Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Return of Doctor Mysterio by: Steven Moffat directed by: Ed Bazalgette: Doctor Who and the Comic Conundrum

The Return of Doctor Mysterio stars Peter Capaldi as the Doctor and Matt Lucas as Nardole with Justin Chatwin as the Ghost, Charity Wakefield as Lucy Fletcher, Adetomiwa Edun as Mr. Brock, and Aleksander Jovanovic as Dr. Sim.  It was written by Steven Moffat and directed by Ed Bazalgette with Nick Lambon as Script Editor, Steven Moffat and Brian Minchin as Executive Producer, and Peter Bennett as Producer.  It was originally broadcast on 25 December 2016 on BBC One.

 

When the trailers came out for this one people really said they looked awful and the idea of Doctor Who doing a superhero story is just a silly one.  Now I agree with this sentiment especially after Hell Bent was awful and faith has been lost in Steven Moffat and his writing which has had its ups and downs over the last several years.  I was still determined to be optimistic with the hope that the story could actually be good and maybe surprise us with the twists and turns it could give, but was ready if it didn’t turn out to be very good.  I saw it the day after Christmas and was severely disappointed from my very low expectations of the story, and surprised again that people praise this one for being good.  The plot isn’t a bad idea, with a pastiche of Christopher Reeve Superman films which could work for an episode of Doctor Who, nothing would be classic, but it could work.  It’s Christmas 2016 in New York City, an evil corporation is stealing brains of unsuspecting people and preparing to take over the minds of the world’s leaders.  That alone would make a good plot to a story, but Moffat decides to complicate things with the plot of the Ghost and his love life which has nothing to add to the existing story archetype.  It’s just doing the Superman story but in the Doctor Who universe which makes a sixty minute story a drag to get through.  I’m going to say it now however as not everything was bad in this story.

 

The one thing the episode does perfectly is take the basic premise of Aliens of London and World War Three and improves upon them.  Seriously the villains’ plan in this is the same plan as the Slitheen from that story, but here we can take them seriously for one reason.  The villains of Harmony Shoal, while not the Brains of Morphoton from The Keys of Marinus as many are speculating, are properly scary.  They have an appearance that will terrify children and adults alike and is an idea that really works for Doctor Who.  While the blood dripping out is blue and the eye flashing thing is almost too much of a giveaway as to who is controlled by the villains, the fact that there is blood and the heads open up is what makes them work as villains.  The biggest flaw is that when thought about a lot of their secrecy doesn’t make much sense as the map shows them as being all around the world, but if they’re all taking over others’ bodies in each location they should have been discovered by now.  Peter Capaldi is also a delight in this episode, for the most part.  Capaldi is great outside of the first fifteen minutes or so and the scenes where he’s depressed over River Song’s death.  They feel for the first time for a story with Capaldi, to be forced in his line delivery.  It isn’t convincing in the slightest and just doesn’t feel like the Doctor.  Outside of this however, Peter Capaldi is still a joy to watch and makes things much easier to get through when a lot of the bad elements of the story come through.

 

The biggest problems with this story is that, well to be honest, it feels like a first draft and director Ed Bazalgette (who directs the story just like his Class episodes which are really poorly directed) and writer Steven Moffat are inexcusable for going over the script and changing it.  The first ten minutes of the story and several times are flashbacks to Grant, aka the Ghost, growing up and the Doctor being a sort of mentor for him.  Now I actually like the opening as while Capaldi is awkward the most, if this was framed in a different way it would actually work.  The editing of the story doesn’t integrate these flashbacks well into the episode, and it would have worked better if the story was a mystery about who the Ghost was, instead of if we knew.  It should have focused on the Doctor, Nardole, and Lucy Fletcher figuring out Harmony Shoal and the Ghost and that first flashback could have been a big reveal.  It would have improved a lot of the pacing problems with the story which is what makes the plot itself not work.  They could have done a little nod to The Face of Evil where it turns out that the Doctor Grant met was for the Doctor, when he disappears for a bit in Deep Breath.

 

The acting and the characters of the story don’t help matters though.  Justin Chatwin as Grant/the Ghost is awful.  Chatwin acts with his forehead and almost all his line delivery comes across as flat.  He isn’t a good actor and the role doesn’t work for him, but he’s still somehow a big name to people.  The character also is a bit too forced with the whole he’s a nanny with a wacky secret identity.  Charity Wakefield, who is a much better actor, as Lucy Fletcher is also bland for different reasons.  Wakefield knows how to act and has chemistry with most of the other actors, but the character of Lucy Fletcher is just a bland person.  Sure she’s got a bit of character, but her problem is that she doesn’t seem to wish to react to things as they go on around her.  Matt Lucas returns as Nardole from The Husbands of River Song.  He was there.  To be honest he was bland here, but there was one or two lines I remembered and found funny.  Hopefully the character will develop as he appears more, but here he’s just an exposition machine with a bit of relief thrown in on the side.

 

To summarize, The Return of Doctor Mysterio is another attempt by Steven Moffat to be a good writer, and good ideas are there, but they aren’t developed enough to do anything.  The story feels like it is the first draft of the script overall doesn’t work.  Some of the things are really well done, but it doesn’t do much to be very good.  35/100.

An Ordinary Life by: Matt Fitton directed by: Ken Bentley: Because Racism is Wrong Guys

An Ordinary Life stars Peter Purves as Steven and the Doctor, and Jean Marsh as Sara Kingdom, with Ram John Holder as Joseph Roberts, Damien Lynch as Michael Newman, Sara Powell as Audrey Newman, and Stephen Crichlow as Billy Flint.  It was written by Matt Fitton, directed by Ken Bentley, and released in December 2014 by Big Finish Productions.

 

Doing a fish out of water story for Doctor Who has been done before in The Power of Three with the Doctor, but the type of story hasn’t been done with companions from time periods different from their own.  Matt Fitton’s An Ordinary Life actually takes place in between “The Feast of Steven” and “Volcano” from The Daleks’ Master Plan off the idea there is a story gap in between the parts.  It’s a fish out of water story for Sara Kingdom and Steven Tayler as the TARDIS crashes in 1950s London and halfway through the first episode, “An Ordinary Life”, the Doctor disappears along with the TARDIS.  Sara and Steven have to adapt to the new situation of 1950s London with the Jamaican Newman family, during a time where racism is rampant in London.  The writing highlights Sara and Steven’s lack of racism towards the Newman family because they’re both from post-2000 where most people don’t judge based on race, unless you’re a Dalek.

 

The first two episodes, “An Ordinary Life” and “The Unalike”, are the higher points of the story as they do the Hartnell historical story, but with a period too close for the time on the show when Hartnell was the Doctor.  It’s a study of the atmosphere of 1950s London and some of the types of people who are living through the time period through a diverse, both racially and intellectually, group of characters.  Fitton’s best part of the story is something that people will often miss as they only feature in one or two scenes in the entire story.  It’s how Fitton writes a group of young children which makes the era apparent to you.  They appear and throw some bricks into the window of the Newman’s flat and jeer at them because they are different.  It is the musings from Steven and Sara, placing the blame of indoctrination into this intolerance on the parents who have kept them in the dark on how nice these people actually can be. It perfectly sums up the point of these first two episodes as a morale about injustice towards others that is without reason.

 

Fitton’s script wouldn’t work however if he didn’t provide any nuance of the time period.  It could have easily failed if everyone who wasn’t Jamaican was totally racist and just awful people, but Fitton is smarter than letting that happen.  He makes the characters have varying degrees of racism as some hate the Newmans, but hire them because they need work.  The most nuanced character has to be Billy Flint played by Stephen Crichlow.  Flint is an interesting character as he conforms to society’s standards of racism sure.  He doesn’t really like the Newman’s as a family, and does many things that are unfair to them, but he still does business with them.  They are paying him for lodgings however and he has a glimmer of sympathy for the family, letting them stay and giving them somewhere to at least slightly belong.  Crichlow does a great job with the character.

 

The members of the Newman family are also varied and it is Ram John Holder’s Joseph Roberts, Audrey Newman’s grandfather, who steals the show in the first half of the story.  Roberts fought in one of the World Wars so is helping out with the money through his pension and cares for his granddaughter and grandson-in-law.  He takes life as it comes to him and knows that things will change, so he puts up with all the problems as long as he knows things will eventually turn out to be alright.  Sara Powell as Audrey Newman is also well done as she is a mother who hasn’t seen her husband in months.  She’s nervous as her husband has changed since he’s arrived in London, becoming more distant and tight with his life.  She wants to see her baby safe more than anything in the world.

 

Let’s talk about where the story really falls down and that’s for the second half which is an extreme flaw to get through.  While the acting especially from Peter Purves and Jean Marsh both breathing life into their characters with Steven adjusting perfectly to London while Sara has many moments with protecting Audrey’s baby.  It is revealed that Sara is infertile due to her dedication to her work and feels a connection of motherly proportions to the child.  They’re both really good in the roles and just make the second half bearable.  The problem is that an alien threat of shapeshifters is revealed.  They are basically the Chameleons from The Faceless Ones and I can see that Matt Fitton is trying to write a message about how prejudice and racism is wrong, but it doesn’t work.  It just is done too subtly compared to the first half of the audio to really be of any use for the story.  The pacing also goes down to a snail’s pace making episode three and four, “The Sleeping Army” and “The Enemy Without”, both go on with too much exposition to be interesting.

 

To summarize, the first half of An Ordinary Life is the set up to a great historical story that suddenly shifts into an alien invasion story.  The second half has everything fall flat having only good ideas, some great acting from Jean Marsh and Peter Purves, the writing for their respective characters, and the picture of a setting to hold things together.  Individually they make a great story, but the whole is not as great as the sum of its parts when it comes to the realization of this story.  The message gets extremely muddled in the middle.  70/100

The Well-Mannered War by: Gareth Roberts: Doctor Who and the War of the Space Turtles

The Key to Time season of Doctor Who had the Black Guardian as the villain of the final story and it seems to me that Graham Williams intended to bring him back in the future, but it never really happened.  There was also this jarring transition between the final season of Williams’s time as producer, Season 17, and the first season of John Nathan-Turner’s run as producer, Season 18.  The tone immediately shifted over from extreme overt humor to a series run on subtle humor and hard science-fiction.  Now the Virgin Missing Adventures, The Romance of Crime and The English Way of Death, by Gareth Roberts are set firmly in the Season 17 era of the show, but for the final Virgin Missing Adventure, Roberts sets The Well-Mannered War at the end of Season 17.  He means it to be the ending of the Graham Williams era and to be honest it feels like a transition.  The story itself is humorous for the first half or so, but then about halfway through it takes a turn for the dark when the villain of the story is revealed in its glory and the tension ramps up.

 

Before I can get into a lot of the positives, I want to get through the flaws of the novel first, because they are there.  First off the length of the novel is quite long for the story it is wanting to tell.  Roberts goes into depths about how the scenes are set up in the novel and the twists with the Femdroids being in control and the humans as a puppet government can be seen coming nearly at the beginning of the novel when the Femdroids are introduced.  It’s just a portion of the story that really brought down from the whole of the novel.  The length of the novel just adds to the problem by dragging everything out to the nth degree which gets tiring, which I read on long car ride.  Second the Metralubit election that allows K-9 to run for office as the premier creates a plot hole.  The point is the opposition doesn’t exist and it’s the Femdroids running things, but early on K-9 tries to save the life of the leader of the opposition.  This really isn’t explained.  Are the Femdroids keeping someone as opposition just to make it look real?  Does Rabley actually exist?  Is it the Black Guardian creating someone?  Finally, and this is really minor, the plot is a rip off of A Device of Death, but does the idea much better.

 

The plot itself is about a war where both sides of the conflict are terribly nice to each other.  Sure they fight, but they makes sure the missile strikes miss.  The leaders meet with each other over tea and a tea lady travels between both sides giving out snacks to the troops.  The story starts really by making jokes about this war while the Doctor, Romana, and K-9 are all separated from each other.  K-9 decides he’s going to run for office and much of the humor comes from the sarcastic nature of the character.  Romana thinks K-9 is doing it for self-esteem boosts, and not as he claims to help the Doctor.  K-9 is the delight of the novel and steals the show for its first half.  The villain of the Darkness, a hive mind that kills you, inhabits your body, and turns you into a zombie, actually starts to appear in these segment and inhabits Viddeas.  Viddeas goes through this spiral into madness as he slowly decomposes which has a lot of body horror which really works.  The Chelonians are featured in this novel and their leader Jaffid is the most interesting of the Chelonians.  He doesn’t think parasites (humans) are parasites and keeps up a relationship with the other side.  It is the best the Chelonians have been done and their punishment of the Web of Death and the sequence that goes along with it is hilarious to be sure. The characterization of the Doctor, especially in these scenes is excellent and Roberts encapsulates Tom Baker’s performance.

 


The second half of the novel is where things get really dark.  The Darkness becomes a much more terrifying villain as it causes paranoia.  The paranoia makes everyone want to go to war and bodies start to fall on both sides.  Communication breaks down completely and the missiles are fired.  The feeling of an actual war comes through and the danger of being in this conflict hits you like a brick and makes you wake up to how bad the situation has become in the time span of a few short hours.  Roberts makes the novel about the horrors of war and the transition to a darker tone really does work for the novel.  I feel the Darkness, as an entity, is Gareth Roberts’s writing on his opinions for war which is nuanced.  He characterizes it as something that doesn’t discriminate when it goes after people, it doesn’t pick a side and has both the humans and Chelonians killed.  Roberts keeps comic relief with returning the character of Melove Stokes from The Romance of Crime who was the best character.  His ending at the end of the novel is also amazing.  It becomes the highlight and almost makes the rest of the novel feel just a little bit boring for everything that has come before.  His interactions with Romana are also excellent as they have this chemistry with Stokes being over the top while Romana is the straight man to the comedic elements.

 

I think it’s time to talk about that ending right about now.  So after everything is solved the Darkness gets into the TARDIS with Stokes.  The scanner opens up to reveal the Black Guardian has made a deal with Stokes to seek revenge on the Doctor.  The Black Guardian only appears in this scene, but Roberts makes him an absolute evil delight for then novel.  I love the idea that he handwrites Stokes a note of thanks when he gets the Doctor.  It’s really just a funny little gag that made me laugh out loud.  The ending however is brilliant as the Doctor takes the emergency unit out, the one from The Mind Robber as a solution to the problem and to summarize my opinion can be seen in the final lines of the novel:

'Goodbye, universe,' the Doctor said sadly. 'I'll be back again, one day. Try to look after yourself. Mind out for the Daleks, keep an eye out for the Cybermen, don't let the Sontarans boss you about. Good luck.' 

The Doctor and Romana looked at each other. 

The Doctor kissed Romana quickly on the cheek. 

Together they pressed the button. 

THE END

90/100.

Doctor Who and the Seeds of Doom by: Philip Hinchcliffe: A Visit to Harrison Chase

Doctor Who and the Seeds of Doom was written by Philip Hinchcliffe, based on The Seeds of Doom by Robert Banks Stewart.  It was the 29th story to be novelized by Target Books.

 

Philip Hinchcliffe becoming a writer for the Target Novelizations is an interesting idea especially when he is adapting the stories that he oversaw as producer.  He and Robert Holmes are responsible for creating the gothic horror element in Doctor Who, and he could easily inject that into the story he was writing a novel of.  Doctor Who and the Seeds of Doom doesn’t really do that too much more as it was already a gothic horror story.  So Hinchcliffe for the most part just novelizes the story word from word from the script which doesn’t change the quality, apart from a few little details.  First off when the first pod opens up and infects Winlett we get it from Winlett’s first person perspective.  The novel describes how Winlett feels a power come over him when he is stung, giving the implication that the Krynoid pod has a mind of its own.  The Krynoid is already infiltrating his mind.  Second there is a scene in Part Four where Chase’s butler comes into the cottage where Keeler, turning into a Krynoid, is being kept with food.  We don’t get to see the Krynoid/Keeler eat the food, but the novel adds one line to make the scene feel like we see him eat.  It makes him out to be a monster and it really works for the novel to have everything feel terrifying.  Finally the scene where Chase gets crushed by the composter, Hinchcliffe adds some description.  He adds description involving how the crushing bones sounded and a description of the blood spraying everywhere.  It adds an element of body horror to the novel.

 


To summarize, Doctor Who and the Seeds of Doom really only has one advantage over the television story.  It will take you less time to read through instead of the original story’s run time of nearly two and a half hours, whereas the book takes about an hour and you can read it on the go.  100/100

The Seeds of Doom by: Robert Banks Stewart directed by: Douglas Camfield: The Pod Is Totally Unique, I Must Have It

The Seeds of Doom stars Tom Baker as the Doctor and Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith with John Challis as Scorby, Mark Jones as Keeler and the Krynoid, and Tony Beckley as Harrison Chase.  It was written by Robert Banks Stewart and directed by Douglas Camfield with Robert Holmes as Script Editor, and Philip Hinchcliffe as Producer.  It was originally broadcast on Saturdays from 31 January to 6 March 1976 on BBC1.

 

There’s something about a story where someone is changed from a good person into something completely monstrous that fascinates the mind.  It is the changing of humanity, which is seen as inherently good, into their darker side.  The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a novel that explores this in detail, but Doctor Who has actually tackled at least the concept of an alien masquerading as a human, but The Seeds of Doom goes in depth into the idea by taking inspiration from The Thing from Another World and the John Campbell novella Who Goes There?  The story does this for the alien featured in this story, the Krynoids, and has the first two episodes of the story being the reworking of the source material into a Doctor Who context, but the final four episodes being a tense action story set at a British mansion where a madman has stolen the Krynoid pod and allows it to germinate, and infect one of his lackeys.  It is a horror movie with deaths that aren’t bloody, but hit hard as the strength of the characters are what institutes the fear along with the tension brought around from the script.

 

The story opens in Antarctica, and to be honest the model work to establish that this is Antarctica and the quarry used to do much of the filming looks really good.  The lighting is really what makes you feel like these segments work, which combined with the fake snow almost makes you feel the cold.  The transition into the studio bound sets of the Antarctic base also does feel very cramped and very lived in.  The scenes of the scientists just examining the pod have the sense of foreboding that while they have the best of intentions in advancing science, they’re poking a sleeping giant and it is the fact that they meddle that Winlett gets infected and we deal with the first Krynoid.  The Doctor really doesn’t get involved in events until halfway through Part One when Winlett is being taken over by the Krynoid.  The drive of the first episode is to see if they can save Winlett.  It’s the episode that shows off the scientist characters of Stevenson and Moberley as played by Hubert Rees and Michael McStay respectively.  They both are working to save their friend and Stevenson in particular is the one who cares the most for his friend.  The Doctor doesn’t take any of their excuses and is there to get the job done, while he wants to save Winlett, he knows it most likely will end in Winlett’s death.  The scene where they suggest chopping off Winlett’s arm is dripping with atmosphere as they are going to go through with it.  The cliffhanger, while a standard monster reveals, also reveals that there is no hope for Winlett, he is lost.

 

Part Two of the story is the conclusion of the Antarctica story as the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Stevenson go out to track down the Krynoid.  They’re scenes that almost take a back seat to Keeler and Scorby, two henchmen to Harrison Chase come calling to the base and strongarm the Doctor and Sarah Jane into revealing where the second pod is located.  This episode in general is where we really get to see what Keeler, played by Mark Jones, is like.  We feel for him as he’s just doing his job and not wanting to get anyone hurt which is noble.  He’s your typical coward for the episode but outside of Keeler, this episode is there just to push the plot along.  It is a testament to the direction of Douglas Camfield however that the episode feels so tense, as it is only twenty-five minutes long, the tension makes the pace almost go slower.  This isn’t a flaw, but it is interesting to note as you are on the edge of your seat when things get tough as the Krynoid has tremendous power at its disposal, Scorby and Keeler set a bomb, and the base blows up in the face of everything.

 

Part Three is more of a traditional Part One for the second storyline working around the mansion owned by madman millionaire Harrison Chase.  This is really the episode to focus on Richard Dunbar, played by Kenneth Gilbert, and Sir Colin Thackeray played by Michael Barrington.  Thackeray as a character is the straight man to the comedic side of Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor.  This story sees the Doctor as manic and off the cuff as he’s cracking jokes one minute and absolute serious fear the next minute.  This story has some of the best lines for the Doctor with gems like “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had perfect pitch” and “What do you do for an encore, Doctor? I win.”  Baker just has perfect timing in the story.  Dunbar is also an interesting character for the story as he really embodies the idea of greed.  He sells the human race out for the money involved in it.  He tells Chase about the pods in the Antarctic and is leaking information.  For this he gets himself killed by the Krynoid in Part Four.

 

The cliffhanger to Part Three is probably the most exciting with Sarah Jane being held down by Chase as the Krynoid pod begins to open.  Part Four gets her out of it of course with the Doctor crashing through the roof, but it at least gives me an opportunity to talk about Sarah Jane Smith.  Elisabeth Sladen was always the actress perfect for the role.  She’s got this great chemistry with Tom Baker and is the definition of a great companion.  She’s the one that’s trying to get things done and goes a bit in over her head, so is captured. She feels human and Sladen exudes this warmth.  Sylvia Coolidge guest stars as one of the odd habits of the odd old woman, this time artist Amelia Ducat who just has this extremely eccentric woman.  I love the character because she just appears harmless, but could possibly be a secret spy which I love.  The episode also sees the Krynoid unleash its total power which is terrifying, especially when combined with the music of Geoffrey Burgeon.  It sounds nice to have instrumentals instead of synthesizers which happens.

 


Harrison Chase played by Tony Beckley is the human villain of the story and it is in Part Five which he descents into utter madness.  Now he was clearly insane before, as he sent people to Antarctica to retrieve an alien pod, allow his henchman to be infected with the pod, and didn’t care if the world is taken over, this episode has him become completely unhinged.  The Krynoid takes over his mind and has him do its dirty work.  Beckley just has this way with the character, he hates bonsai, plays music to his plants, and has a giant composter to dispose of his enemies.  I love the character.  Part Six is the episode that kills off Scorby, played by John Challis, Chase’s mercenary henchman who is also given yet another terrifying performance.  His death shows again how much of a coward he is, which is what many of the characters amount to.  Robert Banks Stewart writes a story that has greed lead to cowardice as people aren’t able to succeed on their own, so they turn to get rich quick, which in turn leads to their downfall.

 

To summarize, The Seeds of Doom while a story quickly written is actually a story that becomes a classic.  It is one of Doctor Who’s best with Tom Baker on top form as the Doctor, Elisabeth Sladen brilliantly as Sarah Jane Smith.  The villain is terrifying and works as a one off with the direction of the story makes the low budget look almost like a regular sized budget for the time.  The music is a nice change of pace for what Doctor Who was used to and the atmosphere will have you at the edge of your seat asking how they’ll get out of that one?  100/100

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Detained by: Patrick Ness directed by: Wayne Che Yipp:

Detained 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 Wayne Che Yip with Patrick Ness, Steven Moffat, and Brian Minchin as Executive Producer.  It was originally broadcast on 19 November 2016 on BBC Three.
 
Using an episode of a television show to feature the characters in a room and letting them play off each other is nothing new.  It’s been done in many shows as a way to give us some development and let all the dirty laundry so to speak come out into the open.  The big shame is that Class’s trapped in a confined space with the regulars episode is the sixth episode of an eight episode run.  This was really an idea that needed to be done back as the third episode and then maybe I would be able to actually like the series more than I have in the past. That won’t amend any previous episodes’ scores as that is the past and this is the present.  Detained works overall as an episode as it takes our main cast plus Matteusz and takes them into a prison outside of time and space in the form of a classroom.  They’re meaning to take an hour’s detention which alright I’ll give them that as it’s at least incorporating the school setting into the plot pretty well.  The idea is that this is the episode where truths will be revealed as there is an alien prisoner trapped in a rock that forces out the truth.  It’s a great idea for a plot and executed much better than the few throw away gags in The Time of the Doctor.  The plot is just our main cast trying to escape the room which is simple but effective as there really aren’t faults with the plot itself.
 
I have to fault Ness’s penchant for really bad dialogue in this episode especially because the first fifteen minutes are this frantic mess of exposition and establishment, getting the characters out of time, establishing that Charlie has claustrophobia, and getting Matteusz to pick up the rock to begin the conflict proper.  The dialogue really comes across as hokey with everyone complaining how angry they feel which could have been done by showing it to the audience, not just saying it.   It feels almost like they want me to critique just how unrealistic these characters are and there was one line from Tanya that just makes her sound like a huge racist.  Outside of the first fifteen minutes, however, the episode proper really begins as the truths that come out allow us to see into the minds of our characters.  Matteusz actually gets development as he remembers his grandmother and her reaction to the fact that he is gay.  It’s actually a poignant piece of dialogue that shifts into an actual showing of mistrust of his boyfriend.  It’s the easiest way of showing the audience as it isn’t just an exposition dump which this episode so easily could have become.
 
Tanya is the character built up as the leader of the group and for what she does in this episode, except for some comments early on, I feel she’s the most realistic one of the bunch.  She’s extremely intelligent and is always put down, not because of her race as many would think the diversity quota laden BBC would force, but her age.  She feels out of place because she’s only fourteen years old and what fourteen year old is supposed to deal with being three levels ahead of everyone else.  Vivian Oparah actually steals the show this episode taking the best bits from Nightvisiting and using them to advance the character ahead.  Greg Austin as Charlie is a character I’ve complained about in the past for not having much character.  Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart and Brave-ish Heart gave us a starting point, but here we get the development.  He communicates this inner struggle of wanting to have revenge, but knowing that deep down revenge on the Shadow Kin wouldn’t be the right thing to do.  He feels guilty considering he knows that his treatment of Miss Quill has been horrible so the alien.  April and Ram’s arc is a bit less enjoyable as they just go off of how in love they are and how they’re rushing things.  I think they’re still in love by the end of the episode, but it really isn’t clear as to the ending.
 
The direction is something I have to mention for how inconsistent it is.  Wayne Che Yip returns to the style of choppy editing in the first fifteen minutes which just gave my eyes a headache, but after fifteen minutes he slowed down the pace of the direction to something just a touch more manageable.  It really isn’t anything special, however, as some shots lingered on characters for too long, while others gave us some interesting angles to play around with.  Maybe it’s just the one set but the background looks really boring after a while which might end up being the point.
 
To summarize, Detained is a quality episode of Class.  Yes that’s something I really didn’t think I would be saying, but credit where credit is due, there are flaws but many of these can be overlooked for a generally good episode.  75/100.

Probably Not the One You Are Expecting #11: Cold Fusion by: Lance Parkin directed by: Jamie Anderson

Cold Fusion stars Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor and Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor, with Yasmin Bannerman as Roz Forrester, Janet Fielding as Tegan Jovanka, Travis Oliver as Chris Cwej, Sarah Sutton as Nyssa, and Matthew Waterhouse as Adric.  It was written and adapted by Lance Parkin, directed by Jamie Anderson, and released in December 2016 by Big Finish Productions.

 

If adapting Original Sin into an audio drama was already going to make audiences wary, but doing the same to Cold Fusion amps up the stakes.  These two releases both deal with the corruption of the Adjudicator’s Guild, but it is Cold Fusion that takes the established Doctor Who formula and confirms that it is the Looms as the way for the Time Lords to regenerate.  It also has insight into the Doctor’s past which suggests that he is the Other and had a wife, which is why he took Susan, the Other’s granddaughter, off with him.  The good thing about the audio is that it is Lance Parkin, the original author, who adapts the novel into the audio drama and just like John Dorney’s excellent adaptation of Original Sin, Cold Fusion is a pretty straight forward adaptation from page to CD.  There are a few references thrown in to The Day of the Doctor and The Sirens of Time, but the feel is definitely the same as a Virgin Missing Adventure would be.  There is one big change that slams you in the face and that’s what Parkin does with Patience.  In the novel Patience was a minor character who happened to be central to the plot, spending most of it asleep, but the audio adaptation has Parkin waking his creation up early.  This works really well as a way of adapting much of the internal monologue between the Doctor and Patience come across in a form you can understand as the characters understand.  Kristine Cavanagh plays Patience with this upper class accent and makes her really feel like she’s a female version of the Doctor, which I believe was the intention.  She’s also got really good chemistry with Peter Davison’s Doctor which helps drive the story forward making Parkin’s decision to wake her up early a really good one in the long run.

 

Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor was mainly a background figure in the novel and I originally thought that he didn’t really appear all too often outside of Part Five and Part Six.  I feel foolish believing that as just by McCoy acting in every scene makes you realize how present his incarnation of the Time Lord actually was.  McCoy gives a great performance especially when meeting up with his former self as he can be just as nasty as he was in the book to the Fifth Doctor. Parkin may have warmed to Davison and his portrayal over time, but Cold Fusion still points out the Fifth Doctor’s all too human side.  McCoy also is having a blast in his first scene which was extended and expanded from the novel just a bit so we can have more Seventh Doctor before going into the Fifth Doctor.  When the Fifth Doctor’s portion of the plot begins in the adaptation, the mood really sets in.  This is a Missing Adventure meaning to emulate the era and that comes across in Peter Davison’s performance.  Davison is playing the Doctor eerily similar as to how he was played in Castrovalva and Four to Doomsday, fitting considering where in the timeline this story takes place.  He is just as bit the apologetic Doctor that we all remember him to be and is enjoying the chance to work off his original team again.  He also must be commended for handling the more controversial material with Patience here.  He does great impressions of his earlier selves as they were featured and works well with the references to The Brain of Morbius.

 

Any Doctor is far off without his companions and the adaptation brings us all five.  Yasmin Bannerman, while starting out as Roz with no basis for the character and pulling it off, has the character down by now.  We’ve got the no nonsense attitude that shines through whenever she’s dealing with Adric in the story, yet she still obviously cares for Chris Cwej and the Seventh Doctor.  She’s the one to try and solve the problems and acts as the straight man to the comedy of the piece.  Adric, played by Matthew Waterhouse, returns in this audio to be paired off with Roz for most of the story.  Now I’m not a fan of Adric on television due to some bad writing and bad performances from Matthew Waterhouse, but now many years later he has grown the character into something new.  It helps that Parkin writes the character like pure gold, but Waterhouse at least knows how to act and doesn’t come across nearly as awkward as he did on television.

 

Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton as Tegan and Nyssa respectively are used as a double act here by Parkin and they fit well into the role.  Sure Tegan provides a lot of comic relief and they keep that one scene that introduces Chris to Nyssa, but you really realize how invaluable they are as characters.  Sadly they never got that chance to shine on television with many stories featuring either Adric or Turlough, but here they are in there element.  Travis Oliver integrates himself between the two ladies as Chris Cwej perfectly and we really get to see the stark contrast between companions.  All three are worthy of awards for the stellar performances.

 

To summarize, the Novel Adaptations Range has ended its semi-regular run with a bang, giving us the perfect adaptation of a book to an audio from one of the best writers of Doctor Who in general.  The acting is perfect, nothing is lost in translation, and alterations that are made do not take away from the overall quality of the work.  It’s just a shame that this is the end of a range.  100/100

The Dying Days by: Lance Parkin: Ending the New Adventures With A Bang!

These are the dying days of the Virgin New Adventures.  Paul McGann is now the Eighth Doctor, the books license is going back into the hands of the BBC, Bernice Summerfield is getting her own series of adventures, and the Ice Warriors have invaded London.  The Dying Days is the final Virgin New Adventure and is in essence Lance Parkin’s rewriting of The TV Movie to a British setting and touting much less controversial ideas, well until the very end.  The novel is also a celebration of the Virgin New Adventures and one last sendoff for the McCoy era.  I mean Brigadier Lethebridge-Stewart, Bernice Summerfield, Wosley the cat, Winifred Bambera, and the Ice Warriors of GodEngine.  The celebratory mood is present through the novel as we have an old fashioned invasion story for modern times which is the first and only time the Virgin New Adventures has ever done.  The format is delightful as you see most of events from the perspective of Bernice Summerfield who is always a delightful narrator and you see just where we’re going from here to get to the forthcoming New Adventures novels featuring her as the lead.

 

The plot itself has a straightforward plot, after the events of Eternity Weeps Benny is back at the house on Allen Road where the Doctor has asked her to meet him.  Like a bad boyfriend he is late and when she sees the TARDIS arrive, but it isn’t the Doctor she’s used to at the helm of the ship.  This one isn’t a master manipulator so when he returns to Earth just before an Ice Warrior invasion he doesn’t have a plan to defeat them so goes back to relying on the forces of UNIT to dispel the attacks.  The story is just as much a pilot for the Bernice Summrfield novels as well as a Pertwee story as it’s got the UNIT team working against government corruption and an invasion that’s only affecting the United Kingdom.  Lord Greyhaven is the human villain who has been working with the Ice Warriors to gain power under them after the many Mars missions have accidentally declared war on the Martians.  He’s a character wrapped up in government conspiracy and is a representation of the corruption that comes with power.  I could easily imagine him being played by Geoffrey Beevers or Terry Malloy if this novel was adapted into an audio drama.  He’s just a fascinating character and the embodiment of greed.

 

The already captivating style of Lance Parkin’s Just War and Cold Fusion bleeds through to this novel in some interesting ways.  Now first he makes you really feel the threat of the Ice Warriors even if there are only three of them present with one spaceship total.  It’s something completely manageable to the television movie’s budget.  He also allows you to really see when there is perspective from the Ice Warriors or humans as the Ice Warriors spell human names as if they were Ice Warriors, humans as humans, and the Doctor and Benny as they are.  The Ice Warriors in the novel are also a credible threat as they are ready to kill all resistance with the Red Death, a gas weapon that tracks down and suffocates people.  It’s a great way of creating a threat.  The fact that one of them is crowned the King of England which allows for scenes of some questionable to well executed humor.  They just slip in very well to the roles of governors and ministers which allows Benny to flex her specialty in Martian history.  The prose just flows off the page.

 


The two Brigadiers make a central appearance to the plot as Lethebridge-Stewart comes out of retirement to deal with the Martian threat.  One of his old military buddies who seemed to turn into a traitor, Lex Christian, escapes prison and takes his old friend under his wing to reveal the corruption.  The two of them really share a close friendship with each other and Lethebridge-Stewart doesn’t want to let his old friend down.  He also works much better with Winifred Bambera than they did in Battlefield.  This time around they know that it’s Bambera who is in charge of UNIT and he’s just there to help which allows for a really interesting working relationship.

 

Benny and the Eighth Doctor are the only point of contention that I have with this novel outside of a very slow pace.  The Eighth Doctor is portrayed well enough as the breathless romantic that he was in The TV Movie and you can see Paul McGann through the prose excellently.  He has an active role in the proceedings overall but there is one event at the very end of the novel that makes me stop and pause for just a moment and get a bit angry.  The same can be said about Bernice Summerfield who is just the absolute best character and perfect for the role of leading her own series of novels.  The Dying Days really has Benny as the main character with the Doctor acting in the role of the companion.  The events end with Benny passionately kissing the Eighth Doctor and pushing him onto a bed.  Then we fade to black and the novel ends which is something I really don’t like.  It might just be because Lungbarrow was the previous Virgin New Adventure, but the story really doesn’t work with these events.

 

To summarize, The Dying Days is an excellent way to end the Virgin New Adventures with a real band.  It keeps the story interesting with a traditional story as a way to introduce audiences to a New Doctor and a new era of adventures with a different style in comparison to the rest.  The characterization is top notch and the prose, while slow in places, is very engaging with a lot of the workings feeling like an old fashioned Jon Pertwee story.  It isn’t perfect by any means but it is a lot of fun to read through.  90/100.

Probably Not the One You Were Expecting #10: Original Sin by: Andy Lane adapted by: John Dorney directed by: Ken Bentley

Original Sin stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor, Lisa Bowerman as Professor Bernice Summerfield, Yasmin Bannerman as Roz Forrester, and Travis Oliver as Chris Cwej with Philip Voss as Tobias Vaughn.  It was written by Andy Lane, adapted by John Dorney, directed by Ken Bentley, and released in December 2016 by Big Finish Productions.

 

December 2016 brings the two final novel adaptations for Big Finish, at least for the time being.  The range as a whole has been excellent at adapting novels into audio dramas.  Even novels that are just mildly good like The Highest Science have been turned into great audios.  Now this trend has to be kept up with the final two and Big Finish picked some great novels to adapt.  What surprised me when the Novel Adaptations were announced to be continuing past the initial Love and War was that they were adapting Damaged Goods with Chris and Roz, two companions whom I hadn’t been introduced to yet in prose form and this story takes place pretty deep into the time they’re travelling with the Doctor.  I was excited when it was announced that Big Finish would be adapting their first adventure Original Sin for release in December 2016.  That feeling of wary anticipation set in once I read Original Sin and fell in love with just how good it was.

 

These reviews have been not on straight adaptation and loyalty to the book, but on how well the audio adaptation tells the story, be it changing it for better or for worse.  This adaptation by John Dorney has been written as a labor of love for the Virgin New Adventures and in an interview with Vortex Magazine Dorney mentioned how easy it was to adapt.  All he had to do was to turn the book into a script and to be honest it really works.  You get the same characterization of the novels characters from Lane’s original manuscript and as much depth all crammed into some exposition dumps.  Now I usually would be the first to complain about using an exposition dump as they are often unnecessary, but as this was a novel that featured quite a bit of world building in scenes that would see them killed off the way Dorney wrote around this was a stroke of absolute genius.  He takes the newsreader character in the novel and not only allows her to have a largely expanded role from the novel, but allows her to be reading out news stories of all these people’s deaths.

 

There are two major deviations from the original novel that while usually I would be annoyed with because of how it isn’t representative of the original story, but if the subplots were kept in the pace of the audio would have been dragged down.  The first is in the way Chris loses his body bepple, in the novel he is treated by a Doc Dantalionn, who erased Hith memories in the novel, but in the audio is there with a diminished role.  Second is actually the scenes with Chris’s family which again could just be cut out completely without having to miss anything.  I sure didn’t the first time listening to this audio which is a testament to how good John Dorney was at adapting Andy Lane’s original novel.  The pacing of the story is really good as well considering that the novel was already pretty long.  Dorney mentions he may have had to adapt it into a three disc release, but that isn’t necessary with the trims and cuts.  The pacing is also in two part hour long episodes bookended with the theme used in Damaged Goods.  It really makes this and Damaged Goods set out as later adventures with a completely new team for the Doctor and company.

 

This point on will have extreme spoilers for the audio so please go listen to the audio before continuing.  Philip Voss was credited on the front cover for playing this story’s villain who is a classic villain from the Patrick Troughton era of Doctor Who.  Yes the twist is that after The Invasion Tobias Vaughn has survived as a brain in a computer and has been corrupting the Earth with his own influence throughout history.  Doing this story is interesting considering Kevin Stoney, who played Vaughn in The Invasion, passed away and people usually would have an uproar if it was a recurring role.  The good news is that Philip Voss, through his already chilling voice and a bit of voice modulation actually makes it sounds like this is Kevin Stoney playing the character.  Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor works as a great foil to Vaughn and the rest of the cast especially Andrew French as Provost Major Beltempest who is also translated right from the novel.  It makes a lot of interesting parallels to the rest of the plot when the Doctor and Beltempest go to investigate the murder victims and the conspiracy though the Adjudicator’s Guild.  The character of Pryce also survives the adaptation unscathed and even better as Jot Davies plays him as a madman in a way that is chilling.

 

The other grouping of characters starts with Lisa Bowerman’s Bernice Summerfield.  It’s a great performance as Bowerman always gives and allowing her another story to play the character is great.  From the opening lines of the story which are chillingly depicting the death of one of the Hith in the arms of Bernice Summerfield throws you right into the action of the story.  She’s just got this way with her that makes everything interesting.  Yasmin Bannerman as Roz Forrester is great at portraying the nuance in the character.  This novel’s arc for Roz from the beginning was to establish her as a cop and have her world shattered with the betrayal of Fen Martle whom she ended up killing which makes her break.  Her sarcastic comments towards Chris and at the end of the story are a highlight for the character who gets to be much more energetic.  Travis Oliver as Chris Cwej allows us to see right into the character’s motivations even without the subplot with his familial relations.  Oliver and Bannerman work off each other and by the end they have begun the relationship that would make so many of the later novels.

 

To summarize, Original Sin is the perfect way of adapting the originally lengthy novel down into a manageable two hour story.  The cast is all great, but the amount of actors used can get a bit confusing at times as characters can blend down to each other.  McCoy, Bowerman, Bannerman, and Oliver all do great work and makes it really sad that they’re other novels will not be adapted.  95/100

The Dark Path by: David A. McIntee: There Is No Turning Back From the Path You Chose

The Master is always a character that I have an interesting opinion on.  I love the iterations as seen by Roger Delgado and Anthony Ainley on television and Geoffrey Beevers and Alex MacQueen in the audios.  The New Series Masters I have love hate relationships with in general which is fine considering how spotty the quality of the New Series can of course be overall.  Delgado’s incarnation is my favorite simply because he is James Moriarty to the Doctor’s Sherlock Holmes and it was sad that he never got to be in The Final Game which eventually became Planet of the Spiders.  So it was always going to be a difficult sell when the Virgin Missing Adventures decided that they were going to take the Delgado Master, or Koschei, and put him up against the Second Doctor in the middle of Season Five.  The wary feeling returned considering just how much I love the Master and the writer they brought in to write the story.  David A. McIntee is by no means a bad writer, but his track record only has one real story that could be considered a Classic with Sanctuary and one that was a dud with Lords of the Storm, the only book from McIntee that featured a returning villain.

 

I have to say however for the worrying feeling it wasn’t really justified.  Now The Dark Path is by no means perfect.  McIntee’s novel is way too long with large sections that are inserted to pad out the run time without adding any characterization to the Doctor or the Master.  There are sections there just so we can have a bit of Craig Hinton style fanwank.  The story itself is an interesting idea for the Master and is, thank goodness, not mutually exclusive with the origins as seen and discussed in Big Finish’s excellent Master.  McIntee sets us on the Darkheart, a planet where sinister goings on are occurring with the Adjudicators.  Koschei and his companion Ailla arrive on the planet and want to stop a war going on.  Yes this novel actually starts with the Master as almost one of the good guys for the early portions of the story.  The idea that this is where he dissents into madness and evil, while not done to total satisfaction, is a good idea and seems like this is where Death was able to get her grip on him.  I have to say that McIntee handling Koschei in this novel works as a preamble to Terror of the Autons where he first appears proper.  The character actually shows that he was good friends with the Doctor at one point to allow us to have somewhere to start on when moving forward.  He shows right on the off that he isn’t nearly as moral as the Doctor, resorting to hypnosis for infiltration and charming Victoria into doing his dirty work, but McIntee excels at writing the character and every line just oozes a performance from the legendary Roger Delgado.

 

Ailla is also an interesting character as she plays the companion to the Master, but halfway through the novel we get the revelation that when shot she didn’t die, she regenerated.  She’s actually a Time Lord working for the Celestial Intervention Agency to manipulate the Master into doing the Time Lord’s dirty work.  It’s a great idea and you really see Koschei grow at least as a friend to Ailla until he goes down the titular dark path to evil.  She also is a great example of what I like to dub the Romana effect, which is when the Doctor comes in to a person’s life, shakes up their world, and makes them a better person because of their experiences with him much like Romana’s departure in Warriors’ Gate.  Ailla’s a bureaucrat through and through and even by the end wants to bring the Doctor in to the Time Lords, promising a fair hearing if he complies, but he leaves her at the end and her final lines show just how much she’s grown.  She’s resigned to her fate of helping people recover from the death and destruction.  Maybe it’s guilt because Koschei goes insane once he thinks she’s dead, but it’s still a good portrayal for the character.

 

McIntee puts in an admirable effort when it comes to the characterization of the Second Doctor, Jamie and Victoria.  The Second Doctor is a Doctor difficult to get right in prose due to Patrick Troughton’s often manic performance.  My problems with The Menagerie, Invasion of the Cat-People and Twilight of the Gods stem mainly from an inability to adequately characterize the Doctor.  McIntee doesn’t do it perfectly, but the character shines through when he’s talking to Jamie or even Koschei.  He uses wordplay and selective information to get his way into the plot which is something Troughton’s Doctor would do, but the charm is a little lacking when it comes to the prose.  Jamie on the other hand is handled as if Frazer Hines himself was guiding McIntee through the writing process.  You get to see into Jamie’s mind in such a brilliant way and how he interacts with the future is a joy to behold.  He’s even got the same chemistry with the Second Doctor.  Victoria, while written well by McIntee, is just a bit too supplementary for this novel as she spends a lot of it hypnotized.  Koschei does tempt her over to the dark side with the ideas of being able to save the life of her father, but other than that there isn’t much for her to do in this story.

 

To summarize, The Dark Path may not be worth all the hype of the Master’s origin story, but it still turns out to be a good book from David A. McIntee.  It gets its characters down very well and can communicate a good story, but there are just sections of the novel that are a slog to get through and almost too much fanwank for anyone’s tastes.  80/100.