist that the villains are evil hamsters and it’s of course nice to see the Doctor not part of a master plan for once, but the book is really nothing to write home about.  It serves its purpose and nothing more.  70/100

Probably Not the One You Were Expecting #8: The English Way of Death by: Gareth Roberts adapted by: John Dorney directed by: Nicholas Briggs

The English Way of Death stars Tom Baker as the Doctor and Lalla Ward as Romana with John Leeson as K9.  It was written by Gareth Roberts, adapted by John Dorney, directed by Nicholas Briggs and released in January 2015 by Big Finish Productions.

 

It is odd writing a novel in a four part story style as books usually have a three act structure, even if the four part serial is the standard for Doctor Who.  This was how the novel The English Way of Death was written which made it incredibly easy to adapt into a four part audio drama which John Dorney took up with relish.  Every scene of the adaptation released by Big Finish in 2015 was lifted straight from the novel with almost all the original book dialogue remaining intact on the transition to audio drama.  Dorney knows just how to write the story from Gareth Roberts’ original prose.  Nicholas Briggs however must share the credit as he was responsible for the direction of the story.  In casting and acting Briggs coaxes performances from the actors that just leap off the page of the original novel.  He also isn’t afraid from putting in images of decaying flesh either, although they aren’t as graphic as the novel, but the acting and direction makes the zombies really pop out.

 

The adaptation makes you appreciate the supporting characters more than in the novel.  If I was to describe the cast in a few words it would have to be delightfully British.  From Colonel Radlett’s very posh old man to Percy Closed and Felicia’s very down tempo performance, the cast just oozes a sense of Britishness that you really cannot find in any other Doctor Who release.  Harriet played by Jane Slavin in particular who gets to overact the part as oh so delightfully British.  The already humorous character in the novel is much funnier in the adaptation as the lines are actually spoken.  Julia Orlistro played by Annabel Mullion actually gets to be more humorous as she puts on a ridiculous accent to fit in with the nature of the story and spar words with Tom Baker and shoot at a strawberry mousse which splatters over him.  Mark Bonnar plays Professor Porteus who gives a great performance in the story as he obsesses over his hat.  Porteus is a nice bit part given some more personality in the adaptation of the novel.  Terrance Hardiman plays Zodaal and Stackhouse and makes the gaseous mist feel scarier than it did in the original prose.  The performance is a raspy voice, but nothing completely goes into over the top character territory as it so easily could have.

 


Tom Baker gives a brilliant performance as the Fourth Doctor.  It doesn’t sound like Baker has aged a day since Logopolis and it really shows as the script requires much vigor.  The Doctor has high energy throughout the story as he is the one going up against Zodaal which Baker can really excel at this time around.  He has the repartee with the rest of the cast, including Lalla Ward who feel like the character relationship seen in City of Death when they were in love and hadn’t a care in the world.  Needless to say Baker is great in the role.  Lalla Ward also returns to a younger Romana which is great for the part and her line delivery is what really sells a lot of the humor.  Ward acts very much like the cynic that Romana is which is great for the comedy as she plays the straight man for the absurdist comedy.  The elephant in the room is that John Leeson is playing K9 while the part was written for David Brierly who sadly passed away before any audio dramas could be printed.  John Leeson steps in as K9 but he is obviously paid attention to David Brierly’s unique performance as the Doctor’s robot dog.  Leeson’s delivery and the modulation is done in a way so that it emulates Brierly’s unique style.  The already pretty cocky and snarky dialogue from K9 is turned up to eleven here with Leeson letting a lot of the lines to drift off and make you follow the voice to transition between the scenes.

 

To summarize, the adaptation of The English Way of Death is a novel that does perfect at adapting the already perfect novel into somehow an even better audio drama.  The audio being in a performed medium works much better for the already great jokes and the performances really shine through John Dorney adapting the story with very little liberties taken with the novel.  The book dialogue integrated into the audio perfectly and all the actors really pulled off the complex performances required of them with the over the top nature being almost realized in a realistic way.  100/100

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Elite by: Barbara Clegg adapted by: John Dorney directed by: Ken Bentley

The Elite stars Peter Davison as the Doctor, Janet Fielding as Tegan Jovanka and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa with Joe Coen as Aubron and Ryan Sampson as Thane.  It was written by Barbara Clegg, adapted by John Dorney, directed by Ken Bentley and released in October 2011 by Big Finish Productions.

 

Doing Season 23 and Season 27 as Lost Stories adaptations as well as the return of Tom Baker and some missing sixties stories made Big Finish look at filling in some of the random gaps in the series with stories that were never made.  This was the format mainly used for Season Three of the Lost Stories which would do a couple of famous 1960s stories, three stories originally considered for Season 23 after it was announced to be fourteen, twenty-five minute episodes and beginning with a trilogy of Fifth Doctor stories up for consideration between the end of Season 19 and Season 20.  The format was really just a bunch of random stories that were thrown together so they could get these stories recorded and released, which let’s be honest that really isn’t a problem as the two trilogies and the double feature of sixties is organized well.  It keeps the season moving along from Doctor to Doctor and era to era.

 

The season opener is The Elite, a release that originates from a storyline idea from Barbara Clegg and of all the Lost Stories thus far, The Elite had the least material to adapt available.  There were scripts worked on, but they have been long since destroyed and only some references in Doctor Who Magazine and a story outline survive.  What’s weird is that as a way to adapt this into an audio, Big Finish brought in John Dorney to adapt it although he had only written a few other stories up until this point.  Dorney actually had the freedom to adapt the story in whatever way he chose as long as he stayed within the rather broad storyline Clegg originally set out for the story.  The plot had to see the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan immediately after Arc of Infinity and Omega taking a vacation to Florana, a planet famous for its roses when the TARDIS is thrown off course and lands in a fascist state ruled by the elite under the Wizard of Oz like High Priest.  The Doctor of course wants to save everything in the best way he can as he is against fascism in every sense of the word.  The mystery of the story is what this planet is and who the High Priest actually is, but I will not be spoiling that as it is a big part of what makes this release work so well, if you don’t know too much about the plot going in.  I will say that this release is what makes John Dorney really stand out as a writer as he makes every scene in the release extremely memorable.

 

Peter Davison as the Doctor is really at a standout as while the story is a very dark story, it puts the Doctor in a situation similar to The Caves of Androzani where the Doctor is the one trying to lighten the mood.  It’s a script that plays to Davison’s strengths and really makes you feel bad for the Doctor who has had Tegan thrust back upon him which is hilarious.  He also reacts very coyly to the authority of the planet they land on and just sort of wanders around through the story.  Sarah Sutton as Nyssa is really the only character who I have a problem with in this story as she just gets hypnotized.  Sutton has some great stuff early on in the story which works as the Doctor steals some chocolate from her.  It even has relevance later on in the plot and is honestly a funny scene.  Janet Fielding however is the crowning glory of this story as she gets to be the mouth on legs we know and love as well as just being a generally good character.  She doesn’t put up with anything the story has to throw at her which is great.

 

To summarize, The Elite is a story that is nearly perfect in almost every way but is an extremely difficult story to talk about due to the fact of several twists contained involving the characters and the progression of the story.  The acting is spot on and the writing from John Dorney takes a story outline and turns it into something brilliant.  97/100

Friday, September 9, 2016

The English Way of Death by: Gareth Roberts: How Vulgar! Nobody Does Anything of Importance On A Tuesday

Gareth Roberts has a record in the Virgin New Adventures that is very hit or miss overall.  The Romance of Crime and The Highest Science are both pretty good, but Tragedy Day and Zamper are both bad novels.  The Romance of Crime is interesting as it is set in the middle of Season 17 and fits that tone perfectly.  It is not a perfect story, but it is still a great one and is followed up by an even better one.  Roberts returns to Season 17 with The English Way of Death a novel that is oh so delightfully British.  Set immediately following The Romance of Crime, this novel starts with a prologue that sets up the mystery of the story where Stackhouse, a CEO of a candy company, is on a train to the country because his doctor says he needs rest where he meets the eccentric Percival Closed.  This scene on the train is really good at establishing who Stackhouse is.  We know that while he agrees with his doctor, he is still very stubborn.  It isn’t enough to make you emotionally attached, but it makes his death at the end of the prologue where he is killed and his body taken over by a gaseous entity known as Zodaal actually mean something.  It is a step up from Zamper, which is Roberts’s last published novel.

 

The plot actually involves the Doctor overriding the Randomizer on the TARDIS so he can return some library books in London, 1930, which of course he calls urgent business.  It pops off the page as something Douglas Adams would write as a way to get the Doctor into the plot.  Roberts writes the Doctor perfectly for the era as he has that cocky head with Romana, and like the audience doesn’t actually take the threat of the Black Guardian seriously.  Lalla Ward’s second Romana is also written to perfection as she interacts with a rather sarcastic K9.  These TARDIS scenes are just enough to give us a relationship analogous to the one seen in City of Death.  It is a relationship that holds up through the entire novel and is simply beautiful in hindsight as the story would be chosen to reprint in 2015 and chosen to adapt into an audio, review of that to follow.  The library books actually get the Doctor and Romana to split up as there is time disturbance, but the Doctor just cannot be bothered.  K9 even gets to the action with a lot of snarky attitude to the Doctor which is hilarious.  The immediate thought is that the plot is going to diverge in an A-plot and B-plot, but it really doesn’t as the Doctor and Romana do meet up again soon after.

 

The Doctor of course doesn’t go to the library, but actually goes and gets some tea where he sees an assassin working for Stackhouse, Julia Orlostro, kidnapping a seismologist called Porteous which prompts him to get K9, and eventually run into Percy Closed who is the leader of a group of aliens trying to live the rest of their lives on Earth.  The Doctor knows something is wrong, and sends Romana and Colonel Radlett, a man she met up with to deal with closing the portal while he and Percy play bridge next door with Closed’s new neighbor, mystery novelist Felicia Chater.  The plot to this point is already pretty complicated, yet doesn’t feel forced at all.  All these characters and more are introduced very quickly and they all make an impression.  The Doctor is eventually forced to take action when Percy is captured and the plot becomes rescue Percy and try to defeat Zodaal/Stackhouse.  The twist is that Stackhouse is only possessed by half of Zodaal which Romana discovers when forced through the portal by a zombie.  Oh yes this story has Zodaal creating zombies to do his bidding which is this dark concept as there are descriptions of decomposing flesh that makes your skin crawl.  Roberts is great at writing the zombies in very tense sequences.  Of course good prevails, but while the Doctor would probably force the aliens to leave if this was from an earlier time, he lets them stay on Earth.

 

Let’s talk about these aliens.  From his introduction, Percy Closed is an extremely British character squeezed together with the alien nature of Ford Prefect subtly implemented.  It feels very much like a character that Douglas Adams doing his script editor duties would have written in to the story which is just great.  Closed is a character who gets an arc as he starts being a stick in the mud when it comes to the others as he doesn’t want any sort of alien technology to mess up the timeline of 1930s London and has even prepared to get everyone to the country by World War II.  He loosens up once he falls in love with his neighbor which is hilarious and extremely well developed.  Felicia is just a great character as well as she is suffering from writer’s block and is trying to live on her own.  Her reactions to danger is hilarious which really works for the character.

 


Julia the assassin while a minor character also works really well as she is a message on greed.  She doesn’t take Stackhouse seriously immediately as he is offering a lot of money for some simple assassination and kidnapping jobs.  I also must give a mention to Harriet who is an alien who is used for comic relief and an explanation as to what the aliens are doing.  She’s still a lot of fun to read and is just enjoyable.  Finally the villain is Zodaal who is a gaseous entity who creates zombies and uses extreme deadpan.  It is a great mix of horror and comedy for the story which really works considering the title of the show indicates a large amount of death.

 

To summarize, The English Way of Death is a novel that stirred an emotion in me.  This emotion has not been felt about a Virgin Missing Adventure since Goth Opera.  It is just a novel that keeps everything unnecessary to a minimum.   All the characters, even the minor ones who get a few scenes for the first time in a very long while are memorable and the plot is this brilliant mix of light hearted comedy and dark natured horror.  This is without a doubt Roberts’s best novel yet and I’m hoping the work from him in the future of this range.  I am proud to finally give The English Way of Death 100/100, the second Virgin Missing Adventure to receive this score.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

SLEEPY by: Kate Orman: BECAUSE CAPITAL LETTERS ARE SOPHISTICATED

SLEEPY described in one word is weird.  It is Kate Orman’s third novel for the Virgin New Adventures and by far her worst.  This doesn’t mean that it is necessarily a bad novel, but it is very much a different type of novel when compared to her other pieces of work.  The Left-Handed Hummingbird and Set Piece were both character dramas where the plot was a reason for us to explore the characters.  SLEEPY is Orman’s attempt at writing a story that is completely focused on keeping the plot in the forefront and the characters almost in the background.  This works really well in the first third of the novel where there is a great balance between plot and characters.  Orman opens the novel with her brilliant prose grabbing you in with the Doctor going into surgery, accusing Chris and Roz of malicious intent and Benny trying to calm him down.  It’s a sequence that sneakily lets you know what the Doctor and company are doing here and what has lead them to this planet and this point.  Just reading this is a great example as to how good Orman is at writing prose for really anything and this sense actually stays through the entire plot of the novel.  It turns out the Doctor, Benny, Chris and Roz are on a colony planet where a virus has erupted to make people have psychic powers which they are trying to stop.  The first third of the novel is about their desire to help the people and the work they are doing, and it is the highlight of the novel.

 

Orman writes all the characters extremely well.  Benny is a standout due to some character development that really creeps up on you throughout the novel.  Benny while loving the travelling with the Doctor, is starting to feel how long it’s been since the events of Love and War.  She is starting to become tired with the travelling and a lot of the constant danger, yet is almost addicted to the rush she feels.  It’s a very good idea to approach Benny from this direction especially when she is about to leave the series in two novels time.  Chris also fares very well in this story even if he is hypnotized through the most of it.  Roz actually gets to show her sensitive side again as she feels very sorry for Chris who is in an awful situation and is substituting Benny for Chris when they are separated.  The Doctor fares very well as well even if he is used mainly for a little comedic relief in interludes.

 

The twist is revealed that the virus was engineered by the Dione-Kisumu Company and their Artificial Intelligence GRUMPY.  The story then attempts to become an espionage story with the Doctor being held captive, Chris going crazy and Roz and Benny going back in time to find a cure and bring in FLORENCE as a way to combat GRUMPY.  This is a simplified version of the plot as SLEEPY is a novel that is convoluted with the characters, especially because a lot of them are human and only named as colors.  The biggest twist is that this story is a spiritual successor to Transit, an early New Adventure which I don’t like.  I feel that this is crowbarred in because Orman and Transit author Ben Aaronovitch are good friends and Aaronovitch wasn’t ready for his Transit sequel.  Even with Orman’s brilliant writing this still feels forced to the tenth degree, if force could be measured in degrees.  This is also supposed to be connected to an arc which was supposed to begin in Warchild, even if they just have some of the same themes.

 

To summarize, SLEEPY is Kate Orman’s weakest novel in the purest sense of the world.  She starts off extremely strong but steadily weakens her prose.  It is still an extremely easy novel to read as Orman is a great writer, but the plot is nothing to ride home about and the supporting characters are pretty much the same with little characterization.  Everything balances out with a lot of elements being very poor in the novel while there are still a lot of good things in the novel for enjoyment.  50/100