Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Room with No Doors by: Kate Orman: It's For Me Chris, It's Where I Go After I Die

Well, here we are near the end of the Virgin range of Doctor Who novels.  Only having three of each range to go, I really hope that the quality stays strong especially since Burning Heart was just so bad.  The penultimate Seventh Doctor New Adventure however is from one of the writers that ranks in my top five writers for the range, Kate Orman.  The Room with No Doors is a novel that continues to explore different settings for Doctor Who, as the television show never could do something set in Japan accurately on television, but in novel form its fine.  While the novel does not take any specific event from Japanese history, being set in the Edo period of Japan mostly at a monastery, Orman has done her research on the time period and is having a ball writing the setting.  It feels just as realistic as any of the good stories with historical settings in Britain and Orman is obviously having a blast while writing this setting.

 

It’s a setting that just feels right for the Seventh Doctor.  You have a monastery that is a place for contemplation while the Seventh Doctor is getting ready to die and he comes to the monastery to get ready for it.  The titular room with no doors is something that has been cropping up in Chris’s dreams and it represents where the Doctor’s past lives go.  The Seventh Doctor is actually scared because he forced the Sixth Doctor into his own room with no doors and is now scared that not only will it hurt and there is a chance that the Eighth Doctor will renounce the Seventh.  Yes we see the Seventh Doctor afraid.  This is something that the Virgin New Adventures haven’t done before, and it really gives you the feeling of dread as you know the end is nigh.  The Doctor is as depressed as he was in Nightshade as he just wants to be done.  And then he dies.  Yes the Doctor dies and is brought back by Death herself, who yeah she’s back.  Orman portrays McCoy’s incarnation at his finest as he is just getting away and of course gets dragged into the story.  The story however is the novel’s weakest point.  It deals with samurai fighting, but that really isn’t very interesting which seems to be a complaint often with Kate Orman.  The biggest offender of this was her novel, SLEEPY, but this novel still suffers from having a plot that is too busy touting its characters before telling a good story.

 

Orman however uses Chris brilliantly in this plot as he is the main character.  This is really his story as he finally cracks.  Liz’s death in Eternity Weeps not only brought back painful memories of So Vile a Sin, but also is a dagger creating more grief for him to deal with.  One of his first actions in the novel is to write the Doctor a letter opening as such:

“‘Dear Doctor,’ wrote Chris, ‘I give up.’”

This is how we open the story which is just chilling as you see where Chris is at the start and the book is letting him grieve.  There’s this powerful section of the novel where Chris just realizes that he isn’t a hero.  He realizes that people really aren’t heroes.  He does go down into becoming a coward, but that changes by the end when he comes to terms with who he is as a person.  The Virgin New Adventure hints that this novel is going to start a new relationship, at least in the original commissioning for The Room with No Doors, but as that is cut short it actually feels much like this ending was intentional.  Chris feels like he is ready to leave and actually go off saving the universe, which is a good fate to have for the Adjudicator who has lost so much.  I know he appears when Bernice Summerfield takes over the New Adventures which will be very interesting to see just where everything goes.

 

Two other characters that show just how good the novels by Kate Orman are and indeed this novel is.  First is Penelope Gate, who is a human being and the first time traveler from Earth.  She is a very strong-willed character who has actually trapped herself in Japan due to the use of an alien power source that she shouldn’t really have.  Orman does a lot of hinting when it comes to Penelope Gate and she’s a character who will actually be explored much later down the line, but to be honest in her first appearance she works very much as a one-off side character with her own little story arc, completed at the end of the novel.  The other character that Orman really relishes writing in the novel is Joel Mintz from her previous standalone novel, Return of the Living Dad.  Bringing Joel back into this novel is very interesting as we get to see a glimpse at how successful Isaac Summerfield has been on Earth.  He has been successful and Joel was actually very jealous of Summerfield and the Doctor.  The idiot has decided that he is going to go through time and space and changing history.  He does have sparring with the Doctor, but the impression is that well, he doesn’t actually know what he’s doing which is really a great way of doing the character.

 

To summarize, The Room with No Doors is a novel about the ending of the travels of the Seventh Doctor and Chris Cwej.  It is a novel explaining regeneration that is imminent and there isn’t anything that can be done.  Orman does an excellent job making everything very interesting filling the novel with even supporting characters who are interesting, even if this review neglected to mention them, but fails on the plot which is rather flimsy.  It is still a great book, much better than SLEEPY, overall and is deserving of a rather high rating of 80/100.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Emporium at the End by: Emma Reeves directed by: Scott Handcock: I Am The Manager, And You Will Obey Me

The Emporium at the End stars Lisa Bowerman as Professor Bernice Summerfield, David Warner as the Doctor, renowned pantomime actor and arch nemesis of Mark Gatiss, Sam Kisgart as the Master, and Rowena Cooper as the Mother Superior.  It was written by Emma Reeves, directed by Scott Handcock, and released in August 2016 by Big Finish Productions in The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield: Volume Three: The Unbound Universe Box Set.

 

The ending is paramount for a story and must be good or else the entire story can be ruined as a whole.  The Emporium at the End is not one of those stories.  It is slightly similar in ways to The Tears of Isis as it deals with how people deal with the end of the world, but instead of drama, it goes for comedy.  That’s really the tone that this box set has been going for, a comedic one as it has Bernice Summerfield, a deep character who is still very funny, and David Warner who is just brilliantly funny as the Doctor.  Somehow Big Finish coaxed out renowned pantomime actor and arch nemesis of Mark Gatiss, Sam Kisgart to play the Master.  Renowned pantomime actor and arch nemesis of Mark Gatiss, Sam Kisgart, however, is playing a version of the Master very close to the portrayal by Roger Delgado, with the pseudonym of the Manager is running this shop where people are buying these lottery tickets with money or memories, yes memories, to literally be atomized under the context that it’s going to another universe to save themselves.  Yes the plan is convoluted, but that’s kind of the point.  The story is meant to be a loving tribute to the Jon Pertwee era where the Master’s plans didn’t really make much sense and would definitely backfire in an easy way.  Renowned pantomime actor and arch nemesis of Mark Gatiss, Sam Kisgart does a brilliant job as the Master as he nearly seduces Benny to believe that he’s the one who is trying to save the universe.  I won’t reveal all the twists as they are too good to be experienced in any other way, but let’s just say the listener almost falls for the Master along with Benny and it’s all really down to renowned pantomime actor and arch nemesis of Mark Gatiss, Sam Kisgart’s performance being sublimely edited from the rather raw editing files that Big Finish recorded.

 

This story is extremely poignant as you really see just how sad all these people have become while the universe seems to be ending around them.  The Doctor shows that while he seems to think he’s lost his memories in an attempt to save the universe, he still has the core of the Doctor.  His arc has been what should have been the arc of the War Doctor and David Warner pulls it off brilliantly.  The Doctor really does want to see these people get to another universe and heck is willing to pay for them to get enough lottery tickets as a way for them to escape.  He is compassionate and I just can’t help loving it.  The Mother Superior and the singing nuns from The Library in the Body actually return in this one.  Damn they’re fun characters and when they get drunk with Benny and what they do to the Master in the end, while I feel that Big Finish may have had to do some horrible things to renowned pantomime actor and arch nemesis of Mark Gatiss, Sam Kisgart, to get that performance out of him.  She’s played by Rowena Cooper who when she gets drunk with Benny everything is off the wall as there are jabs about how to survive the end of the world you just have to be completely drunk, because at least you will have a lot of fun doing it. 

 

Moving on to the cyborg supporting characters.  & (pronounced Ampersand), played by Shvorne Marls, is the character used as a way to get the feelings out of the listener.  & is so na├»ve just about everything and really trusts that her father is going to get her away, yet it isn’t done in a spoiled brat way.  Her father even gets rid of his own memories to save her and the end will make you feel really good about this story because it is really uplifting.  Oh and Lisa Bowerman of course was brilliant as Benny.  Is there really anything else I can say about her that hasn’t been said in any of my other reviews for this set?  Bowerman loves the material she has to work with and is enjoying every minute of recording with all these people, even if in the extra features she, Rowena Cooper, Scott Handcock, James Goss, and David Warner warn how renowned pantomime actor and arch nemesis of Mark Gatiss, Sam Kisgart just was difficult to work with.

 


To summarize, The Emporium at the End is a story that ends the third box set of The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield.  It does some stuff to explore new grounds and a new character dynamic between the Doctor and Benny while still leaving the possibility that they will go back to her old roots in the main Doctor Who universe.  Emma Reeves understands Bernice Summerfield and what needed to be done here and does it masterfully, especially considering she’s a first time writer for the Benny range.  100/100

The Very Dark Thing by: Una McCormack directed by: Scott Handcock: We're Not Keeping the Universe Summerfield!

The Very Dark Thing stars Lisa Bowerman as Professor Bernice Summrfield, David Warner as the Doctor, Dierdre Mullins as Fleet Admiral Effenish, and George Blagden as Colonel Neave.  It was written by Una McCormack, directed by Scott Handcock, and released in August 2016 by Big Finish Productions in The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield: Volume Three: The Unbound Universe Box Set.

 

It might just be an affinity I have with surrealist stories, be it The Mind Robber and its land of fiction or The Deadly Assassin and its trippy Matrix like third episode.  Doing surrealism on audio can also be a more personal experience as you make your own visuals to the story unhampered by subpar special effects.  The Very Dark Thing does a spin on the surrealist story by taking the non-traditional universe and spins an anti-war story where the not so subtle metaphor has a good, if extremely ham fisted message.  That’s the story’s real fault in the audio is that it thinks that an apology and acknowledgement of problems can just make them go away.  The audio was really good, but the ending really let the story down because of this awful ending making everything really just come across as dumb.  The rest of the story is really good on the whole however.

 

Time has passed between Planet X and The Very Dark Thing and the Doctor is now on the planet Trematz which is this fantastical world with unicorns that murder people, babbling brooks, a humming in the air, and a very dark thing that is just there with its presence.  It’s a setting that feels like a happier version of Night Vale from the podcast Welcome to Night Vale.  McCormack does a great job at writing this setting and slipping in hints into just how horrible this planet has been in the war.  The playing with expectations as some characters see and hear some things while others see and hear different things is just done perfectly.  You as a listener go into the idea of an unreliable narrator as you don’t quite know what is going to be real outside that someone, somewhere is threating a planet, probably Trematz, with a doomsday weapon.  It’s a great way to get the audio going and to raise the tension of the story as you know that the world could end.  The titular dark thing is also terrifying as it really is just there, and when what it is reveals itself is actually pretty scary overall in the entire story revolves around it.

 


The character arc of the Doctor, who has been called the King of the Universe, and the man who ran away from the war.  Warner plays this Doctor in a unique way and makes such an impact throughout the box set because of how he isn’t trying to be familiar.  He is meant to be unfamiliar and his character just grows on you considering the Doctor doesn’t have a plan to deal with the villains of this story.  The villain is the Admiral who only wants an apology which just ruins her character in the end, but the comradery between her and her troops is portrayed really well in the story as they follow her out once they get their goal of an apology reached.  Lisa Bowerman and David Warner have this chemistry throughout the audio as they bicker and try to figure things out.  The humor between them is just the highlight of the story proving just how good Bowerman is as Benny and how good the story is just through the simple acting.

 

To summarize, The Very Dark Thing while poorly dealing with a ham fisted message through thinly veiled metaphors that symbolize that war is evil, which we already know.  It does this heavy message but the story itself is actually a comedy romp which actually helps cushion the blow of a very lackluster ending, but the rest of the production can of course compensate well.  I cannot say enough how good this one is and just how the quality of The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield has stayed consistent and hasn’t really had a story below very good in quality.  90/100

The Invasion by: Ian Marter: Underground Operations

The Invasion was written by: Ian Marter based on the story of the same name by: Derrick Sherwin, from a story by: Kit Pedler.  It was the 98th story to be novelized by Target Books.

 

This novelization, for being an adaptation of an already pretty gritty story from the 1960s, goes down as an even grittier version of the already great story.  Ian Marter has 150 pages to tell the eight episode story.  Now most 150 page novelizations from the time The Invasion was published, were of six part stories, so using it for an extra two episodes may cause problems in the process and could make things rushed.  Well, oddly enough the televised story actually had the main problem being that the final few episodes were dragged out so in the novel the pace is put to snappier while still being able to reinsert scenes that were cut from the original script.  Yes this is really what makes this novelization, for children mind you, feel very adult.  Ian Marter had the Don Bluth method of being able to put children through anything as long as there is a happy ending.  This novel has a scene where Major General Ruttlidge, a minor character who it was implied to be killed on television, actually forced to shoot himself in bloody detail.  The murder of the driver from Episode One is also expanded upon which is great especially when you take into account the fact that Episode One only had a script to go off of.  I feel Marter had the chance to watch the original tapes or at least had notes as several Troughton adlibs were left in the novelization.  The adult nature of this novelization actually makes it stand out considering it is just an adaptation of the television serial with no real deviations outside of some inner thoughts of the characters, which help out with getting the atmosphere across which is usually lost in the transference from a visual to literary medium, and adding in some scenes, it would be on par with the story.  The only change is the spelling of Electromatics to Electromatix in International Electromatics to make it sound more futuristic.

 

To summarize, The Invasion is a novelization that takes the very few flaws the original televised story had and added in some supplementary material as a way to keep things fresh for readers looking to compare and contrast them.  100/100

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Invasion by: Derrick Sherwin from a story by: Kit Pedler directed by: Douglas Camfield: I Hate Computers and Refuse to Be Bullied By Them

The Invasion stars Patrick Troughton as the Doctor, Frazer Hines as Jamie McCrimmon, and Wendy Padbury as Zoe Heriot with Sally Faulkner as Isobel Watkins, Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethebridge-Stewart, John Levene as Colonel Benton, Kevin Stoney as Tobias Vaughn, Peter Halliday as Packer and the Cybermen voices, and Pat Gorman, Ralph Carrigan, Charles Finch, John Spradbury, Derek Chafer, Terence Denville, Peter Thornton, and Richard King as the Cybermen.  It was written by Derrick Sherwin, from a story by Kit Pedler, and directed by Douglas Camfield, with Terrance Dicks as Script Editor, and Peter Bryant as Producer.  It was originally broadcast on Saturdays from 2 November to 21 December 1968 on BBC1.  Episode One and Episode Four are currently missing from the BBC Archives and have been reconstructed with animation from Cosgrove Hall.

 

So the late 1960s actually saw a decrease in ratings for Doctor Who which in tandem with a rigorous filming schedule forty to fifty weeks of the fifty-two week year, and constantly being over budget, it was decided that if the show was renewed for a seventh season they would change the format to an Earth bound series of science fiction espionage thrillers.  The Invasion however actually is the third story in the sixth season, opening the sixth production block of the show, but served as a test to see if the format would work.  It is the story that sees the return of Colonel Lethebridge-Stewart from The Web of Fear and introduces UNIT as a special taskforce to deal with alien invasions.  This time they’re up against the Cybermen, who don’t appear until the very end of Episode Four and this story is eight episodes long.  Yeah this is a story where you really have to have a good story when your draw, the villains don’t show up until halfway through and don’t actually invade until the end of Episode Six.  Good news though, this one has one real flaw and that is that the story is eight episodes long and Episode Seven in particular drags on at an extremely tiring pace that is filling time for half the run time. Other than that the serial is really good.  It is telling that this is part of a Golden Age for Doctor Who when an eight episode story is of such good quality that only one part of it drags and the rest of the story is on top form.

 

Episode One and Episode Four are currently missing from the BBC Archive and for the DVD have been reconstructed using animation.  Now quickie review of the animation itself outside of the story on a scale of ten.  It’s an 8/10 as while it is really good there is are a few little errors with Zoe’s costume for Episode One being off, and a lot of it looks just a bit too choppy, but it was 2006 so what are you going to do?  It’s accurate enough to the original episodes especially considering this one has a complete lack of visual material to use as reference except from the surviving episodes.  Episode One itself is a story that opens right from the end of The Mind Robber and has a complete different feeling from the rest of the story.  It is meant to be a homage to one of the old Quatermass serials with International Electromatics having a totalitarian compound in the countryside where people are being locked in.  We don’t see much of it, but the things that we do see give this climate of fear around the company before we even meet the villainous leader, Tobias Vaughn.  We get this gripping sense of realism as the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe have to escape the compound and only do so after the guy they hitchhike with is shot by IE guards.  It’s just terrifying to see this random guy who we don’t know shot down early on in the story.  The tone sort of stays that way throughout the story with Don Harper’s atmospheric score to the story which will stay with you long after the final credits role.  It’s just terrifying.

 


The TARDIS has malfunctioned and the Doctor wants to repair the circuits through the help of Professor Travers from The Web of Fear and The Abominable Snowmen, but as there were rights issues they used a different, new character, saying Travers has gone to America.  This introduces us to Isobel Watkins, played by the lovely Sally Faulkner.  Isobel is the fourth companion for this episode even if she really isn’t a companion.  Isobel is an aspiring photographer who has had to use herself as model as a way to try and break into the industry.  She eventually photographs the Cybermen which actually give her that happy ending and she wants to save her uncle who is trapped by Tobias Vaughn at International Electromatics.  The interesting part of this is that she is an independent party in these proceedings and is dragged along on the adventure.  It’s something that allows for an interesting perspective for the proceedings which I like.  Faulkner plays off extremely well with the main cast as they go through the adventure trying to defeat the Cybermen.

 

By Episode Two the Doctor and Jamie have actually been to International Electromatics and we get Zoe’s first real moment of genius in this story.  She talks a computer into blowing itself up by giving it complex math equations.  It’s a scene in the story that is just hilarious as Padbury is having a lot of fun filming, she of course gets herself captured, but her main role in this story is to help UNIT with blowing up the Cybermen’s fleet which is going through space heading to Earth.  Padbury just gives Zoe this character of mischievous youthfulness that really has a lot of fun with the role and Sherwin’s writing exploits this for a lot of the runtime.  Episode Two also introduces us to Corporal Benton played by John Levene who throughout the actual story we get this impression of who this side character is.  It’s not down to Levene completely though as Douglas Camfield has cast actors with detailed character dossiers to play the characters even if they only get one line.  It’s just one reason I love Camfield’s direction in general and The Invasion is another great example of that happening.  Camfield is the best director for Doctor Who and The Invaion is full of great moments with direction, the cliffhangers are all great with Episode One, Episoe Three, Episode Four, and Episode Six are all great when looking at them.

 


Brigadier Lethebridge-Stewart appears in this story and UNIT really feels like a real military group especially considering the British Army helped with some of the action.  Seriously they got involved and the siege on International Electromatics and fighting the Cybermen are both great and done well.  Nicholas Courtney is great in the role and actually this is the story that made the Brigadier and the Doctor close friends.  Kevin Stoney plays Tobias Vaughn and he is just perfect in the role.  Stoney is an actor who has this sort of apathy in his performance and there is this dry sense of evil as he has a master plan to rule the world.  Stoney is just great in the role and you will love to hate the character.  Packer as played by Peter Halliday is Fritz to Vaughn’s Dr. Frankenstein.  He’s the henchman but you just love him as he screws almost everything up whenever he’s asked to do something.  It seems to be that Vaughn just cannot get rid of him as it would screw up with his plan.  Oh and of course there is no reason not to mention the star of the show Patrick Troughton as the Doctor.  He is the best thing about this story as he is the one to get into the action and the way he plays off Tobias Vaughn is just brilliant.  Going any further into it would really ruin this story if you haven’t seen it yet.

 

To summarize, The Invasion is nearly perfect.  The only flaw is that Episode Seven is too long.  95/100.  Oh I barely talked about the Cybermen? Who cares?

Planet X by: Guy Adams directed by: Scott Handcock: The Most Excited I've Been Over A Trowel

Planet X stars Lisa Bowerman as Professor Bernice Summerfield, David Warner as the Doctor, Julie Graham as Prime Minister Four Hundred Seventy, and Sophie Wu as Millie.  It was written by Guy Adams, directed by Scott Handcock, and released in August 2016 by Big Finish Productions in The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield: Volume Three: The Unbound Universe Box Set.

 

I’ve experienced a bit of structural whiplash in listening to The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield in order.  The first box set seeing Benny face off against the Daleks has a loose story arc running through all of them having one episode be a complete story, but it leads to each other very smoothly.  The second set having Benny face off against Sutekh in four stories that are all interconnected with Sutekh having a huge presence in all four of them.  They’re all part of one story in the same vain as The Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure.  The third set however doesn’t have stories that lead into each other.  Yes there is a defined arc, but these stories really have nothing to do with each other which causes this whiplash when listening to the series in order.  It however is really the only problem that intrudes on Guy Adams’s Planet X, the rest of the story is just great.

 

The Doctor has offered Benny trips in the TARDIS to any planet, but the TARDIS is dying so it can’t go anywhere else in time.  Benny has the Doctor take her to the titular planet X, famous for being boring.  It’s a planet where nothing interesting ever happens, so much so that nobody has ever been to planet X.  Benny being an archeologist wants to see what the entire fuss is about with this planet and the Doctor wants desperately to avoid it.  The time spent in the TARDIS arguing about going down to the planet is just hilarious as the two larger than life personalities play off each other in differing ways which is just funny.  Adams’s script is really good for a lot of things for the story.  They of course go down to the planet, but it turns out the real reason Planet X is the most boring planet in the universe.  It’s not because it’s just boring, but it’s actually a planet run under a fascist Orwellean rule where if you are any emotion other than bored, you are executed by death squads.  Seriously, this is just a terrifying concept which is great from Guy Adams.  The Doctor is immediately arrested for being too interesting.  Benny is fine because archeology is boring.  Yes archeology is boring so she can run free.  I think this is hilarious and Benny’s reaction is priceless.  She gets excited over a trowel and the prospect of digging things up.

 

Benny works to overturn the regime by turning Millie, one of the inhabitants to whom she gives the name Millie.  Children are assigned numbers and Millie is the shortening because Millie is one of the millions of girls on this planet.  Benny actually weasels out Millie’s human emotions and it turns out she was in love with a boy who was killed for being too smart.  Yes the intelligent are killed and Millie nearly was killed in this way, but she got a few questions wrong so she gets to live.  Sophie Wu gives a heavily nuanced performance as well as Lisa Bowerman as they want to overthrow the government.  Their plot gives well with the Doctor’s plot as the story is split between them which is for the best.  Bowerman is enthusiastic in her role as she’s pretty much reversing the brainwashing of Millie.  It’s done really well and Bowerman and Wu enjoy every minute of it.

 


The Doctor actually is allowed to the government as they want to use his knowledge to help their planet before killing him.  He meets the Prime Minister, played by Julie Graham, and they are allowed to have emotions because they have dampeners that suppress the emotions from the death squads.  It was really something that allows the audience to see how the Doctor has changed while the universe dies around him.  This is what the box set is using as an arc for its stories as the Doctor kills half the government indirectly, now people say he may not be responsible.  That’s false as he is actively the one who takes off their dampeners which kills them.  Warner does a great job as the Doctor, playing up almost a psychopathic nature that was present in The Library in the Body, but very subtle.  Yes this Doctor kills people without having real remorse which makes you really want to explore what is off with this Doctor.  It’s really quite good and makes the story interesting.

 

To summarize, Planet X is a definite improvement over The Library in the Body as it is a story that while suffering from structural whiplash, it manages to tell an engaging story.  It’s almost a macabre comedy seeing a totalitarian state having a lot of things all for the suppression of individuality and emotions which is a brilliant idea.  It is something that would have to work for the story and the acting in this one is perfect with all the characters giving across exactly what they’re supposed to give across.  95/100.

The Library in the Body by: James Goss directed by: Scott Handcock: Orient Express on the Murder

The Library in the Body stars Lisa Bowerman as Professor Bernice Summerfield, David Warner as the Doctor, Rowena Cooper as Mother Superior and Zeb Soanes as The Librarian.  It was written by James Goss, directed by Scott Handcock, and released in August 2016 by Big Finish Productions in The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield: Volume Three: The Unbound Universe Box Set.

 

After the success that was The Triumph of Sutekh Big Finish commissioned a third box set for Bernice Summerfield, but decided to move her back towards her original series where she was on her own.  She should be the top billed for these sets and this third set is the compromise Big Finish have is that they took Benny out of the regular universe, and forced her together with the Unbound Doctor from Sympathy from the Devil and Masters of War as played by David Warner.  It is a great idea as David Warner’s Unbound Doctor has been celebrated by fans and a return to these alternate universes have been a request from fans since they disappeared completely in 2008.  Now I haven’t actually listened to the Unbound range before this audio which is okay considering that it really isn’t necessary for understanding this box set.  You really only need to know that the question in mind when David Warner’s timeline was created is the premise of “What if the Doctor hadn’t been UNIT’s scientific advisor?” altering the timeline after the Second Doctor.

 

I was initially blown away by David Warner’s alternate take on the Third Doctor, as he comes across as pretty much the Doctor who has had too much power.  His universe is dying and he breaks into ours as a way to escape, except the TARDIS doesn’t let him and he drags Benny into his universe.  His habit of calling Benny, Summerfield, and refusing to help out gives us a very interesting take on the character.  This story seems like they are going to set up an arc to make him more Doctor-ish and it is really good.  Warner is great as a Doctor as he just doesn’t take anything from anyone, even Benny, yet even if he refuses to admit it, he feels genuinely bad for Benny being stuck in his universe.  He just wanted to use her to get out of his dying universe, not put her in the same fate as that universe.  Of course they’re going to try and save the universe because Benny really won’t let it just die and is going to find a way back into her own universe at least by some time.  He also is the one who caused the death of the universe making him feel like what the War Doctor should have been

 

Lisa Bowerman as Benny has a lot of fun in the role.  Her opening scene is just hilarious as she is giving a lecture when the TARDIS shows up, and she actually says goodbye to the room of students saying she’ll be back in a minute.  It’s just hilarious to see her have to deal with the new situation which shakes up the status quo and the performance is a powerhouse from Bowerman.  As Warner’s Doctor is apathetic, it is Benny who has to investigate the goings on in this library where they’re going to be under attack from a race that wants to destroy all knowledge.  Benny is just great in this story as she is the lead role.  Bowerman deserves the top billing she gets on the story’s cover as this is not Doctor Who, it is The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield, she’s the star, she gets top billing.

 

The actual plot by James Goss is also just really fun as it takes this library where all knowledge can be found and makes it a hostile environment.  There are invaders trying to destroy all knowledge as they believe it is the root of the war and if it goes away everything will be find.  The Doctor of course thinks they’re just being silly, but they’re essentially the villains with no real interesting motivation.  The twist about halfway through is that the library is actually the mouth of a giant parasite.  It goes around inviting everyone in and then takes all their knowledge by showing them what they think they want to see and then eats them.  It’s a really funny idea but the plot gets a bit convoluted as it introduces the Master, as played by renowned pantomime actor and arch nemesis of Mark Gatiss, Sam Kisgart, there for a cameo, because he is going to be the big bad of the box set which doesn’t really go anywhere, and everything is needlessly complex and could just stop a bit earlier to have a better conclusion.

 


The side characters of the story are also just a bit weird.  The Librarian does a great job at being a villain in the actual library while the Kareem are out in space being villainous.  It really isn’t anything that goes anywhere with these villains except a way to close the story by destroying it.  Benny plays off them great, but other than that nothing else really is interesting about them.  There are also some singing nuns who are there for comic relief singing classic British songs in numbers which is okay, I guess.  I really have no opinion on them

 

To summarize, The Library in the Body is again a really good opening for the third box set of The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield.  Sure the plot gets a bit complicated near the end and some of the supporting characters really don’t have any depth, but it’s just exploring this new universe for Benny to explore.  83/100

The Tears of Isis by: Una McCormack directed by: Scott Handcock: The World Ending Means the World Ending

The Tears of Isis stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor, Lisa Bowerman as Professor Bernice Summerfield, Sophie Aldred as Ace, and Gabriel Woolf as Sutekh.  It was written by Una McCormack, directed by Scott Handcock, and released in July 2015 by Big Finish Productions in The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield: Volume Two: The Triumph of Sutekh Box Set.

 

Good Night, Sweet Ladies was a hidden gem in the first The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield Box Set and its writer, Una McCormack was brought back to do the finale for the second box set.  The finale does something very interesting as it takes place at the end of the world after Sutekh has taken over.  It takes the crazy doomsday conspiracy theorists who say the world is going to end next Tuesday, and has the world end next Tuesday.  Sutekh literally causes the end of the Earth before this story starts, except for the country house where these doomsday cultists are staying.  They are getting ready to sacrifice their leader’s daughter to Sutekh as a way to let them have power over the universe.  Yes this one is really dark yet has a lot of dark humor that comes off as oh so delightfully British.  McCormack does such a good job creating this scenario and the sound design again by Steve Foxen, is brilliant.  I’ll give you one example which is Sutekh’s arrival.  It’s been thirty minutes and everything has been pretty upbeat.  There’s been dark scenarios, but the tone is light with Benny having an outburst at the cultists for their stupidity.  Everything goes quiet and it stays quiet for ten seconds.  A sense of fear comes over the listener when the next sound you hear is a knock on the door.  That is just one hell of an entrance for the literal god of death.

 

Gabriel Woolf is having too much fun as Sutekh in this audio as he is the one who has everything in his pocket.  His voice is smooth as silk when he enters as he has the situation right in his hands making it scarier than anything else he has done in the box set.  The voice almost lures you in with how calm it is and makes you want to get close to Sutekh yet it repulses you as to how Sutekh wants you dead.  He truly believes that he is the one bringing peace to the universe which is just terrifying in this audio.  It makes you extremely scared for your life even though you’re just listening in on a fictional story.  Sutekh isn’t the only god in this episode as the titular Isis makes her appearance as a literal deus ex machina.  Now I am usually the first one to decry a deus ex machina being used as a way to close a story, but that’s excusable in this one as the villain is a literal Egyptian god.  How else can you reverse things to the status quo?  By getting Isis, the god of life, to return life to humanity.

 

Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor still stays in the background in this one which is really good for this one as the Doctor gets to reveal of course his master plan for defeating Sutekh when he realized that yes they would be facing Sutekh after he escaped his traps from Pyramids of Mars.  It’s all really clever in the way that the master plan actually plays out and Sutekh is actually killed in this story and it really works.  Sophie Aldred as Ace also really does give a great performance in this story as well.  She and Benny have great chances to work off each other and she’s trying to figure out just how these things could happen.  She wants to try and make things right, but she can’t figure it out.  It’s a really good performance from Aldred who is just stellar as Ace.  Lisa Bowerman as Benny is also perfect as usual as she has to make her way through this country house where these doomsday cultists are.  Benny is just there to act all sarcastic about how they didn’t seem to realize the end of the world means the end of the world.  It’s a really funny script for Bowerman as it plays to her strengths.  Benny has to help the daughter of the cultists who were going to sacrifice her to Sutekh.  These scenes just make her bring out her leadership skills which are great to listen to throughout the story.

 


Finally we have the two cultists who are a husband and wife tag team.  Matthew Bates plays Russell Courtland who is really just greedy.  He wants to be taken seriously by the world at large and of course make a lot of money so he’s researched the cult of Sutekh, but really he’s just spineless.  He even sees the error of his ways before he is killed by Sutekh which is pretty good considering he’s really being controlled by his wife Susannah.  Sue, played by Rachel Atkins, is a woman who actually takes this god of the dead, we want to rule the world stuff seriously and believes that Sutekh is coming to improve them.  She abuses her wife and eggs him on to kill his own daughter as a sacrifice to a god.  Basically she’s just an awful person who actually deserves to die and Atkins does a great job.

 

To summarize, as a conclusion to the box set The Tears of Isis is a story that knows just how to get us afraid of its villain and tell its story in a tense way as you just want to figure out how the Doctor is going to win.  It seems for once that the Doctor can lose to Sutekh and the performances from the actors, the direction, and the sound design do a great job at communicating that fear to the listener.  McCormack has made the story great and it laves you wanting more.  100/100.

Burning Heart by: Dave Stone: Douglas Adams Wannabe

I’ve decided that I have to keep this one extremely brief for the reasons that it is a novel that doesn’t really have anything of real substance outside of a few points.  Burning Heart is Dave Stone’s third novel and it has become very clear as to what Dave Stone tries to do as a novelist.  He takes a general Doctor Who idea and then tries to imitate the style of Douglas Adams to make it a funny novel.  His first novel, Sky Pirates! Didn’t work at all in any context coming across as some good ideas muddled by bad attempts at humor and a convoluted plot.  His second novel is Death and Diplomacy which while good has a lot of flaws with its plot as its really only there to set up Happy Endings and move on the Virgin New Adventures to a new area.  It’s a good novel and all that has humor on its side, but now we have his third novel.

 

 Burning Heart is Stone’s attempt at writing a Virgin Missing Adventure and he decides that he is going to write for the Sixth Doctor and Peri early in their relationship.  This backfires as while on television their relationship did develop slowly, when he decides to place this novel in the realm of continuity (between Vengeance on Varos and The Mark of the Rani) causes the characterization of the Doctor and Peri to feel extremely off.  He writes the Sixth Doctor as a total and complete asshole to Peri and everyone around him.  But that’s what the Sixth Doctor was famous for wasn’t it?  No he wasn’t, outside of The Twin Dilemma Part One and Part Two, the Sixth Doctor continuously developed his characterization towards the character we know today.  Yes he and Peri still fought, but it became less and less antagonistic as time went on and they began to understand each other as friends which is something extremely developed.  I honestly think if Colin Baker was given this novel as a script for television he would outright refuse to do it as it isn’t what he wanted his Doctor to be.  Stone doesn’t do any better with Peri who really feels forgettable in this novel. He uses someone who may be Jason Kane, but really that isn’t very interesting for the novel to go with for a story.  She doesn’t do anything in the novel that couldn’t be done by any other supporting character in this novel.

 

In other reviews I see people compare this novel as Doctor Who as a story done in the world of Judge Dredd as it deals with a planet run by corrupt Adjudicators.  In my own opinion it is more like Stone is trying to emulate the style of 1920s and 1930s gangster era America on a planetary scale taken into a dystopia.  I am unaware of Judge Dredd and that series style of telling stories so it could easily be a homage, but as it stands Stone does do a good job of creating the world.  There are also some jokes that really do hit home in the novel, but most of them really don’t as Stone can’t get his head around using comedic timing.  I have a theory that Stone just wanted to make a multi-Doctor story with the Sixth Doctor, Peri, the Seventh Doctor, Chris, and Roz while there are evil and corrupted Adjudicators running around.  It wouldn’t really have worked so soon after the excellent Cold Fusion, and at least as it turned out the novel just isn’t very good.  To quote the Fourth Doctor from an actual Douglas Adams script this book is “Paralyzingly dull, boring, and tedious!”

 

To summarize, Burning Heat is not a good book.  The characters aren’t good, the plot is nonexistent, and while there are jokes that sometimes work, they pale in comparison to the work of Douglas Adams.  The setting is really good and Stone does a lot to make at least the setting interesting, but it isn’t enough to save this novel.  15/100.

The Eye of Horus by: James Goss directed by: Scott Handcock: I'm Just an Old Man in the Desert

The Eye of Horus stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor, Lisa Bowerman as Professor Bernice Summerfield, Sophie Aldred as Ace, and Gabriel Woolf as Sutekh.  It was written by James Goss, directed by Scott Handcock, and released in June 2015 by Big Finish Productions in The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield: Volume Two: The Triumph of Sutekh Box Set.

 

Ok Big Finish I get it, you’re emulating the New Adventures and characters in those novels don’t always appear.  That’s great.  It really is and the stories of this Box Set really are, but, and this is a pretty big but, stop crediting Sophie Aldred on the front of the case when she barely appears in this audio.  She isn’t staring, she’s supporting in this one.  That said, Ace’s role in this audio is done really well as she plays the background role while Benny is the one doing a lot of things in the audio to get through the story.  The story from James Goss who wrote the excellent The Lights of Skaro from the first Box Set and comes back to write the third installment in this Box Set.

 

The story by James Goss is actually similar not to anything that the New Adventures would really do, but similar to something really that the New Series would do.  Take an hour long episode, put its focus on a historical event, and add some science fiction elements.  There’s your story right there and James Goss does this masterfully taking the audience back to Ancient Egypt really to see how the Osirians influenced Egyptian mythology and culture.  It takes us to the reign of Hatshepsut where the Doctor, who of course has amnesia because he’s implanted his memories into the Pharaoh’s brain.  Benny arrives after the events of The Vault of Osiris to find herself wrapped up in political drama as the Pharaoh’s son Tutmosis is going through stress as his stepmother has kept the throne.  He of course goes out into the desert on the east side of the Nile where Sutekh is as an old man and basically ends the reign of Hatshepsut.

 

What strikes you about the plot of this part of the box set is that Big Finish actually brought in a specialist to do a lot of fact checking the production.  Yes this fictional account of the downfall of a Pharaoh had a fact checker on hand to correct mistakes and to be honest how easy it was to fit in the Doctor and Benny into the historical events almost makes you wonder.  I don’t know what about, but it makes you wonder.  Goss’s characterization of Hatshepsut as played by Sakuntala Ramanee comes across as this mix of power hungry femme fatale and loving mother.  A lot of the conflict surrounding her is because there is miscommunication which is really the biggest flaw in the story.  It comes across very much like it’s a sitcom plotline but at least composer Steve Foxen doesn’t include a sad trombone in the score, which is an attempt to emulates Ancient Egypt in a weird way.  Hatshepsut also gets to be engaged to the Seventh Doctor who is posing as her confidant from history, so that’s just interesting to see the way she and McCoy play off each other.  They both are great together and make the relationship believable even if you can tell that the Doctor is just using her as part of his latest master plan against Sutekh.

 

Tutmosis as played by Matthew J. Morgan is also an interesting character to see as he is almost a pawn in Hatshepsut’s own master plan to create Egypt as this sort of steampunk, futuristic version where she rules the world.  Tutmosis is almost like an angry teen, but it is justified as the throne should be his and as he is pretty young, it’s easy to see why he would be influenced by Sutekh into destroying his stepmother’s work.  Yes Sutekh is the actual villain of this story and does it very much in the way that he was in Pyramids of Mars where he is in the background until the very end.  The ending of this one really does feel like the Doctor has lost and Sutekh is going to destroy the world which is very bleak.

 


Benny also gets to have another chance in the spotlight in this audio as she has to be the one to figure everything out.  The Doctor really isn’t any help to Benny in this story as he’s got amnesia and she’s the one trying to further his master plan.  The conflict comes because she isn’t in on the plan and is trying to find a needle in a stack of needles that all look identical as well as trying to keep the stack intact so it can be carted off to its own life.  Yeah this is a great performance from Lisa Bowerman as Benny is lauded as a goddess and is trying to get everything on track, but she just keeps failing.  It’s really good and Handcock directs the entire cast really well, more on that in the next one.

 

To summarize, The Eye of Horus, while not having anything to do with the actual eye of Horus as seen in Doctor Who, is a great story.  It works at setting up the conclusion to the box set while giving us some explanation to the characters of the story it wants to tell.  There are problems with some of the story feeling too much like a sitcom and Ace really not appearing in this one much, but it does a lot to keep the tensions high in preparation for a conclusion.  90/100

Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart by: Patrick Ness directed by: Philippa Langdale: Evil Cherry Blossoms

Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart 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 Philippa Langdale with Patrick Ness, Steven Moffat, and Brian Minchin as Executive Producer.  It was originally broadcast on 5 November 2016 on BBC Three.
 
It’s the halfway point for Class and anyone who is still kidding themselves, just stop it now.  The first half of the story at the very least is average at best and it’s finally Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart that at least rises a little bit above mediocrity.  Yes I can actually say that an episode of Class could be construed as good.  Albeit it isn’t that high above average, but still just a touch there.  I’ll quickly get through the bad stuff of the story as there is quite a lot of really bad stuff.  First and foremost, Patrick Ness doesn’t do well with the forty-five minutes of setup as the plot goes between three storylines.  First we have April dealing with her father who has been released from prison and is trying to reconnect with her.  Second we have a plot with the king of the Shadow Kin trying to get his heart back, a plotline that was supposed to be the A plot of the episode, but because the third plot is so much more interesting than either of the two.  The third plot is about Coal Hill getting a new head teacher, Dorothea Ames, who promises Ms. Quill that she can get that creature out of his head while carnivorous flower petals fall on London and multiply, starting to consume things.  Yes this is the interesting plot, but Ness does not use his time to effectively flesh out the three plots making many aspects of April’s story feel very flat and the stuff with the Shadow Kin is just tedious.  It tries to flesh them out as a warrior race, but it doesn’t really allow the fleshing out to actually happen as all we know still is that evil and apparently they just randomly have orgies.  Yeah the king just starts going at it in the middle of the episode which feels look at us, we’re edgy.  It’s something that comes out of nowhere and really doesn’t do anything to make the Shadow Kin well rounded characters.
 
All the romantic stuff in the episode is done badly.  Ram and April have sex this episode because April is in a state of distress, and they’re dating now.  Yes this was sort of set up by them snogging in Nightvisiting and some of the scenes really do work for the episode as they actually reflect on the numerous crimes you have them commiting, but there is no character development to see them as forming a relationship.  Heck Ram actually had a prior friendship with Tanya whom he went to confide in for a lot of things after his girlfriend was killed in the pilot.  I mean really, Ram and April have barely had any scenes together so the relationship comes out of nowhere and really feels like we need to force people together because target audience.  Also April hiding things from her mother really doesn’t seem like it would be in character for her as she also has trust for her mother.  Her outbursts towards her father actually make a bit of sense as how else would you react to the man who tried to kill you.  Her father however at least seems to care even if he is mentally disturbed which could go on to something extremely interesting if the second part of the full story really follows up on this one.
 
This episode is also the first one not directed by Ed Bazalgette and let’s be honest it shows, but this is a double edged sword.  Philippa Langdale can direct some shots very well.  The way she shoots Dorothea Ames and the opening sequence are both really well done from a technical perspective?  They just look really good, especially considering the fast paced direction this series has been aiming for.  The opening sequence of the falling flower petal gives off this sense of wonder and intrigue that a show like this needs.  It isn’t subtle, but it is very tastefully done.  The other edge of the sword comes in whenever we have to direct the Shadow Kin as it’s all done in an extreme amount of dark lighting and whenever there is a tone of red, the bad effects really show which is a shame considering how a lot of the effects have actually been, well practical.  The computer generated Shadow Kin in this episode just fall into that creepy area of the uncanny valley where they lose their creativity which was a highlight of the pilot episode for Class.
 
Character development guys!  We have character development in this episode and it actually feels partially natural for the series to actually do.  Charlie actually gets called out for using Ms. Quill as a slave to just do his bidding.  It’s the idea of having too much power for one’s own good and Tanya actually calls him out on it.  It isn’t very developed, but it’s better than the bland as white bread we’ve been getting for the past three episodes.  It’s something that actually makes sense for the episode to do as we reflect on some of the horrible things that the main characters have been doing since the pilot episode.  Also Dorothea Ames while falling into the Moffat trap of teasing something for the finale, at least interacts with the characters when she is introduced as the mysterious Governors’ plotline decides to rear its head and Ames is a good character.  Ms. Quill also gets some more to do in this episode instead of being a background character which gives Catherine Kelly a chance to show off her acting chops this episode as Ames acts very much like the devil making deals to get the creature out of her head.
 
To summarize, Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart does have at least some mark of quality on it for what it actually is.  It’s an interesting set up for a story that doesn’t exactly do much for advancement on many fronts while things that Ness has done well are highlighted in the episode.  The direction feels fresh and to be honest a lot of the story has time to be fleshed out in what is hopefully a good second half.  55/100.