Monday, October 31, 2016

The Mega by: Bill Strutton adapted by: Simon Guerrier directed by: Ken Bentley: The West Must Disarm

The Mega is performed by Katy Manning as Jo Grant and the Doctor, and Richard Franklin as Captain Mike Yates, Sergeant John Benton, and Brigadier Lethebridge-Stewart, with Bo Poraj as General Wiley, the Prime Minister, and Prince Cassie, and Derek Carlyle as the Mega.  It was written by Bill Strutton, adapted by Simon Guerrier, directed by Ken Bentley, and released in December 2013 by Big Finish Productions.


Closing the Lost Stories range is the only viable option for a Third Doctor Lost Story.  The Mega had enough material to be adapted and enough of the original cast happens to still be living, so regardless of quality it had to be produced.  It was written originally by Bill Strutton, but unlike The Web Planet, provides commentary on the then escalating Cold War as it involves aliens who wish to see the western world disarm, the governments disbanded, and the Prince Cassie of Austria put in charge of the world until it can be totally united.  It’s a really good piece of political commentary shrouded in a six episode traditional Third Doctor story with UNIT, a peace conference, an alien menace who disguises itself as wanting to help, and plenty of gadgets for the Doctor to enjoy.  Even the Master turns out to be behind the menace even if the tragic passing of Roger Delgado makes it impossible for him to appear outside of getting a few mentions in the story.  It’s really just a fun story and a good look at the political climate of the past, the Jon Pertwee era of the show, and nothing more.


Like many Jon Pertwee stories the latter half of the story does drag on to a spectacular finale, but that barely takes away from a lot of philosophical discussion the story goes for.  The Doctor of course is on the side of the Mega, played by the wonderful Derek Carlyle in the fact that he wishes to avoid war, but their methods of killing those who oppose them is something that he opposes.  Carlyle plays the Mega as a hive mind, but also gives them their own individual personalities that can be distinguished in very subtle ways.  This makes the tone of the story feel similar to that of a spy movie as the Doctor flees to Austria and almost double-crosses UNIT, before being revealed to be a clever trick to get Prince Cassie to trust him and Jo.  The Doctor is played as James Bond in this story and it is a part that really only works for the Third Doctor.  The story may be rough but Strutton and Guerrier understand how to write for this incarnation of the Doctor.  The six part story is very easy to listen to as the characterization of everyone is strong.  Katy Manning takes the job of playing Jo Grant and the Doctor.  Now Manning is a brilliant actress, almost too good for 1970s Doctor Who, and that allows her to recapture the magic of Jo.  Through Manning’s narration and performance you get lost in the era and her Jon Pertwee is interesting.  Now it is obviously an impersonation, but as Manning has deep admiration for her former costar and worked with him for three whole years, she’s got his mannerisms down pat.  It doesn’t sound like Pertwee, it feels like a performance Pertwee would be giving.  The interviews at the end of the story offer some great insight into the decisions Katy Manning made in performing this story which helps with the ambiance.


Richard Franklin has the more difficult job as he is playing three characters.  Sadly he is the weaker link in the story as while his Mike Yates and Brigadier Lethebridge-Stewart are both great, his imitation of John Levene as Benton really is quite a bad imitation.  It might be because of John Levene’s meek and stern performances as the Sergeant, but there isn’t really something that is able to be replicated in the audio drama.  Franklin however is giving it his all in this story as he has to play through just as many, if not more emotional scenes as Katy Manning has to perform.  Bo Poraj also plays quite a few characters, ranging from the villain Prince Cassie, a man going down the road to hell paved with good intentions, to the moustache twirling General Wiley, and even the murdered Prime Minister who all have distinct voices and personalities.  Poraj is a great performer in this story and almost tops the likes of Katy Manning.


To summarize, The Mega is a fitting end to the Lost Stories range.  While it goes back to the style of the Companion Chronicles instead of the incumbent Early Adventures, Katy Manning and Richard Franklin are great in their roles and the two actors brought in for the supporting cast are great as well.  The biggest flaw is the pacing which makes Episode Four, Five, and Six extremely difficult to get through with some great scenes to bring me back into a listening mode.  80/100

The Coach With the Dragon Tattoo by: Patrick Ness directed by: Ed Bazalgette: Just a Bad Mystery

The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo stars Greg Austin as Charlie, Fady Elsayed as Ram, Sophie Hopkins as April, Vivian Oparah as Tanya, and Katherine Kelly as Mrs. Quill.  It was written by Patrick Ness and directed by Ed Bazalgette with Patrick Ness, Steven Moffat, and Brian Minchin as Executive Producer.  It was originally broadcast on 22 October 2016 on BBC Three.
Now that the first episode of “Class” presents itself as an alright pilot, the second episode can actually develop some of the characters of the story.  The series seems like it is going to devote at least one episode to each of the main cast which might help improve the finale as the audience may learn to care about these characters.  The second episode, The Coach with the Dragon Tatoo (stupid title by the way), focuses on the character of Ram as he deals with his prosthetic leg, the death of his girlfriend, the new world he has been thrown into, and his poor performance in Coal Hill’s football league.  The episode’s plot is the stereotypical team coach up to nefarious activities, this time through a convoluted series of events, the coach is controlling this alien dragon whose mate has fused to his skin in the form of a tattoo.  The coach being responsible is supposed to be a twist which doesn’t work in the episode.  The mystery is figuring out what’s responsible for killing various Coal Hill staff which would work better if the episode changed the title to something more appropriate and kept the coach in the background.  There could have been this great reveal with the dragon tattoo, but Ness writes it so we know it’s the coach.  Any tension is lost on the audience as we know the big reveal will be that the coach is doing these awful things.
The character arc with Ram is well done in the fact that it does not only deal with Ram, but it allows Tanya to be fleshed out.  The two characters do have pretty good chemistry with each other and it has improved since For Tonight We Might Die.  Ram’s father also seems like he could be an interesting character if it weren’t for the fact again he is there to fill up another diversity quota.  Take him out and give his lines to Tanya and nothing really would be changed about the story.  The characters in general have improved over the course of the first and second episode.  While they are mostly still a bit bland, the chemistry between the actors seems much more believable even with the rather weak script that Patrick Ness provides to the cast.  Again the death is nice even if the excessive gore doesn’t need to be there.  Miss Quill doesn’t have as much to do as she gets her own little subplot with an inspector which gets a few laughs here and there, but nothing more than that.  The conclusion of the episode is what I have a problem with.  To defeat the dragon Ram convinces the lover to kill the coach so our main characters are responsible for mass murder.  Does Ness do anything with this? No, they don’t even address it in any sort of way.  It’s an awful ending to the episode that really lets any progress the episode made down.
The direction of this episode is much better as while the tattoo is a rip off from the Boneless from Flatline which is all I could really think about, Bazalgette did a great job of shooting it and the dragon.  The effect is convincing even if it is mostly computer generated.  There really isn’t much else to say so I’m putting in a tirade about the music.  This was one of the problems with the first episode as well, but the music isn’t very good.  The title sequence is cheap and much of the music is provided by pop groups which really makes this series feel disconnected from Doctor Who which has its own music.  At least the incidental music by Big Finish composer Blair Mowat is bearable if a little bit too forgettable (or possibly just underutilized) but the pop music just feels generic.
To summarize, The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo isn’t a good episode for the simple reason of having a really bad third act.  The character development, while still very shaky in general, is something that is at least doing something with the talented group of actors the production team have pulled together for this show.  40/100

For Tonight We Might Die by: Patrick Ness directed by: Ed Bazalgette: Just a Pilot

For Tonight We Might Die stars Greg Austin as Charlie, Fady Elsayed as Ram, Sophie Hopkins as April, Vivian Oparah as Tanya, and Katherine Kelly as Mrs. Quill with Peter Capaldi as the Doctor.  It was written by Patrick Ness and directed by Ed Bazalgette with Patrick Ness, Steven Moffat, and Brian Minchin as Executive Producer.  It was originally broadcast on 22 October 2016 on BBC Three.


When announced Doctor Who spinoff “Class” was received with fan backlash for being something that nobody really wanted in the first place, but was something that we were stuck with anyway because the BBC didn’t want to give us a season of Doctor Who during 2017.  Now that the first few episodes have actually aired we can begin forming opinions on the series and what it’s actually meant to be.  For Tonight We Might Die is the pilot and it is pretty much a paint by numbers of what a pilot should do.  It introduces us to the main characters, the conflict, the location, and the rules the show will play by as well as establishing a tone for us to start with. Pilots usually are at least a little bit enjoyable when done well, but this one comes across as sort of an average story held up with some pretty loose characters.  Comparing this to other Doctor Who related pilots isn’t fair as on television there has always been a sense of mystery about them.  Remember the shadowy opening of An Unearthly Child?  The cloak and dagger activities of Torchwood?  The mysterious neighbor of The Sarah Jane Adventures?  They all work as a hook as if you don’t know about each series you are extremely intrigued from the get go.


How does Class decide to open?  Well aside from a pre-title sequence establishing Miss Quill is responsible for getting a child killed, something that may become important later, we get a brief flash of the main characters.  Now this could have been done well, but director Ed Bazalgette it doesn’t go over well.  The decision was made to work with what is a subpar introduction done entirely in stereotypical clichés and all in a long shot.  What do we know, Ram is a jock, Charlie is the new kid, Tanya is young for her year, and April is shy.  It also doesn’t help that they’re all spouting off either bland or trying to be punchy dialogue that made me cringe when I heard it.  The writing doesn’t really improve as the characters either get bad development (April is still a stereotypical shy girl with the whole Shadow King heart trying to be something of character), have dialogue be exclusively punchy one-liners that don't actually say anything (Tanya brings up sexism and racism but doesn't actually say anything of note).  The only character I manage to really like is Mrs. Quill, but that’s because she’s kind of a likeable asshole, and the arc the episode sets up seems like it could be nuanced and almost subtle.  I mean she is basically a slave to Charlie and the Doctor would save her (he approves of freedom fighters after all), but she killed an innocent.  The episode is still preoccupied with being Meta which is done in an extremely cringe worthy manner.


Ram comes closest to Mrs. Quill in terms of likability as he goes through the death of his girlfriend at the hands of the Shadowkin, the villains of this episode and the villains of the entire series.  He gets his leg chopped off and gets some developmeent when he inevitably goes through the stages of grief.  The Shadowkin as the villains also fall flat.  While their introduction is really good and they do bring on the gore (which is flashy, but at least death means something).  My problem with them is that nothing is really explained about their motivations.  All we know is that they’re evil for evil’s sake which doesn’t really work in context of the story.  Peter Capaldi appears as the Doctor to try and legitimize this show as a Doctor Who spin-off, but his performance is bland.  He’s obviously trying, and that can be said about the entire cast on this series, but the characterization is this weird hybrid of the Series 8 and Series 9 performance.  It would be better if the episode skipped over the sixty seconds or so dedicated to reminding us of the Clara Oswald, especially if a reference to Ian or Barbara would make it feel a bit more legitimate and actually tied into the setting better.


To summarize, For Tonight We Might Die is average.  That’s really all I can say as it makes it possible for the series to improve, but nothing else really sticks out to me when watching the episode.  It doesn’t do anything to make me not want to watch and there is potential there.  50/100

Probably Not the One You Were Expecting #9: Damaged Goods by: Russell T. Davies adapted by: Jonathan Morris directed by: Ken Bentley

Damaged Goods stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor, Travis Oliver as Chris Cwej, and Yasmin Bannerman as Roz Forrester with Denise Black as Eva Jericho, and Michelle Collins as Winnie Tyler.  It was written by Russell T. Davies, adapted for audio by Jonathan Morris, directed by Ken Bentley, and released in April 2015 by Big Finish Productions.


Adapting Damaged Goods into an audio drama form was always going to be a difficult task as the story is highly acclaimed by many for its dark story and bleak atmosphere.  It gets bleak enough that it could have been heavily censored to make it appropriate for children, but Big Finish decided to pull out all the stops and have Jonathan Morris adapt it into an audio drama format.  Jonathan Morris who is a writer not afraid to push the boundaries of Doctor Who in his writings, taking one of the novels into an audio drama where boundaries can be pushed even further.  Yet Morris did tone down the audio just a little bit from its novel counterpart.  The body count is much less with four more characters surviving to the end, some characters being cut completely (Mrs. Hearn and Carl Tyler), and the death of the Capper being changed from setting himself on fire to jumping off the roof of a parking garage.  I cannot fault Morris for making these changes along with toning down the more sexual elements of the novel for the audio as some of them even help with the story.  Cutting Mrs. Hearn helps when it is revealed how alone Winnie Tyler feels, changing the Capper’s death makes the story feel a bit more realistic, and while they did tone down Chris and David’s relationship, it still has the full gravitas of the public view of homosexuality at the time.


The script is already in favor of the adaptation, but if this really works better than the book you need to look at the direction, music, and acting of the story.  Ken Bentley has his work cut out for him as this audio has to introduce us and the actors to the characters of Chris and Roz as this is the first of their stories to be adapted into audio.  Bentley does pull it off as he works with Oliver and Bannerman to embody their characters.  Oliver plays up Chris’s naiveté as Bannerman works off of him with Roz’s signature brand of pessimism.  Bentley must be rewarded for the way he directs the opening of each part of the audio, telling the prologue of the novel from the perspectives of Bev and Winnie Tyler so we can get the full story.  Horror elements seep through in several places as Bentley lingers on disturbing imagery of the graveyard scene, Mr. Jericho’s death by rat poisoned potatoes (which is performed in gruesome detail) and how the N-form have been invading the world.  Yes the drug is changed from generic cocaine to SMILE, but that makes the story feel more unique as it makes the search for it a bit easier.  The novel could have had the Doctor get the wrong consignment of cocaine, but here all SMILE is contaminated.  Howard Carter scores the audio adaptation using a single piano and ambient sounds which emulates almost a dark Christmas story.  The score is haunting and only adds to the tension of the story as events escalate from bad to worse in the second half.


Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor gives a performance to rival the one in Master and The Curse of Fenric.  The Doctor feels like someone who is in a deep depression which works with the dark tone of the story.  His interactions with Gabriel Tyler is also better by simply having McCoy be performing the story.  The supporting characters are all done really well and can be easily imagined in these roles.  I’ve already touched on the performances from Chris and Roz, who make a great first impression, but it is the rest of the supporting cast that make the impact.  Tayler Marshall, who was fifteen at the time of recording, does a great job as Gabriel Tyler which is down to Ken Bentley being able to direct children.  Marshall gives Gabriel that air of mystery the role deserves and the ambiance of someone more powerful than we are ever led to believe.  It’s just as chilling as the turn from Peter Barrett as the Capper who balances this mix of over the top ham with subtlety.  The performance embodies the insanity of the character well with the flip flopping of personalities.


The real star of the story are Denise Black and Michelle Collins as Eva Jericho and Winnie Tyler respectively. Black as Eva Jericho captures the madness of the character and while her plotline is scaled back a bit to work in the two hour format, but that improves the meaning of the title.  While the novel makes it an arbitrary aspect of Mrs. Jericho’s personality the adaptation shows it better as the sign of her madness as she believes Steven is damaged goods, needing to be returned to the store.  That scene, the killing of her husband and her takeover of the N-form at the end are all wonderfully performed as you get the sense of mania in her head.  Michelle Collins as Winnie Tyler on the other hand actually gives that warm motherly feel from her performance and if her scenes at the beginning of Part Two don’t make you wish her to use that blood money, nothing will as she has suffered greatly for her children.


To summarize, Damaged Goods is another example of Big Finish perfecting the flaws on an already great storyline.  Sure people may be disappointed that things were changed, but most of these things are minor details and only take place right off screen as they do get referenced in the audio.  Everything in this one is perfect from the acting, the writing, the adaptation, the haunting score, and the direction.  100/100

Speed of Flight by: Paul Leonard: Faster than the Speed of Flight

Paul Leonard has written three novels previous to Speed of Flight.  His debut Venusian Lullaby was all right, but nothing to really write home about.  Dancing the Code and Toy Soldiers however were both really good novels and he does know how to write for the Third Doctor’s era so Speed of Flight, featuring the Third Doctor, Jo, and Mike Yates should be at least a good novel.  Its best aspect is that it is mercifully short for the Virgin Missing Adventures considering how dull the actual story the novel contains is.  The plot really does start out in an intriguing way introducing us to a race of creatures that grow and eventually learn to fly and a setting which really does feel like something good for Doctor Who.  The introduction of Jo and Mike into the story that follows is also great as Sergeant Benton and Corporal Bell set them up with each other for a blind date.  It’s a scene that’s hilarious as we all know that the two characters would never get together, but they go along with the date just to appease their colleagues.


This is the set up as to how in Timelash there’s a photo of Jo in a character’s locket, but we don’t actually go to Karfel, but the planet Nooma.  The planet Nooma has three castes of people which is an interesting society and Leonard does a decent job of making the planet stand out from the crowd of other planets.  The inhabitants of the planet have an interesting ideas on how death works as there is an entity that enters your head and influences your mind.  However nobody really dies in the novel who doesn’t come back at the end which really doesn’t make the story be endearing to readers in any sort of way.  The supporting characters are similar to the era as they present themselves as extremely boring people with nothing really to allow them to stand out from the crowd.  The villain doesn’t even get much development with the large amount of the novel devoted to him as a character.  The biggest flaw of the novel is what happens to Mike Yates.  So for a big shock twist in the middle of the book Paul Leonard decides to kill off Mike Yates which allows us to see a wide range of emotions from Jo and the Doctor, but Leonard has the Doctor revive the Captain, bringing him back from the dead.  Maybe this allows for the beginning of the character arc in The Green Death, but it makes me furious as we see a character, a main character, be killed only to be revived because death doesn’t seem to mean anything in this world.


To summarize, like this review Speed of Flight is short.  As a book it is extremely boring with characters that don’t really do anything interesting, a plot twist that will infuriate any Doctor Who fan or fan of good storytelling.  A definite step down for Paul Leonard and the quality of the Virgin Missing Adventures.  10/100

Damaged Goods by: Russell T. Davies: Death in a Remarkably Violent and Inelegant Form

Damaged Goods is a dark novel.  There’s no denying that the tale about drug trafficking in 1987 Thatcher controlled England wasn’t going to be dark, but damn if it isn’t darker than anyone could have really expected.  The novel was written by Russell T. Davies who would eventually become showrunner for the revived show in 2005, but here he’s giving us his first impressions.  Why couldn’t his era be as dark as this?  This tone is really enough to make anyone enraptured with the novel, even if it goes a bit too dark in places.


After the dull The Death of Art, Damaged Goods focuses on an action packed plot which is a nice blend of traditional Doctor Who plotting and the Virgin New Adventures style of storytelling.  The change in style is refreshing and it really lends to the Earth like feel of the novel.  The drama comes from the characters and the fear comes from the invasion of an entity.  The plot is as complex as The Death of Art, but complexity is required with this story.  As this is the case this review will contain more spoilers than my reviews normally do, so you have been warned.  We open on Christmas Eve, 1977 where Bev Tyler sees her mother Winnie make some sort of a deal with a mysterious Tall Man.  She follows her mother outside where she sees the Doctor.  The way Davies describes the scene sets the tone for the rest of the novel and sets up our main human characters.  The tone is bleak and sad and is best exemplified in the way Davies describes the Doctor:

He must have edged forward a fraction, ambient light revealing a smudged impression of his clothing: a cream jacket, splattered with mud, and a battered white hat…despite the dark and the distance, Bev could see his eyes. They were looking at her…She thought he smiled at her, just a small smile, but one which gave no comfort…Bev always imagined that these old, wise, terrible men must have long white beards and flowing robes, but now she realized that they looked like this: small and crumpled and so very, very sad.

The novel then cuts to introduce us to our villain, Simon Jenkins aka the Capper.  Jenkins is a drug dealer and notorious around the Quadrant, the housing complex the novel is set at.  We are introduced to him with flowing prose about who he is and why he’s feared.  Davies then gives us a shock with the villain of the story committing suicide.  He douses himself in gasoline and sets himself on fire.


The sense of foreboding present in these early scenes doesn’t let up as we cut to ten years later where Harry Harvey, a man struggling with his own sexuality, is mugged in a graveyard, but is saved by the dead Capper who rises from a grave in this terrifying scene depicted on the front cover of the novel.  This first chapter is the only real exposition we get for the novel as we learn most of our principle characters and things are set in motion.  A small mistake Davies makes is that he tries to lighten the mood by cutting to New York and introducing a waitress to get the Doctor into the plot.  This waitress is set up as if she will be important to the plot later on, but she doesn’t appear outside of this chapter.


The story is now set up and we can get on into the real meat of the story.  The Doctor, Chris, and Roz move into the Quadrant due to a trail of grisly deaths from the cocaine outbreak in the 1980s.  The novel consists of two plots, first is the tracking down of the cocaine and the second is dealing with the psychic powers of Gabriel Tyler, Bev Tyler’s younger brother, who seems to be a source of relief to the people of the Quadrant.  They intertwine as the twist of the novel is that Gabriel Tyler is actually a twin to Steven Jericho who is slowly dying in a hospital bed.  That Christmas Eve, Winnie Tyler gave away one of her children for 30,000 pounds payment in an act of desperation and ever since Gabriel has been like a vampire to Steven.  The psychic powers of Gabriel have attracted an N-form to the Quadrant.  An N-form is a Gallifreyean weapon created to fight in the war against the Vampires and Davies would use them as soldiers in the Time War of the new series.  The N-Form wishes to bring others into the world through the infected cocaine and take back Gallifrey.  It has overtaken the Capper’s body and is now distributing the drug amongst the world.   The climax is a bloody battle where the Doctor has to take cocaine to defeat the N-Form leading to the deaths of everyone in the novel except for Gabriel who is put into a coma.


The cocaine plot is pontificated with a large cast of varying characters including the main cast.  Roz does her usual job of being the standard companion to the Doctor as she is always by his side, but she gets to have her motherly side shine through as she does care for the Tyler children.  She doesn’t believe in coincidence, not since she stepped foot into the TARDIS and she knows exactly what’s at stake if the Doctor has been meddling again.  Her portions of the plot are really the least interesting in the novel as Chris gets a much longer time in the spotlight.  Chris is the one searching for the cocaine, so the Doctor can hopefully destroy it.  He does this with his new lover, David Daniels.  Chris and David hook up in this novel.  Chris is there to give David comfort that his lifestyle will not always be discriminated against as well as to be the butt of several jokes.  Chris is the comic relief, or at least the closest equivalent of comic relief in this dark novel.  David and Harry also have an interesting relationship as David only lives with Harry because Harry’s late life let him move in to their front room.  Harry of course is questioning his own sexuality which in and of itself is an interesting plot to delve into.  Gabriel Tyler is also an interesting character as he is almost omnipotent yet comes across as a normal child which is something that really works in the novel.  The other character of note is Eva Jericho who is the madwoman who takes over as villain and wishes to take Gabriel in exchange for her own son, the damaged goods of the title.  She’s a completely sadistic woman and you really don’t know if you’re going to survive if you met her in the street.  The ending is extremely bleak as nobody survives which is really hard to finish a book with.


To summarize, Damaged Goods is a novel that shows an interesting glimpse of what could have been when Russell T. Davies was in charge of Doctor Who.  Dark and captivating the novel does not disappoint with twists and turns that keep you guessing as to how this is going to end at every moment.  95/100

Twilight of the Gods by: Christopher Bulis: We're Back On Vortis!

The production values of Doctor Who in the 1960s made experimental stories extremely difficult to pull off.  The Web Planet is one of these stories that try to be experimental, but was let down by the production values of the era.  It features only four humanoid characters, being the main cast, but the rest of the cast were races of insectoid characters based off ants and butterflies.  The costumes and hammy acting let down the story, but in novel form that doesn’t have to be the case.  Christopher Bulis decided to write a sequel to The Web Planet in Twilight of the Gods, a story that sees the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria arriving on Vortis where a third race, called the Rhumon have been waging war against the Menoptera.  The Animus reveals itself as behind the plot and a part of the Great Old Ones of the mythology of H.P. Lovecraft.


First, the novel at three hundred pages is an extremely slow burner.  It takes fifty pages for the Zarbi and Menoptera to show up in the novel and there is extensive backstory and interludes between chapters.  Bulis does build some atmosphere with these sections of the novel, but the pace is what does turn many off.  My advice is to go through these sections and let them soak in as they are pretty good overall.  Bulis is relishing the attempt to get a good reveal of the Zarbi and the way he describes them makes them terrifying.  It is through Victoria’s perspective and that makes them extremely intimidating:

It was a gigantic ant standing as tall as she was. The soft light gleamed off its glossy black carapace. Powerful mandibles extended from its bulbous triangular head, above which two huge lidless eyes seemed to glow in the dimness. Two of its six legs had hypertrophied, bearing its whole weight and allowing its remaining limbs to be held forward clear of the ground.

It’s a good characterization of Victoria that really makes the novel work better than it was.  This is difficult considering how odd the characterization it was during that era of television.  Victoria is fearful of the alien environment and Bulis makes her confront her fear by being separated from the Doctor and Jamie.  She has to take Barbara Wright’s role in the story as she leads the Menoptera for a portion of the novel.  She actually has to be a strong character and she pulls it off.  Bulis also captures the alienness of Menoptera by using Victoria’s perspective:

Folded across their backs were large translucent wings. A cowl of fur with tiger-stripe markings covered their heads and necks and ran down over their shoulders. They had no visible ears, but two long trembling antennae rose from the sides of their heads. Beneath their compound eyes was a severe downturned slit of a mouth. Bands of pale fur ran about their wrists and ankles and around their trunks and leg joints. Between them was dark carapace material that seemed more pliant than that of the giant ant. She realized their hands had no fingers, only thumbs and long flexible tapering palms

The Menoptera are also portrayed much more like a force in the novel as they want to be a mediator between the two forces of the Rhumon who really don’t make an interesting race.  The Zarbi also don’t make much of an impression in the novel as they have their role as slaves to the Menoptera which sound like there’s supposed to be a plotline there, but nothing comes out of it.


Bulis has a knack for characterizing the Second Doctor who has the persona of a child.  He loves being back on Vortis after all these years and is glad that many things have been going well.  The vegetation has returned and everything seems to be back to normal, but the Doctor’s reaction to the Animus making a return is priceless as everything has fallen apart for the previous story.  Bulis however does fail in two respects.  First the ending is awful as everything is resolved with a deus ex machina that doesn’t really work and second is Jamie.  Jamie is portrayed in places as almost a violent idiot, but in other places as the character that we know from television.  It’s this inconsistency that really causes a lot of the problems for the novel.


To summarize, Twilight of the Gods is an underrated gem of a novel that takes an underrated story and gives it at least an interesting sequel.  The prose is really what draws you into the story while the characters and some great action make you want to stay.  There are things that aren’t good however as an ending lets it down and the interludes can be very distracting to a reader.  60/100

Monday, October 24, 2016

Lords of the Red Planet by: Brian Hayles adapted by: John Dorney directed by: Lisa Bowerman: This is the Hour of Life Drink

Lords of the Red Planet is performed by Frazer Hines as Jamie McCrimmon and the Doctor, and Wendy Padbury as Zoe Heriot, with Michael Troughton as Professor Quendril, Abigal Thaw as Queen Zadur, Charlie Hayes as Princess Valtreena, and Nicholas Briggs as Aslor, Risor, and the Ice Warriors.  It was written by Brian Hayles, adapted by John Dorney, directed by Lisa Bowerman, and released in November 2013 by Big Finish Productions.


I am so glad this story was left for the Lost Stories and not made for television.  Not because of how bad it is, but just because of how good it was and how it couldn’t have been realized on television without having many scenes either cut or their setting moved to a small studio, while Brian Hayles’ script calls for expansive mines and the landscape of a dying Mars.  Picking John Dorney to adapt the script into audio was a stroke of genius considering his past work for Big Finish.  He even was able not to change much showing just how strong the actual script was from its conception back in the 1960s.  The plot is essentially Genesis of the Daleks, but years before Genesis of the Daleks was even written, as the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe arrive on a dying Mars.  There is still oxygen on the Red Planet, but there is only one city still standing after the planet started naturally dying.  The survivors are living in the city, but due to genetic mutation they need to drink life drink to continue living.  The life drink and the city is controlled by Zadur, a ruthless dictator queen who rules with an iron fist and is carrying out experiments on mutating the race further into the Ice Warriors that we will come to know later on.  The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe have to team up with Professor Quendril, the man responsible for the genetic mutation, to find a way to stop Zadur and allow the mutation to progress naturally.  The ideas present in the script are genius, especially the life drink.  You can really imagine the planet being forced under the thrall of Zadur as they have no choice but to drink or die.  Late in the story when one character drinks too much you see just how much power Zadur has over her people as the life drink would cause death when too much is had.


The story for a six part story actually has a really good pace for the era.  There really isn’t any drag in Episode Four or Five, and the action doesn’t really let up at all.  I think this is down to the quality of the original scripts, as Dorney used two versions of the story, and the wonderful direction from Lisa Bowerman.  Up until this point the Lost Stories featuring the first three Doctors have been done in the style of the Companion Chronicles, but for Lords of the Red Planet, Bowerman realized that she could get the narration down to a minimum and hire a full cast.  Many of the Martians are already similar to or already are Ice Warriors so she brought in Nicholas Briggs to voice them, only needing three more parts to cast.  It really does work for the story as the narration doesn’t take you out of the story and only enhances the descriptions of the Martian landscapes in your mind’s eye.  Bowerman must be commended for her ability to do this as it isn’t an easy feat.


Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury reprise their roles as the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe.  This story is their best performance outside of the powerhouse that is The War Games.  Padbury does a great job of communicating a sense of dread when Zoe is captured without having to say it and Hines does his usual best as Patrick Troughton, so much so that Michael Troughton became emotional during recording as he was reminded of his late father.  Jamie and Zoe of course share their usual great relationship in the story making the plot feel even stronger when everything starts to fall apart on Mars.


Bowerman’s push to bring in a full sized cast also really paid off as each member of the supporting cast.  Michael Troughton is extremely sympathetic as Professor Quendril who has this great relationship with the Second Doctor in some truly funny scenes among the descent into madness.  You feel for his plight as he wishes to save his people, especially considering he’s the one who caused a lot of the mess the planet is currently in.  He is the reason Zadur is in power and he is in so much guilt over it.  Zadur is played by the wonderful Abigail Thaw who like Hecuba in The Queen of Time is the embodiment of the femme fatal and I love that that is how female Ice Warriors would be portrayed.


Zadur’s sister is the Princess Valtreena played by the wonderful Charlie Hayes.  Valtreena is an airhead with a heart of gold who gets to have a lot of touching scenes with Jamie and they form a connection.  She has a failed experiment for a butler which is really touching and her final fate will have you in tears as it really is a tragedy performed right in front of you.  The rest of the Ice Warriors are played by Nicholas Briggs who is again doing his best here like he always does.  His portrayal of the first Ice Lord has this great relationship with Zoe, which allows the race to have their noble personality and their code of honor.  It really allows Zoe to shine as it is her kindness that makes the Ice Warriors different from your typical science fiction trope of invading Martians.  The subversion of the usual tropes allows the story to fill the weird storyline gap between The Seeds of Death and The Curse of Peladon.  Briggs also does a great job at making each Ice Warrior their own character and not having them sound the same.


To summarize, Lords of the Red Planet was meant for an audio drama treatment.  Big Finish have worked their magic to make everything come together in a way that allows for a near perfect story.  Better than any of Brian Hayles’s television stories, this story has the perfect cast, ideas, and villain to bring everything together.  The closing lines are simply hilarious and a direction treatment from one of the directors of the time would have made the story one of extreme hope for the future.  I can only give it a score of 100/100.

The Death of Art by: Simon Bucher-Jones: Oh Right, A Story Arc

I’ve failed to mention that since Warchild, the Virgin New Adventures have been dropping hints as to a larger story arc involving the mysterious Brotherhood and an overarching threat of psychic powers going througkh the novels.  I would have mentioned it if it hadn’t been just a background note in several of the books, being interrupted by the trilogy of novels (Death and Diplomacy, Happy Endings, and GodEngine) dealing with the departure of Bernice Summerfield as companion, and only just being mentioned in Christmas on a Rational Planet and Return of the Living Dad.  It’s an arc that really isn’t well defined in terms of story, but today’s novel, The Death of Art by Simon Bucher-Jones, brings the arc to the forefront so it can go towards a conclusion in two novels time.


The arc is supposed to be a dark closure of cataclysmic, The Death of Art, while implying that if the Doctor doesn’t succeed will cause disaster, doesn’t really have the gravitas required to pull this off.  The novel is a pseudo historical taking place in Napoleon’s France where a race of artists called the Quoth are endangered by the Brotherhood, a nefarious organization of psychics who want to harness the Quoth’s psychic powers.  The plot is really what lets the novel down as it’s got some great ideas.  The Quoth are a decent alien and the Brotherhood is plenty mysterious for an entity, but the plot just sort of happens without any real notion of prelude or anything to build up.  Ace apparently has some sort of interference that allows the plot to get rolling, but once it is rolling it just feels like standard Doctor Who fare that comes across as extremely boring and complex, without really having anything profound to say.


Simon Bucher-Jones writes a story that is too complex to be understood, much like a lot of my complaints with Time and the Rani, having the Doctor not take part in the narrative which does work in the novels favor.  There are too many characters with not enough character identity to do much of anything of note.  The villains are interesting, but they don’t come across as intimidating in the slightest while the heroes suffer the same problem.  This is a book where nothing really happens and we have no idea of what to do.  The Doctor barely features which is fine if Bucher-Jones let the companions take the forefront of the narrative push.  Chris gets to run around pretending to be the Fifth Doctor as future Missing Adventure, Cold Fusion takes place just before this and Roz has things to do.  Not sure what exactly half of these things really were, but she was there.  They at least get to profess their love for each other once again which is well written, but leaves the reader wanting more.  That’s really how you can describe this novel as making the reader wanting more and therefore there really isn’t much else for me to do for this write up.  Bucher-Jones doesn’t get Doctor Who and the novel is simply boring and bad.  20/100.

The Shadow of Weng-Chiang by: David A. McIntee: No Literally, Magnus Greel Isn't in This One

Providing sequels to highly acclaimed Doctor Who stories seems to be something that the Virgin Missing Adventures just loves to do.  The range opened with Goth Opera, a sequel to State of Decay.  It has included sequels to The Web of Fear, Pyramids of Mars, The Mark of the Rani, and Doctor Who and the Silurians with a sequel to The Web Planet and a prequel to Terror of the Autons forthcoming.  A lot of these sequels are for highly acclaimed stories which must be done with at least some sort of tact and finesse before being considered too much of fanservice for good stories.  The novel I am looking at today is one of these sequels.  It is a sequel to Philip Hinchcliffe’s final story as producer and one of Tom Baker’s best, even if there are claims of racism.  That story is The Talons of Weng-Chiang, one of the true terror with a horrifying villain and a Victorian aesthetic.  David A. McIntee wrote The Shadow of Weng-Chiang set forty years later and literally dealing with the after effects of Magnus Greel being killed after those time experiments.


The novel takes place in Shanghai before the outbreak of World War II where Hsien Ko, daughter of Li Hsien Chang, is looking for a way to intercept Magnus Greel’s journey to the past so she can kill him and avenge her father’s death.  Magnus Greel actually doesn’t have a presence in this story and the only linking factor back to The Talons of Weng-Chiang, is Mr. Sin making a reappearance.  The story is one of revenge and like other David A. McIntee novels the story really is in the foreground while it integrates a historic setting for the Doctor and companion to explore.  This time it’s the Fourth Doctor and the first Romana, in between The Stones of Blood and The Androids of Tara, searching for the Key to Time.  The search for the fourth segment occupies the first portion of the novel and is a bit odd as the audience knows that the fourth segment isn’t on Earth at all, but of course is on Tara.  Yes it’s nice to have another story to make the opening of The Androids of Tara run smoothly, but it really doesn’t allow any tension to build for the first half of the novel.


There is some enjoyment of the gothic horror aspect coming back into the novel especially since it takes place after The Stones of Blood, which is a motivation for getting through the first half of the novel.  Hsien Ko is a wonderful villain for the piece and the book plays out similar to a murder mystery where the Doctor is the main suspect in the case.  She’s extremely brutal when confronting failure and could easily give Magnus Greel a run for his money when it comes to murdering those underneath her.  She’s also extremely sympathetic as a character as she is motivated by the death of her father which is something that can turn any man sour.  You almost want her to succeed even if it will cause history as we know it to fall apart.  Setting Shanghai as a backdrop for the story allows McIntee delve into the complex race relations of the time between the Chinese and the British.  Both held contempt for each other as they go through these dirty deals of opium trade and tensions are building towards World War II.


The Doctor, being the embodiment of Britishness is thought to be a murderer as it would give a reason to continue the animosity between the two cultures.  McIntee captures Tom Baker perfectly as he is the Doctor only wanting to enjoy himself and he doesn’t care much for the less important Laws of Time.  He gets a secondary companion in the form of Li, a Chinese detective.  Li isn’t a very interesting character and McIntee is obviously trying to replicate the success of Jago and Litefoot, but it doesn’t really come across well in the novel.  Romana gets to be the better of the companions for the novel as McIntee grasps what makes Romana work as a character and even slips in little references to her origins in the production office as a laugh.  K9 is also in the novel, but doesn’t do much in the way of plot and McIntee really didn’t know how to get him out of the plot.


To summarize, The Shadow of Weng-Chiang is a shadow of a much better story.  Like many sequels it is nowhere near as good as the story that came before it in every sense of the word.  McIntee manages however to make the novel at the very least an engaging story with a good old fashion revenge plot to keep readers going to the end.  73/100

The Queen of Time by: Brian Hayles adapted by: Catherine Harvey directed by: Lisa Bowerman: The Celestial Toymaker Done Right

The Queen of Time is performed by Frazer Hines as Jamie McCrimmon and the Doctor, and Wendy Padbury as Zoe Heriot with Caroline Faber as Hecuba.  It was written by Brian Hayles, adapted by Catherine Harvey, directed by Lisa Bowerman, and released in October 2013 by Big Finish Productions.


The Celestial Toymaker is a visual story that had its original ideas rewritten by the production staff and the story was altered beyond recognition.  It changed from a surreal piece to four episodes of children’s party games with Michael Gough, but as it would turn out writer Brian Hayles didn’t give up the concept of extra-dimensional beings capturing the Doctor.  He would turn in his script for The Queen of Time to the production office, only for it to get rejected and the surviving materials sent to the exile of Frazer Hines’s garage.  Big Finish however was able to get ahold of the information and adapt the materials into a four episode Lost Story in 2013.


The plot has a similar premise to The Celestial Toymaker opening with a very tense TARDIS scene where everything is normal until a record starts playing and an invitation appears on the scanner inviting the Doctor to dinner.  A pretty face appears and the TARDIS is captured in the domain of Hecuba, the titular queen of time, who makes the Doctor sit through dinner with her while Jamie and Zoe have to escape her domain of clocks.  While the story never really reaches the levels of The Mind Robber in terms of surreal atmosphere, it still feels a lot like the atmosphere of time screwing around is a really good we get to at least have vivid imagery.  It takes a style similar to a thriller story with some gross out imagery with the actual dinner for the story to work.  The biggest problem in the story is that it does go over the ground of The Celestial Toymaker, because on audio you can’t really go with the idea of surreal atmosphere that the script really wants.  A lot of the imagery that happens is the disgusting food and a scene where Zoe just ages both ways over and over again which really sort of goes on way too long.  The actual challenges are just dealing with these parodies of historical figures and the theme is just time goes on and on.  You aren’t really expecting a lot of the weirdness the story features.


Caroline Faber as Hecuba is Doctor Who does femme fatal.  Hecuba obviously wants the Doctor in more ways than one and she’s ready to go to any lengths to get him under her power.  Faber has this silky quality to her voice that lures you in, but also makes you a little wary.  She gets Jamie under her power causing a lot of the mess the story goes into.  The listener cannot really tell what she’s thinking before everything is about to fall apart.  She plays the part like a temptress, enjoying herself as she plays with the Doctor and his companions.  It helps that Lisa Bowerman only had three people for the entire story, Faber and the two regulars reprising their roles.  It makes the story feel very tight and Bowerman’s direction focused on getting the actors to give good performances which overall works for the story.  Frazer Hines again is brilliant as the Doctor, so much so that his performance as Jamie actually suffers in this one as a result.  The Doctor toys just as much with Hecuba as she does with him which is something extremely interesting for the story as it goes into just how manipulative in general the Doctor becomes.  He is trying to find a way out of the game as he simply has to watch as Jamie and Zoe are the ones doing the playing.  It’s also Wendy Padbury being able to recapture the magic as Zoe that helps with a lot of the danger coming through in the story.


The writing style from Brian Hayles also touches upon what could have made The Celestial Toymaker a great story and improves The Queen of Time which is lacking without any real visuals.  The Doctor is allowed to have fun in this story as he has to play the game and keep Hecuba entertained throughout a revolting dinner.  He is cracking jokes throughout the entire thing and trying to get little hints to Jamie and Zoe as to how they can get out of this situation.  The music by Toby Hrycek-Robinson should also be noted for how much it sounds like it was meant for a period piece.  It has this gramophone type quality that just sort of works for this type of story as it takes place outside of time as a way to signal how this situation works.


To summarize, The Queen of Time is an interesting look at exactly how a story could have worked with an extradimensional being as the villain of the piece.  The concepts of the story are honestly great, even if it treads a lot of the same ground as The Celestial Toymaker.  The direction and music score add to the atmosphere the story is evoking and the acting performances from the three performers are great, but Jamie McCrimmon suffers extremely as a result of the Doctor being in the foregrounds for the story’s duration.  Hecuba is a great villain and Caroline Faber is a great actress.  85/100

The Dark Planet by: Brian Hayles adapted by: Matt Fitton directed by: Ken Bentley: The Charge of the Light Brigade

The Dark Planet is performed by Maureen O’Brien as Vicki and Barbara Wright, and William Russell as Ian Chesterton and the Doctor, with John Banks and Charlie Norfolk as the Lights and the Shadows.  It was written by Brian Hayles, adapted by Matt Fitton, directed by Ken Bentley, and released in September 2013 by Big Finish Productions.


The Lost Stories were supposed to end after the third season with The Rosemariners, but the extras on that release hinted that a search would be in order to see if Big Finish were able to scrounge up some more scripts to adapt into audios.  Luckily four scripts were found to make up a fourth season.  Released in the Fiftieth Anniversary Year for Doctor Who, these four Lost Stories went back to the eras of the first three Doctors to provide an end to the range.  The first of these is The Dark Planet, which while written in the 1960s feels like something Andrew Cartmel would write.  Hayles originally wrote the story to be the fifth story in the second season, but it wasn’t made for a very simple reason.  While it is an instance of hard science fiction with amazing concepts and highly relevant themes, it could never be realized on a budget of even the most expensive films of the 1960s.  Much like The Web Planet, The Dark Planet is an experimental story whose only humanoid characters are the main cast and the rest of the characters are living embodiment of light and shadows.  It’s a story rooted in pulp fiction of the time and it wears it proudly on its sleeve.


The story is a story about futility of war and how communication, or a lack thereof, can prolong conflicts and drive even the best sorts of people to the depths of depravity.  The two factions in the war are the Lights and the Shadows.  The Lights live in a city of crystal and take crystalline forms when the need is required.  They are a people of science who are in a bad way as they have been at war with the Shadows for the longest amount of time.  It also has a message of not judging people by outward appearances much like Galaxy our, but it the story never really goes above that message.  The Lights are actually committing awful acts, preparing to kill themselves so they can save their planet and defeat the Shadows, while the Shadows, a minimal presence in the story, just want to talk things through and share in the Lights’ glory.  The depravity of the story is reflected on by the Doctor, who acts very human in the story.  William Russell of course is brilliant at imitating William Hartnell, and that helps as the Doctor wishes almost to be able to change history and allow the science of this early age to live on.  Of course this is an impossibility as the course of history cannot be changed and the consequences will be severe if there is even a slight change.  Hayles and Fitton make these scenes in the story be extremely tense as the atmosphere which is already very alien, feels very tense.  For once you really don’t know what is going to happen and if the main crew are going to make it out of the situation in one piece.


William Russell also reprises his role as Ian Chesterton, and while he always gives a good performance, doesn’t have much to do in this story which is a detriment to the plot as only the Doctor really has a good presence.  Maureen O’Brien’s Vicki however has much more to do as she makes friends with one of the Lights which is how Fitton and Hayles decide to reveal the darker nature of the planet to the audience which is a great way to pull it off as we are allowed to see the good and the bad along with tension.  A lot of the tension comes from the images of things you see in your head and what you don’t notice.  Take for example one of the cliffhangers reveals that a Shadow has made it into the city because it hid in the Doctor’s black cloak.  On television this would come out of nowhere as everyone has a shadow, but in your head you imagine the lack of shadows which really does work.


To summarize, The Dark Planet is just as ambitious as The Web Planet, but it is for the best that this story was stuck in an audio format.  The effects required to adequately adapt the script to the screen would never have been realized.  The story itself has some great messages, but the pacing is such a slow burn like a lot of the 1960s stories while the characters don’t do much.  78/100.