Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Naked Time by: John D.F. Black and directed by: Marc Daniels: You Will Leave With My Blood On Your Sword

“The Naked Time” was written by John D. F. Black, was directed by Marc Daniels, was produced by Gene Roddenberry, held production code 7, was the 4th episode of Star Trek Season 1, and was broadcast on 29 September 1966.

Certain science fiction tropes have run their course and died.  The plague from space is one that was quite popular in the era of the Cold War, with the Space Age bringing the fears of diseases from the stars that humanity would not be able to combat.  The trope is an old one, drawing on a universal fear of the unknown and is a contributing factor in the early success of science fiction such as the famous Quatermass serials, novella Who Goes There?, and 1970s Doctor Who serial The Ambassadors of Death.  “The Naked Time” is one of those episodes of Star Trek where the writers are pioneering a trope and one that will remain in the public consciousness for a very long time.

The crew of the Enterprise have come to the planet Psi 2000 which is an ice planet that is about to die and a research team has not contacted the Federation for months.  Standard setup for an episode of Star Trek, and it is in the setup where the failures of the episode rear their ugly head.  In investigating the research base, Spock and two random crewmember’s (they’re names aren’t important) beam down and one of the crewmembers makes the mistake of taking off his protective gloves and touching things.  This is the kickstart to the plot as we have an exploration of what could have caused the deaths of everyone at the research station, found in positions such as working, showering with clothes on, lying down, etc.

This only gets us about fifteen minutes into the episode of course so the infection of our resident “red shirt” causes him to become irritable, attack Helmsman Sulu played by George Takei and some random Irish crewmember, and suddenly die.  Of course, this is cause for alarm as Sulu decides it’s a good idea to take a rapier and begin challenging people, shirtless, to a duel and the Irishman takes control of the ship, because he can do that apparently, and sing…very badly.  This is where the big twist on the disease comes in as it essentially makes people have a form of high energy intoxication.  It doesn’t kill them, but because the Irishman has taken control of the ship and as previously stated, the planet below is dying, here’s where our tension comes in.  The tension holds through the episode and it mixes extremely well with the absurdity of the performances.  George Takei gets an award for most flamboyant swordsman, while people are cackling like asylum inmates, flirting with women, and offering people cake, a swordsman is the most out there aspect of this because it’s obvious Takei is enjoying himself which helps the performance.

The standout however is when Mr. Spock is infected and becomes the opposite of his emotionless self.  That means of course that he becomes extremely emotional and gives a powerful speech about his problems with his family before snapping back into genius mode to save the ship.  Leonard Nimoy deserves an award and seeing him bitch slapped not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times by William Shatner.  The ending manages to bring the episode back to reality and ends on a note of uncertainty for the future: the crew has discovered time travel and is not opposed to using this in the future, with caution.  The final shot shows how great the direction of this episode was.

To summarize, “The Naked Time” is one of those episodes that uses a trope to its advantage with a stellar cast.  Its base is not the strongest, but the performances are stellar and go close enough to the top, without going too far over.  Shatner and Takei are the exceptions of course as they just let it all blow over into a masterpiece of campy goodness.  The direction knows just how to end the episode with a feeling of uncertainty for the future, almost acting like a real ending to the show possibly, even though it is four episodes in.  90/100

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Where No Man Has Gone Before by: Samuel A. Peeples and directed by: James Goldstone: Mercury Eyes

“Where No Man Has Gone Before” was written by Samuel A. Peeples, was directed by James Goldstone, was produced by Gene Roddenberry, held production code 2, was the 3rd episode of Star Trek Season 1, and was originally broadcast on 22 September 1966.

The third episode of Star Trek is interesting to note that it was the second pilot, so it is apparent from what was filmed to be working with a lower budget than the other two episodes we have seen thus far.  This only becomes apparent with the final act of the episode containing sets that wouldn’t look out of place in a low budget 1980s Doctor Who serial.  The episode also only includes three cast members to appear in the other two episodes, Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Sulu (George Takei), which all culminate to make this episode feel like it’s a prequel to the series proper, shown three weeks into the show.

“Where No Man Has Gone Before” begins with the Enterprise bringing on a capsule from a ship that went missing 200 years previous.  It is a memory bank warning the crew of a magnetic energy storm which then appears and destroys half the ship’s components, keeping them traveling at the rate of a car, in space.  Two members of the crew, Gary Mitchell played by Gary Lockwood, and Dr. Elizabeth Dehner, played by Sally Kellerman, are affected by the storm.  Mitchell’s eyes turn silver and he begins to develop extra-sensory powers, much like Charlie Evans in “Charlie X”.  The episode resists becoming an accidental rehash of “Charlie X”, focusing not on a teenager who doesn’t know how to act around others, but a good man corrupted by power and changing into something that he is not.  The plot is nothing short of a standard science fiction trope of a man with a god complex in the form of Mitchell, which is pulled off by the writing well.  Samuel A. Peeples writes a script that uses classic tropes to get across a character piece showing the breakdown of the relationship between Captain Kirk and Mitchell.

Shatner plays Kirk with subtlety for the first half of the episode, before hamming up the second half of the episode, where it begins to fall apart.  The writing makes Mitchell begin to create things out of nothing and become the god of his own planet and it is Dr. Dehner who is slowly becoming a god herself, and Mitchell creating a world is what the focus shifts to.  The writing feels like the show is trying to find its feet, feeling not confident in what it wants to focus on for the show.  The episode introduces the character of Scotty played by James Doohan, who has one line and is mainly in the background.  If it wasn’t for the Wikipedia page for this episode pointing out he will become an important character, I would have thought he was just an extra with a few lines to himself.  This is really the extent of the development for the characters outside of Kirk and it really doesn’t feel like the other two episodes.

“Where No Man Has Gone Before” is an episode that feels like it is a pilot.  The writing uses stock tropes to give the show somewhere to go and has a solid enough plot with William Shatner just being the only hook with Leonard Nimoy’s Spock being there to have dialogue bounced off.  It is a good episode, but has definite room for improvement.  70/100

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Charlie X by: Dorothy C. Fontanta, from a story by: Gene Roddenberry and directed by: Lawrence Dobkin: The Power of the Mind

“Charlie X” was written by Dorothy C. Fontana, from a story by Gene Roddenberry, was directed by Lawrence Dobkin, was produced by Gene Roddenberry, held production code 8, was the 2nd episode of Star Trek Season 1, and was originally broadcast on 15 September 1966.

If “The Man Trap” served as an episode to introduce the characters of Star Trek than “Charlie X” is an episode to show what types of stories the series can do, when written well that is.  The first thing that struck me about the episode is how much better the story was at direction and pacing were improved by miles above the first episode.  This is down to setting the episode on the ship, which saved money on sets, and allowed the director to use creativity to tighten shots.  This tightening of shots creates tension and this tension rises until the conclusion of the story itself leaves the viewer wanting to experience more.

The episode begins with the Enterprise beaming over men from the Antares to transfer a passenger.  Charlie Evans, played by Robert Walker Jr., was the sole survivor of a ship crashing on the planet Thasus where he has lived for 14 years.  The Enterprise is tasked with taking Charlie to his nearest living relatives on Alpha V.  The initial conflict of the episode comes from Charlie’s inexperience with social interaction so he is unsure of how to conduct himself.  Walker plays the character almost like a bad actor would act, never knowing quite where to put his eyes, not speaking in the most natural of patterns, and his biggest faux pas, slapping Janice Rand, played by Grace Lee Whitney, on the ass.  This section of the episode, while good, has the most problems, mainly in the dialogue.  The characters don’t really know how to deal with Charlie, but it feels a bit more like poor writing than natural.  Captain Kirk (William Shatner) has the worst luck here as the captain at the very least should have enough preparation for situations like this.  The sexual assault of Janice, however, while not the best portrayal, is done well with Janice not taking any of Charlie’s shit, but still is accommodating as he never really understood the social niceties.

The second act of the episode ramps up the tension by having Kirk attempt to bond with Charlie, but things begin to go sour.  It starts simply enough with Charlie using impossible magic tricks to impress Janice and other crew members, but the episode quickly turns to a darker tone.  Kirk attempts to teach Charlie to fight, but when his training partner laughs at the boy, Charlie displays a power of the mind, making him disappear.  Charlie is the villain of the episode and making a child the villain creates an insane amount of tension as none of the crew wish to hurt the boy, but he leaves them no choice in doing so as he takes over the ship.  This leads into a sequence of horror as he makes people disappear, turns people into lizards, and deletes their faces.  This is a highlight of the episode and uses simple effects and camera trickery to achieve something that still holds up.

The third act introduces the dynamic between Kirk, Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Bones (DeForest Kelley) as they use their wit to play Charlie in a game of three-dimensional chess (an idea originated earlier in the episode).  The way they take him down is to overload his mind by forcing him to take control of too much which is a clever way of ending the episode.  Once he is defeated the episode wraps up with the aliens he was raised by taking him back where he won’t be able to hurt anyone, which is a little bit of a deus ex machina.

Outside of the main story, the episode takes a bit of time to develop more of the supporting cast, particularly Lieutenant Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and Spock.  Spock plays an instrument while Uhura sings, and the way it is acted gives a lot to what Spock thinks of Uhura and vice versa, mainly their equal respect for each other.  Uhura is extremely flirtatious as she was in “The Man Trap”, but this feels extremely natural.  She also gets a scene or two later to expand on her role as communications officer, which reveals she is an accomplished engineer (all through one throwaway line no less).

“Charlie X” is an excellent example of good writing, meeting good direction, and good characters to create a science fiction experience that uses its allotted runtime to the fullest.  The few flaws come from scenes being not in the most logical order and some dialogue that doesn’t feel nearly as natural as it initially should be for a show set in the future.  80/100

The Man Trap by: George Clayton Johnson and directed by Marc Daniels: Attack of the Face Suckers

“The Man Trap” was written by George Clayton Johnson, was directed by Marc Daniels, was produced by Gene Roddenberry, held production code 6, was the 1st episode of Star Trek Season 1, and was originally broadcast on 8 September 1966.

Perhaps a little introduction is necessary before this review begins.  I have never seen an episode of Star Trek.  The closest I got to seeing and episode was the film Galaxy Quest, but the concept has intrigued me, at least more than the other franchise with the word star in the title does so I’ve decided I would watch the show and type up reviews for this blog with my 500-word minimum in effect.

“The Man Trap” is the first episode of Star Trek aired in September 1966.  Unlike many television shows, the episode opens without any real introduction to the characters and lets the audience glean what they can from their interactions.  This characterization without exposition is a double-edged sword for the show as we get many characters who only get minor characterization as the focus of this episode is on Dr. Leonard ‘Bones” McCoy, played by DeForest Kelley.  The plot focuses on routine medical examinations on planet M-113 provided by the Enterprise.  The planet is currently being used for research by Professor Robert Crater, played by Alfred Ryder, and his wife Nancy, played by Jeanne Bal.  Our first glimpse into the idea that something is wrong is when Bones sees Nancy Crater in the same light as the day they broke up, while Captain James T. Kirk, played by William Shatner, sees her as she would be today and a crewman sees her as a completely different woman.  This trope of a monster disguising itself as a familiar love interest, or potential love interest is nothing new, but the trope is used well to give insight into the characters in the first half.

The creature kills the crewman and the episode turns into a mystery to figure out how the crewman dies, until about 15 minutes in we get the creature on the ship, reveal that it is looking for salt to consume, stalks several crew members including Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols, killing many of them, and then impersonating Bones to try and survive.  This middle sequence of the episode is the most problematic of the story.  It’s 20 minutes of a 50-minute episode that doesn’t know how to focus, attempting to give us some characters (we are introduced to Spock, Uhura, Janice, and Sulu in a short period of time with each getting different levels of characterization).  The best characterization of Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy, who feels like an alien as he doesn’t flirt back with Uhura and has a less than normal reaction when a crewman dies, and Uhura, who is portrayed as a confident, flirtatious woman.

The pacing is only one problem of the middle of the episode as we have the creature inconsistently transform into other crew members as well as lovers (real and fictional) for the crew.  The biggest flaw is that the creature seems to wish to sexually assault the crewmembers due to the direction of shots keeping the creature almost as an oppressive force looking down on its prey.  I believe the direction wished to convey an almost hypnotic aspect, supported by the way the creature seduces Bones, but the director could have portrayed that much better

The episode improves with a conclusion where both Spock and Kirk must pull Bones out of his hypnosis and force him to shoot the woman he obviously loves.  It is an excellent climax for the episode and the episode has a nice coda allowing Bones to express his emotions.  The creature does reveal its true form, and while it isn’t the worst design for a creature, it does have a clever enough design and the idea of being a man in a suit and is only really shown in one or two shots so it doesn’t take you out of the viewing experience as much as it could.

“The Man Trap” is a decent enough start for a science fiction show with positives being focused on the ideas it plays around with, and some of the characters it introduces, but has missteps in pacing and a lack of characterization in many of its characters creating problems in serving as an introduction to a show.  It’s good, just not great.  60/100.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Update: The Return

Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome to another update for the blog.  I am very glad to announce the return of the blog as I have my new computer and an idea on what will be happening for the rest of the year and going forward.  First are the book reviews, which have been put on a temporary hold until I can finish reading the current book series I am reading, A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin.  Second, the audio reviews are also on a hold until I decide which audios I want to review next, probably Main Range releases 93-105 plus a few other ones that I’ve got.  Finally the television reviews will be coming back with a marathon of Series 1-10 in preparation for the new Doctor, Jodie Whittaker.

Friday, June 9, 2017

An Update on Where I Have Been for the Last Three Months

Well ladies and gentlemen this is the first I've really thought to write something on this blog.  Now I have done reviews for the Virgin Books and that has been great and I have done some reviews for the BBC Books.  I'm glad to say however that this is not the last you will hear from me.  The BBC Book Reviews will be making a comeback, I just do not know when I will be able to do another.  The laptop I use to write needs replacement and I'm writing this on my phone which is extremely difficult.  Thank you for your patience and I will be back within three more months.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Mastermind by: Jonathan Morris directed by: Ken Bentley: I'll Make Him An Offer He Can't Refuse

Mastermind is performed by Geoffrey Beevers as the Master with Daphne Ashbrook as Captain Ruth Matheson and Yee Jee Tso as Warrant Officer Charlie Sato.  It was written by Jonathan Morris, directed by Ken Bentley, and was released in July 2013 by Big Finish Productions.


It’s interesting that in the extras of Mastermind Jonathan Morris says that in writing a sequel to Tales from the Vault he didn’t want to write four mini stories in one story.  He just wanted to write one story for one hour long and while he definitely does this in the frame story of this audio, being the story of how the Master escapes UNIT’s Vault and gets back his TARDIS so he can take place in the Eighth Doctor Adventure novels and audios, it also tells three smaller stories.  The first story is how the Master became a gangster and casino king while getting on the bad side of the mafia, having his body decay, stealing other people’s bodies, and waiting to find a way to kill the Doctor.  This first story is an excellent pastiche of the film The Godfather with Geoffrey Beevers in the role of the titular godfather.  There are scenes with quotes such as “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse” and “It’s time to inherit the family business”.  The Master’s first ‘son’ is even named Michael.  The only problem that I can find with this section of the story is that the pastiche really doesn’t know if we’re supposed to take it seriously, or if it’s supposed to be funny.  Beevers is playing it straight, but some of the lines in the script are clearly meant to be jokes.


The second story is a little bit into the pasts of Ruth Matheson and Charlie Sato which is quite necessary as while Tales from the Vault introduced the characters adequately enough with good motivations as to why they joined UNIT, why they would work in the Vault, and how they deal with stress, it is Mastermind that delves into their pasts.  Charlie Sato wanted to be a soldier because his father died in San Francisco after he tried saving his daughter from an earthquake which brought their condo down.  Charlie is trying to prove to the ghost of his father and his still living mother that his father saved the correct child.  It almost shows the character to have a damaged psyche.  Ruth Matheson is just as psychologically damaged as her entire unit was killed in an accident.  She has post-traumatic stress disorder and blames herself for the deaths of her unit.  Daphne Ashbrook and Yee Jee Tso are excellent at portraying the damaged personas of their characters, but I will get back to that after I go into the third story.


The third story is the framing device where the Master has been captured by UNIT and is now being kept in the Vault.  He wakes up every five years and there are several protocols for dealing with contact with the Master as established by Brigadier Lethebridge-Stewart.  No operative is to spend more than ten minutes with the prisoner and the other will be watching through the entire time.  If a failsafe is pressed the operatives will be taken away for the rest of their lives until they no longer are a threat.  The Master of course uses his time with Ruth and Charlie to escape by manipulating those using different plans.  He starts by telling them the story of how he was captured and then he tempts them with the promise that he will save their loved ones and they start to fall for it.  It’s all a ruse however that Geoffrey Beevers pulls off excellently by making you question the reality of what you just heard.  Ruth and Charlie are hypnotized by the Master and let him out, while pressing the failsafe button.  The final scene is heartbreaking as this is most likely where the two characters will be unable to live the rest of their lives.


To summarize, Mastermind is a near perfect story.  The only problem is the idea that it is the Master being the Godfather from The Godfather, but Beevers doesn’t know how to pull this off either dramatically or with comedy.  Beevers is excellent in the audio otherwise and Daphne Ashbrook and Yee Jee Tso do excellent in their roles with Jonathan Morris’

The Library of Alexandria by: Simon Guerrier directed by: Lisa Bowerman: Destruction of Knowledge on a Global Scale

The Library of Alexandria is performed by William Russell as Ian Chesterton with Susan Franklyn as Hypatia.  It was written by Simon Guerrier, directed by Lisa Bowerman, and was released in April 2013 by Big Finish Productions.


The biggest problem with the finale to the first season of The Early Adventures, An Ordinary Life, Big Finish’s replacement for the Companion Chronicles, had was that it didn’t have too much with the twist halfway through changing it from a pure historical story to a pseudo historical story.  The Library of Alexandria however by the nature of only having half the running time is able to execute this twist much better than An Ordinary Life for this reason.  The Library of Alexandria also does it a bit better as it surrounds around the idea of a library that was destroyed.  The titular library is a historic library in Alexandria, Egypt which mysteriously was burned to the ground with yes many different accounts are told of how it was possibly destroyed.  Some say it was Julius Caesar, some say it was Muslim invaders destroying it in an act of jihad, one saying it was done by decree of Coptic Pope Theophilius of Alexandria, and one saying a sea monster destroyed it.  This being Doctor Who, the sea monster attack is the one that Simon Guerrier goes for when it comes to how the Library was destroyed.


The first half of the story is a straight historical story that serves to flesh out the characters of Ian Chesterton and Hypatia.  The story is that the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan arrive at the Library and Ian, being the science teacher of the group, works in the Library to pay for their ability to take a vacation in Alexandria.  The Doctor does the things he did in The Aztecs about not being able to rewrite history and not to give away anything from the future in this portion of the story, but really this is the story for Ian and Hypatia.  The problem with a lot of the first half of the story is that there really isn’t much plot, and it’s all a lot of scientific explanation which is really engaging if you’re somebody like me who really likes science, but if you’re in the story for the adventure this half really isn’t for you.  The cliffhanger of the first however I do have a problem with the execution as to be honest it just sort of comes out of nowhere and it is revealed that the Mim are invading Earth.  The second half of the story is just a traditional alien invasion story where many people die in the pillaging of the Library of Alexandria.  The Mim are doing their same plot from Shadow from the Past but Guerrier really doesn’t do as much in this story to make them interesting.  Here the Mim are really just the stock villains for the story.


The final few scenes of the story which include Ian and Hypatia teaching children and the reveal that the Rosetta stone survived the pillaging.  It makes the story end on the hopeful note that some of the knowledge kept in the Library has survived the burnings from the Mim.  William Russell while not recording any sort of interviews for this release and the extras are a nine minute music suite which emulates a very Arabic style of music in a minor key.  Russell is excellent as Ian Chesterton as he always is and it is Susan Franklyn as Hypatia who is a more interesting character.  Hypatia is someone who knows quite a bit on how the world works but because of the knowledge of her time she still believes in things like the geocentric model for the Solar System and that the Earth is flat.  Her interactions with Ian are extremely interesting to listen to as Hypatia isn’t portrayed as ignorant, it’s just there is a lack in a breakthrough in knowledge that enlightened most of the world.  There is also much made in the way of how language has changed over time including the word scientist originally meaning teacher or someone who studies math, not someone who studies what we know as science today.


To summarize, The Library of Alexandria is a story that will polarize some with the extremely different stylings of the two halves of the story.  The two performances of the story from William Russell and Susan Franklyn are excellent, but there really isn’t much in the way of changing an established plot structure.  Simon Guerrier writes a pretty engaging plot but the Mim really don’t make any difference than their initial impression.  80/100.

The Scorchies by: James Goss directed by: Ken Bentley: Jo is Making a Thing

The Scorchies is performed by Katy Manning as Jo Grant with Melvyn Hayes as the Scorchies.  It was written by James Goss, directed by Ken Bentley and was released in March 2013 by Big Finish Productions.


While I reviewed Doctor Who and the Pirates in the style of an advert to the play if I was to do that for Big Finish’s other musical effort, The Scorchies, I would have to do it in the style of a commercial for a television series which I just cannot find a way to spin without including some sort of video and clips.  This is because instead of doing a pastiche of an opera in the public domain, it does a pastiche of the work of Jim Henson with evil Muppet like aliens invading the Earth through television.  “The Scorchies Show” is on the surface the friendly colorful show for the whole family to watch except as with all Doctor Who stories they want to take over the world, killing humanity, and then burning the planet hence the name Scorchies.  The plot sees Jo infiltrating the television studio and ending up as a guest star on this week’s edition of “The Scorchies Show” and like all guest stars she has to make a thing, sing a song, and tell a story.  The writing from James Goss is full of extremely engaging characters, all of them being Scorchies, which really does do well to emulate the style of shows like “The Muppet Show”.  We open with a pre title sequence that is essentially an introduction from Mr. Grissfizzle, the leader of the Scorchies, to the Scorchies Show before Jo is brought in as the Magic Mice found her in the ventilation shaft.  The first part really has Jo and a Scorchie just be the ones to make a thing after this sequence and the announcement that the Scorchies have killed the Doctor dead.


Katy Manning as Jo Grant carries the show especially as the Doctor doesn’t at all appear as the Doctor but inhabiting the puppet of Professor Baffle, who is always baffled.  Manning gives Jo this almost descent into madness over the course of the story.  She’s told that the Doctor is dead halfway through which is her breaking point and after this she’s almost giving a performance of a woman who is unhinged through the second half of the story.  Manning is just great as Jo Grant in every scene she performs in and shows that she’s got a pretty good singing voice.  Yes Katy Manning sings quite a bit in this while playing multiple Scorchies and does it excellently.  Her best voice has to be the one for the Magic Mice who have this innocent voice of a child, but are spouting things about killing and death.  It’s just a good portrayal and they’ve got death rays so that’s got to account for something.  Melvyn Hayes is credited for playing the Scorchies, but he’s really just playing two of them, Mr. Grissfizzle, the leader of the Scorchies, and Professor Baffle, the bamboozled professor who created the Scorchies and became one himself.  Hayes, while not as versatile as Manning, if he was he’d be playing more of the Scorchies, he does an excellent job as Mr. Grissfizzle and Professor Baffle which could easily have been printed on the cover.


It’s important however to notice that this was the second musical episode that Big Finish did with Doctor Who, but the first to be done with all original songs.  Richard Fox and Lauren Yason do an excellent job with the couple of songs that they write for The Scorchies.  “Jo is Making a Thing” is the catchy beat used for the trailer for the story and is the main song for the first episode of the story.  It feels like something that would be written for a show like this and seems to be used in different episodes of the fictitious “The Scorchies Show”.  The other song written for the story is “We Killed Him Dead” which the Scorchies sing about how they killed the Doctor.  It is as continuity fest for the Third Doctor’s era of the show with reference to the Master, the Axons, Silurians, and many other villains which are hilarious.


To summarize, The Scorchies is a perfect musical episode for Doctor Who taking something simple like light evening family entertainment and turns it on its head filling it with evil aliens overall.  Katy Manning and Melvyn Hayes are excellent performers as they make all the voices feel like different characters.  The ending of the story is extremely poignant and James Goss’s writing makes the stories puppet villains be sympathetic even if they’ve already destroyed many worlds by this point and have killed people on Earth at this point.  100/100

Monday, February 27, 2017

House of Cards by: Steve Lyons directed by: Lisa Bowerman: The Snake Casino

House of Cards is performed by Anneke Wills as Polly Wright and Frazer Hines as Jamie McCrimmon.  It was written by Steve Lyons, directed by Lisa Bowerman, and was released in February 2013 by Big Finish Productions.


Taking the TARDIS team of Season Four to a space casino is an interesting way for Steve Lyons to explore their characters in a different way.  The story of House of Cards is a twofold plot.  The first plot involves Polly going into time high jinx with a time traveler while time travel is outlawed in this casino while the second concerns Ben Jackson getting into debt with the Sidewinder Syndicate, those in charge of the casino and is taken to the Game of Life where he has to compete until his debt is repaid or he dies, whichever comes first.  Of course the situation really works well as the plots intertwine with the sinister Miss Fortune being the figurehead behind the casino and all our hero’s problems, and Polly trying her hardest not to change things around with the story.  The Sidewinder Syndicate are interesting villains being taken from the 1960s. They are giant snakes that were once stuck in Chicago during the Prohibition so when they came back to the future, they’ve become gangsters.  Anneke Wills with quite a lot of voice modulation is excellent at the snakes, giving them these nice hissing sounds on the s’s quite like the Ice Warriors yet distinct.  If I had to complain I would say there could have been just a little less on the voice modulation because it does get in the way of Anneke Wills’ acting.  Wills also plays Miss Fortune using her natural voice plus a little accent to make the character feel terrifying.  Miss Fortune is a character that had to be done that way, but I would have preferred that she was played by a different actress, even if it was just Lisa Bowerman.


Lyons does an excellent job of making each of the four main cast distinct from each other.  Ben Jackson like in The Macra Terror is the one to be put under the hypnotic influence of the casino.  He is the one in the story from the working class so does have a lot to do with gambling.  It really works with the character of a sailor that the original series did with him which is of course how Anneke Wills plays him.  Frazer Hines as Jamie McCrimmon actually tries to be the voice of reason for Ben while he’s gambling.  Jamie knows about gambling houses and knows how people are swindlers and cheats, but Ben doesn’t listen.  As Ben is put out of action Lyons has Jamie be the one to save a lot of the creatures in the casino.  It’s still early days for Jamie, but he is still able to figure out how to disable robots by stabbing them in the eye with his knife which is an excellent way to disable them.  The Second Doctor is similarly portrayed to the version seen in The Moonbase which is an excellent portrayal, but again he is often in the background.  Anneke Wills again steals the show as Polly for the story as she is the one who goes on to save Ben.  She knows she can’t change history, but is still going to try.  This leads to the high jinx as she finds someone using time travel to repay her debt.  The girl is a sympathetic character, but there really isn’t much done in the way of closure to the story for her character arc.


To summarize, House of Cards is Steve Lyons’ great story about a space casino and feels very much like it could have taken place outside of The Macra Terror.  While there really isn’t everything to happen to each member of the TARDIS Team Lyons does excellent in the way of creating realistic portrayals of each of them.  Anneke Wills and Frazer Hines really make the story feel like a full cast audio with each of them taking up supporting characters which all feel like they’re created with their own lives.  The ending is excellent but a bit of the production just takes you out of the story.  85/100.

The Return of the Rocket Men by: Matt Fitton directed by: Lisa Bowerman: When Do You Know It Is Time To Die

Return of the Rocket Men is performed by Peter Purves as Steven Taylor with Tim Trelor as Van Cleef.  It was written by Matt Fitton, directed by Lisa Bowerman, and was released in November 2012 by Big Finish Productions.


The Companion Chronicles have been excellent at fleshing out the sometimes simplistic backstories of companions from the early years of Doctor Who.  Return of the Rocket Men is a story that gives us a paradox created to make a loop in the life of Steven Taylor.  The premise is simple, the Doctor, Steven and Dodo arrive on a colony near the edge of the galaxy where many ships have been crashing.  The colonists are terrified of a small group of Rocket Men led by Van Cleef have been pirating from the colonists.  It turns out however that Steven knows this particular group of Rocket Men from his past.  Van Cleef is the one who shot him down and he was rescued by a rogue Rocket Man.  They left him injured and taken to a hospital where he decided to enter the intergalactic army which is how he was shot down on Mechanus and would meet the Doctor in The Chase.  The first half plays out like a little story for the First Doctor, Steven, and Dodo, but it is the second half that really gives us the story for Steven as like in The Rocket Men, he takes on Van Cleef one on one.  Matt Fitton really makes the story work with a lot of effort put into making everything work well.  Steven actually is the Rocket Man to save his younger self.


The only complaint that I can have with the story is that really this could take place any time in Season 3.  It might actually have worked just a little better if it took place after The First Wave as there are several references to Oliver Harper’s death, but Dodo’s just there.  Dodo really doesn’t have much to do in the story which is at least made up by the fact that Jackie Lane hasn’t returned to record any audio dramas with Big Finish.  Peter Purves is excellent as Steven Taylor as in Return of the Rocket Men you really get to feel the emotions that are felt after the loss of Oliver Harper in The First Wave.  Steven actually feels the sympathetic character to the colonists and is ready to give his own life as a way to help these people.  Tim Trelor as Van Cleef is much better as a villain when compared to Ashman.  He’s more of a traditional pirate, greedy, but content to stay small so the intergalactic police don’t catch on to their scheme.  This helps the amount of despair as there really is no help coming.  Van Cleef is also ruthless when compared to Ashman as he kills people who goes against his orders.  One of these murders is played out in front of everyone with Steven looking on to the rather despairing situation.


To summarize, Return of the Rocket Men is an excellent story for Steven, but it really doesn’t too much differently than The Rocket Men.  It’s still an excellent story on the whole, but lacks quite a lot when it comes to characters that Fitton decides to introduce.  The focus is very different than The Rocket Men, dealing a lot with what it means to travel with the Doctor and deals with the possibility of everyone’s time to die.  Puves is excellent and Tim Trelor plays a memorable villain who will stay in your mind long after the story ends.  90/100.

The Last Post by: James Goss directed by: Lisa Bowerman: Return of WOTAN

The Last Post is performed by Caroline John as Liz Shaw with Rowena Cooper as Emily Shaw.  It was written by James Goss, directed by Lisa Bowerman, and was released in October 2012 by Big Finish Productions.


Receiving a literal death note is a fantastic premise to aa story, but a note saying the exact manner in which you are to be killed makes it all the more terrifying.  Much like James Goss’s previous effort The Time Museum, The Last Post is a story that takes an idea of a mother and daughter writing letters to each other and adds that dark twist to the plot of a global conspiracy.  The story spans the first three quarters of Season Seven with Liz Shaw giving calls, meetings and letters back and forth between her and her mother about everything going on.  During Spearhead from Space a letter was found saying someone would die, and then in Doctor Who and the Silurians Masters and Dr. Lawrence both received similar letters.  The same happened for all those who died in The Ambassadors of Death and while the Doctor is a bit preoccupied with the repair of the TARDIS, Liz has been working with her mother to figure out what all these men had in common and just why they’re being killed in these manners.  The premise for this story is excellent as it takes the form of almost a murder mystery for the first half until the cliffhanger when a letter arrives for poor Dame Emily Shaw because she and Liz know too much.  The second half actually plays out very much like a Season Seven Doctor Who story with the Doctor bursting in to save Emily’s life.  This is really where the villains start to make mistakes and they reveal themselves.


Caroline John plays Liz Shaw for the last time before her death which actually helps add to the atmosphere.  The Last Post is a story concerned very much with how death effects people and when killing is justified.  It is Big Finish’s big character study for Liz Shaw as she introduces the audience to her family and is portrayed wonderfully by James Goss’s script.  This really makes her realize just how little she keeps the Official Secrets Act and begins to realize just how small the world can be overall.  Liz is beginning to have second thoughts and still wonders about why UNIT is in so much disarray with two scientific advisors.  She also gets to be the one to defeat the villain as well as John portraying the villain.  John also portrays the Third Doctor and plays it like the Doctor in Season Seven which is very similar to Katy Manning’s portrayal of the Doctor.  Rowena Cooper plays Dame Emily Shaw and is excellent in the role.  Cooper knows just how over the top to go without making the performance feel silly in the slightest  While she isn’t a scientist, she is very supportive of all of her daughters, including Liz who became the one to pursue science in the family.  She and Liz share an excellent relationship with each other, always going out, but it is revealed she and the rest of those receiving the notes are on the same committee.


The second episode of the story reveals that the letters are being sent by the Apocalypse Clock, a Clock created to predict the end of the world and has been acting to prevent it by sending out letters warning those who will cause the end of the world that their time is nigh.  It’s a terrifying idea and only works because of a connection to The War Machines as the parts were recovered from the Post Office Tower  The Clock really gives all the death in Season Seven a lot of deeper meaning as it seems time is in flux and things could easily have been changed had some things gone differently.  The destruction of the clock however is down to Liz and her ingenuity as a character, and not anything anyone else is able to do.


To summarize, like The Time Museum, The Last Post is a perfect story to reflect on a companion for.  The villains have understandable motivation for doing what they are doing while the performances are excellent and WOTAN makes an interesting return.  100/100.

The Time Museum by: James Goss directed by: Lisa Bowerman: Welcome to the Chesterton Exhibition

The Time Museum is performed by William Russell as Ian Chesterton with Philp Pope as Pendoolin.  It was written by James Goss, directed by Lisa Bowerman, and was released in July 2012.


Memory is a funny thing.  It usually retains the impressions of times gone by, but rarely ever is the perfection required for most to get an accurate representation of one’s own life.  So what if we took the memories and turned them into a museum.  That is the inspiration for the setting of The Time Museum, a museum where time travelers are collected from all points in history and their experiences are put on display for the public to see.  While it is very similar to the main premise of The Space Museum, James Goss crafts an excellent setting as his story is an excuse to mix together elements from An Unearthly Child, Marco Polo, and The Crusade into one story then The Daleks, The Web Planet, and The Sensorites.  There is also much reference made to Lost Stories and Companion Chronicles, Farewell, Great Macedon and The Rocket Men, both get extended periods of though dedicated to them and all through this abstract setting of a museum dedicated to Ian Chesterton.


The plot itself is much darker than it could be as Ian wakes up to find himself in the museum with Pendolin, a guide helping him through the exhibition while whispering ghosts come to eat his memories.  The first episode involves Ian and Pendolin trying to run away from these ghosts until the darker elements of the story rear their head.  Pendolin is the creature who created the museum and used the guests who came to the museum as food.  He feeds off their memories, stories give him substance you see, but it kills them and people started noticing so they stopped coming.  Pendolin was unable to control his hunger for memories and started to eat the exhibits which turned them into ghosts and now Ian is the only one left.  Ian’s memories are Pendolin’s finest experience as he has had the most travel in his life, travel with a Time Lord, changing history.  The first episode is already very tense as you have an old man trying to escape the museum himself and you have these exhibits changing as Ian begins to misremember events so you have Daleks fighting Zarbi, the Saracen Horde against the forces of Alexander the Great.  There are random cavepeople fighting around and the first episode plays out very much like the greatest hits of the first two seasons of the show all in an hour.


The second episode really is what seals the deal making this story a great one as it ends in a climax where Ian shows what the Doctor was like in An Unearthly Child.  He was about to commit murder and it was Ian’s challenging of his morals that changed his ways.  This is enough to get under Pendolin’s skin and defeat the creature, returning Ian back to his own time having an adventure where the Doctor doesn’t appear at all.  This is really William Russell’s time to shine as Ian Chesterton.  He doesn’t really have to play the younger version of Ian that we would normally be seeing as this story is only taking place in the “present”.  Russell acts the part as an old man telling a story.  Ian obviously loved his wife Barbara, had great respect for the Doctor, and looks back on that period of his life with nostalgia for it.  He also is the sole reason the climax of the story works with Russell making himself out as angry.  Philip Pope is interesting as Pendolin is a multi-faceted character.  One moment there’s a child-like glee while the next moment Pendolin is a monster, ready to kill.  He’s almost the First Doctor for the story in a way and his fate at the end of the story is quite interesting as it is something that really fits the character.  Lisa Bowerman once again is on the top of her game as a director for the duration of the story.  She has the sound team really have the story feel like it is in a deserted environment.


To summarize, The Time Museum is one of Goss’s best efforts as a writer giving us the perfect story of a man who is near the end of his life and is looking back.  It could almost be seen as a death of the character and really gets things going.  Russell and Pope are excellent in the story and the tone is something that really doesn’t go for anything less than perfection.  100/100

The Selachian Gambit by: Steve Lyons directed by: Lisa Bowerman: Doctor Who and the Heist of the Dolphins

The Selachian Gambit is performed by Frazer Hines as Jamie McCrimmon with Anneke Wills as Polly Wright.  It was written by Steve Lyons, directed by Lisa Bowerman, and was released in February 2012 by Big Finish Productions.


Who can resist a good old fashioned heist story?  Well add in some space sharks and you can get a Doctor Who suited story that is straight out of the swinging sixties.  The Selachian Gambit is one of those stories.  It opens with an evocative image of the Doctor, Ben, Polly, and Jamie in a Galactic Bank because the Doctor got a parking ticket and is going to get a loan from the bank.  So the premise to get the Doctor into the story is interesting, at least in a way that when you really think about it doesn’t make sense.  So the Doctor is going to take out a loan, but how’s he going to be paying it back.  He isn’t employed and he doesn’t really have money so it seems like he’s just going to be getting himself in even more trouble.  Really the story is quite simple as before the Doctor can get the loan the Selachians arrive, try to steal money from the bank, but because it turns out the vaults are in other dimensions they decide to blow everything up.  The story has the Doctor dealing with a lot of the heist elements and the bomb is really just so we can have a good climax to the story.


Steve Lyons really understands how to right for the Second Doctor and Polly Wright in particular in this audio.  Lyons writes the Second Doctor very much as the mischievous imp in the early years of his own life.  He jumps around the bank and is working in the background to defeat the Selachians similarly to the characterization in The Tomb of the Cybermen.  It’s also very interesting to see how Lyons decides to handle Polly Wright, who is an underrated companion, and in keeping with the stories surrounding The Selachian Gambit has her told to go and make the coffee.  While this happens in The Moonbase, and the implication in that story is the same as it is here, she goes and finds a way to deal with the threat.  It’s while she makes the coffee that the story can actually progress.  Anneke Wills is an excellent actress in the role of Polly and is a natural in the audio medium.  A lot of her problems is on television she went over the top, but in an audio medium Wills just relaxes into the role of Polly and plays it for all it’s worth.  What’s interesting however that Lisa Bowerman and Steve Lyons only gives Wills the role of Ben Jackson to play.  Ben really doesn’t do much in the story, but Wills actually gives a good performance similar to the performance Katy Manning will give for Jon Pertwee.  It obviously isn’t Craze doing the voice, but Wills lowers her voice a few tones and adds a slight accent and gives us Ben.


Frazer Hines basically plays the other roles in the story.  His Selachians are excellent, but Bowerman may have added a bit too much voice modulation for the entire story.  He plays a rich lady which is honestly hilarious and as always his Second Doctor is on form.  Jamie McCrimmon is out of his element in this Galactic Bank as he really doesn’t know what any of these things are.  His curiosity really makes the story interesting overall as Jamie, but really this is a story centered more on Polly.


To summarize, The Selachian Gambit is an excellent story that has Steve Lyons extremely interesting Selachians in another story with the Second Doctor.  Anneke Wills and Frazer Hines are the only two actors in the play which allows each of them to flesh out their strengths as performers.  The plot while pretty good overall, has a bit of a convoluted mess when you really put the premise under any lens of scrutiny.  The direction is surprising as while Lisa Bowrman is usually excellent, but a lot of her choices just are a bit odd when it comes to the story.  75/100

The First Wave by: Simon Guerrier directed by: Lisa Bowerman: A Sound to Die For

The First Wave is performed by Peter Purves as Steven Taylor with Tom Allen as Oliver Harper.  It was written by Simon Guerrier, directed by Lisa Bowerman, and was released in November 2011 by Big Finish Productions.


I think Simon Guerrer should receive an award for the ability to take a villain from an arbitrary Doctor Who story which really isn’t held in high regard, and turns them into a terrifying threat as they work on audio.  I am of course speaking of the Vardans from The Invasion of Time who in The First Wave are creatures of pure energy, travelling through space at the speed of light as they are only radiation.  Lisa Bowerman gives them a voice that in one moment can be warm and inviting while the next it can be the voice of a serial killer.  Guerrier writes them as stalkers, following Oliver and Steven around the surface of the planet, biding their time until their minds are unable to fight back, and then striking where it hurts.  It’s because of this writing that allows The First Wave to be a story where everything feels like it is in flux.  The Doctor, Steven, and Oliver could easily die in this story and while there’s always that inkling in the back of the listener’s mind that that could never happen because of what Doctor Who has become, it’s a wonder that Guerrier was able to create that sort of atmosphere in his story.


The plot actually picks up from The Cold Equations with the Doctor piloting the TARDIS to the planetoid Grace Alone because time has determined that they are criminals from that planetoid.  The opening scenes in the TARDIS are excellently done, echoing The Aztecs in a way that should be done for someone who finds out about their personal future.  They have to be able to go back in time to go through the events where they become prisoner and accept their fates.  Tom Allen gives the beginnings of a wonderful performance as Oliver Harper as he wants to keep travelling before going to Grace Alone.  He seems to have just a bit of precognition that this is where he is going to end, which is of course just what happened.  The story then moves to the base on Grace Alone where it is revealed that the crew are dead, but only after the Doctor puts their information into the computer, and the Vardans appear.  The story really could have been told in four episodes as after the Vardans are revealed to be the real villains behind everything they ‘kill’ the Doctor who goes towards a plan to save them.  The story then goes into a plot with Steven and Oliver trying to survive away from the Vardans out on the planetoid’s surface.  This drains the characters energy to resist the Vardans who have the plan of converting the TARDIS team into radiation and invading time.  It works as a prequel to The Invasion of Time making that story feel quite better than it usually would.


Peter Purves and Tom Allen are excellent in their roles as Steven and Oliver.  They’re both working together to defeat the Vardan, but of course the Doctor comes in as a deus ex machina by the end of the story which really doesn’t work well.  Oliver’s end however is much better than anything in the story as while Steven tries to give him the chance to escape, he doesn’t take it and sacrifices his life to save the Doctor.  It’s poignant as the spirit of Oliver lives on in the TARDIS just until the First Doctor’s regeneration in The Tenth Planet.


To summarize, The First Wave is an excellent conclusion to Simon Guerrier’s Oliver Harper trilogy, but unlike his previous trilogy Guerrier never quite reaches the same heights.  The story is well acted by the three involved and the ending is definitely emotional but a lot of it feels rushed near the end so we can celebrate Oliver.  The Doctor disappears for large swaths of the story and could easily have his own version of the story told as he’s planning out how to defeat the Vardan invasion force.  95/100