Monday, January 30, 2017

The Stones of Blood by: David Fisher directed by: Darrol Blake: Nobody Home But Us Druids!

The Stones of Blood stars Tom Baker as the Doctor, Mary Tamm as Romana, and John Leeson as the Voice of K9, with Susan Engel as Vivian Fay and Beatrix Lehmann as Professor Amelia Rumford.  It was written by David Fisher and directed by Darrol Blake with Anthony Read as Script Editor and Graham Williams as Producer.  It was originally broadcast on Saturdays from 28 October to 18 November 1978 on BBC1.


A common complaint against the Key to Time story arc is that the Black Guardian didn’t really play a big role until the final story, The Armageddon Factor, but I’d argue that isn’t true.  As spin-off media has established the Black Guardian uses a crow or a raven as a symbol to announce his arrival and The Stones of Blood in particular has a villain who couldn’t be doing what she’s doing without the interference of the Black Guardian, more on that later.  The Stones of Blood could have been corrupted with a stale format as The Ribos Operation and The Pirate Planet have the similar plot of the Doctor and Romana going to a planet, finding the segment, a problem arises stopping them from getting the segment immediately, they defeat the problem, they get the segment, and finally say goodbye, moving on to the next.  David Fisher’s first script for Doctor Who actually changes this format just a little bit by setting up where the segment is as a mystery.  The Doctor and Romana arrive on Earth knowing the segment is somewhere in the vicinity of the TARDIS landing, but the Tracer seems to be malfunctioning and they cannot locate it.  It isn’t until Part Four when the segment reveals itself and that’s a good fifteen minutes into the episode with Fisher focusing most of the story on the plot of who is the Callieach, a Druid goddess of war and magic.


Part One, at least everything until the scenes leading to the cliffhanger, is the weakest portion of the story mainly down to the direction from Darrol Blake.  The scenes with the group of Druids look great in Part One, but much of the day shots and shots inside the TARDIS just come across as stale and could have easily been chopped down to opening with the disembodied voice of “beware the Black Guardian” and putting together the first two segments to show that that’s how they will work.  It really just makes it a bit difficult to get into the plot until it is already underway.  This also comes down to the script, which is heavy on the exposition as if people haven’t been watching the season already.  You don’t need a recap of the Key to Time, but the revelation to Romana that it wasn’t the Lord President, but the White Guardian who is responsible for getting them on the quest.  It could have easily tied into the cliffhanger where Romana is pushed off a cliff, supposedly by the Doctor.  This is the best cliffhanger of the episode even if the direction of it is a bit off in places so that you cannot see if it is the Doctor, but I believe that is intentional.  Part One should also be noticed for De Vries and Martha played by Nicholas McArdle and Elaine Ives-Cameron respectively.  They survive until Part Two where they are killed by the titular stones of blood, but their function is to be cultists that worship the Callieach.  They don’t really serve a higher purpose but both actors give such over the top performances it is impossible to forget them.


Mary Tamm as Romana really gets her chance to shine in Part Two as she is wary of the Doctor for the first five minutes as it is the Doctor who pushed her off the cliff.  What is great though is that this gets the audience intrigued into the segment of the Key to Time, because it is suggested whoever controls the segment has forced it to look like the Doctor.  John Leeson as K9 actually gets involved in the plot in this part as he helps the Doctor look for Romana and just stay around.  Part Two also really serves the purpose to introduce us to the Ogri, the titular stones of blood.  The Ogri make for a great monster as they are silent, but they kill people to regain strength and are difficult to kill.  The way they are portrayed really helps the story give off an atmosphere of fear as many scenes are shot at night, adding to the tone, and the fact that blood is used only improves on realism.  You can really believe that these Ogri are killing people and there is a danger as they destroy some of the sets by lumbering around.  A random camping couple are introduced only to be gruesomely killed by the Ogri


The Tom Baker era has an odd habit of using elderly ladies in adventures as a foil for the Doctor and The Stones of Blood has Professor Amelia Rumford.  Rumford is an archeologist studying the Nine Travelers, and gets caught up with the Doctor.  She’s a no nonsense type character and has some of her best moments in Part Three.  She spends most of the episode with the Doctor while Romana has been sent into hyperspace, which Rumford thinks is impossible.  While the tone of the episode stays towards that of the gothic stories of the Hinchcliffe era, Beatrix Lehmann as Professor Rumford has amazing comedic timing.  Just look at the scene where she and Tom Baker figure out Vivian Fay’s secret identity or the scene where the Doctor tries to explain hyperspace to her.  It is no small feat as she is working with the comedic timing of Tom Baker who isn’t cracking jokes, but one-liners that catch you off guard at first and then make you begin to laugh at how humorous the situation the characters are in actually are.


There is a real shift in the plot between Part Three and Part Four as it turns out there is a spaceship in hyperspace, one which has been there for thousands of years.  There is a bit of a decrease in quality as the sets are a bit jarring.  The sets and location footage for Earth look real, while the spaceship looks just a bit too cheap for comfort.  Part Four is a highlight for the alien aspects of the story.  Vivian Fay, also known as criminal Cessair of Diplos, played by Susan Engel, is a marvelous villain.  Engel gives the performance of a cool, calculated murderer.  She seems almost one step ahead of the Doctor at all times.  This is where the Black Guardian comes in as Vivian uses ravens and crows for one, and couldn’t have escaped her prison without help.  She also knows of the Doctor’s quest, but the Doctor and Romana didn’t mention it to anyone.  The highlight of Part Four are also the ending’s small downfall with the Megara who are justice robots.  They put the Doctor on trial which amounts to fifteen minutes of complete madness and a clever ending, but sadly a deus ex machina.  Also Romana has little to contribute outside of opening statements.


To summarize, for the one hundredth Doctor Who story The Stones of Blood is an excellent story with a good mix of humor and horror.  It is one of the remains of the Hinchcliffe era of Doctor Who and works as a welcome change of pace for the Key to Time season.  Sadly the direction is rather poor and the cliffhangers really don’t allow an actual hang as they cut off just when the time is out.  The ending however is awful as it doesn’t really satisfy everything up to that point with the Ogri as great villains.  83/100

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Pirate Planet by: Douglas Adams directed by: Pennant Roberts: By the Nose of the Sky Demon!

The Pirate Planet stars Tom Baker as the Doctor, Mary Tamm as Romana, and John Leeson as the Voice of K9 with Bruce Purchase as the Captain, Andrew Robertson as Mr. Fibuli, and Rosalind Lloyd as the Nurse.  It was written by Douglas Adams and directed by Pennant Roberts with Anthony Read as Script Editor and Graham Williams as Producer.  It was originally broadcast on Saturdays from 30 September to 21 October 1978 on BBC1.


Douglas Adams is a writer whom I quite admire as a person.  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is one of my favorite books of all time for its humor, and his style of humor sounds on the surface as utter nonsense, but often conceals a lot of the way Adams views the world and interacts with it.  This isn’t always the case, but it is certain to be a good time when you have him writing your story.  The Pirate Planet is the first work of Douglas Adams of note and yet it’s a Doctor Who serial.  It sees the Doctor and Romana arrive on Zanak, a planet which is ruled by the tyrannical Captain and his lackeys as it hops around the universe, encapsulating planets and mining them for their resources.  The premise alone is Douglas Adams down to an absolute tee and watching the story you don’t really notice the flaws, which are small but many.  Within the plot of stopping the Captain, Adams adds in a group of psychic rebels called the Mentiads, a despot Queen achieving immortality, and the search for the second segment of the Key to Time.  As a story it’s almost full to bursting into a mess of storytelling, but it just barely avoids this with minimal fallout.  I say minimal as unlike many other Doctor Who serials Adams forgets to flesh out much of the supporting cast with only three characters fleshed out to their fullest.  The Mentiads, while intended to be a gestalt, are still pretty weak as they are your standard psychic tropes, and the actual citizens of Zanak are just there.  They don’t do anything, but they are there for no real reason except the Captain has to have something to do.


The actual quest for the Key to Time starts much like The Ribos Operation with the Key segment being important until the beginning of Part Two where it changes from the first story where the Key was the focal point of the Doctor’s actions.  The Pirate Planet has the Doctor and Romana be more concerned with rebelling on the planet until Part Four when the segment of the Key becomes important again.  The Key actually pads out the story just a bit which is a bit of a problem for the plot overall.  Luckily Tom Baker and Mary Tamm as the Doctor and Romana respectively at least make up for the Key not being the most essential element of the story.  The Doctor under Adams’s writing brings out Tom Baker’s manic personality and it’s obvious that he’s enjoying himself with the script.  He gets some of his more memorable lines under Adams when going up against the Captain.  His explosive appreciate it monologue in particular is a highlight as well as “paralyzingly dull, boring, and tedious”.  Mary Tamm as Romana, while decently written for an introduction in The Ribos Operation, actually really gives us the full breadth of her character in The Pirate Planet.  Adams plays up her greater intelligence than the Doctor while also showing that already some of the Doctor’s resourcefulness and quick thinking has rubbed off on her by the books original nature.  She steals the Doctor’s jelly babies and makes herself noticeable to the natives to get an idea of where they are.


The Captain played by Bruce Purchase is a cyborg pirate, need I say more?  Well I guess I’ll have to.  He crashed on Zanak and was surgically put back together.  He’s fueled completely by his own bloated egomania and greed.  He worships the Sky Demon and kills off his own crew if they disobey him.  Purchase plays the role so far over the top it has circled the structure back into the realm of a credible threat.  He’s so much a pirate he makes the Doctor walk the plank and has a parrot on his shoulder, sure it’s a cyborg parrot, but a parrot is a parrot.  Mr. Fibuli played by Andrew Robertson is the Captain’s chief crewman and a henchman to boot.  He speaks with this stutter, but isn’t afraid to stand up to the Captain who cannot bring himself to execute Mr. Fibuli making them have this weird relationship.  The performance makes for a great double act throughout the story even rivalling the double acts of Robert Holmes.  The final character that gets any development is the Nurse played by Rosalind Lloyd.  The Nurse, aka the hologram of Queen Xanxia, is a femme fatale for the story having her own greed be a driving factor.  She is ruthless and Lloyd gives an understated performance for the early episodes where she stays in the background until her true identity is revealed.


While I love the story to bits, and this review hasn’t been too condemning of the flaws and at this point it would get about 90/100.  I haven’t mentioned the direction of Pennant Roberts.  Now Roberts is really good at directing dialogue scenes.  The dialogue is really well directed with the cuts working to help along the jokes to land correctly with the script.  The problem is in the location footage which just looks bland, like they were trying to avoid anachronisms by shifting to the left, but more so the action sequences.  He doesn’t try to mask the fact that many of them were done with CSO.  Many involve K9 voiced by John Leeson who doesn’t help matters as he is unable to sell the badly directed action to us.  There is a scene where K9 fights the parrot by shooting it, but Roberts just has the effects people put them on CSO and shoot a beam in an awkward looking triangle.  It’s just a bad angle to be working with the camera and should have been thought out more before shooting started.


To summarize, The Pirate Planet’s biggest problem is the poor direction in the action sequences and a lack of characterization.  The story succeeds in the acting, main characters, pacing, and the comedy of the story which all work well to make the story a success as the first work of one of the greatest science fiction writers of modern times.  85/100.

Solitaire by: John Dorney directed by: Nicholas Briggs: I Went to the Moon and Took Charley Pollard, But I Didn't Take the Doctor

Solitaire is performed by India Fisher as Charley Pollard with David Bailie as The Celestial Toymaker.  It was written by John Dorney, directed by Nicholas Briggs, and released in June 2010 by Big Finish Productions.


Oh Charley Pollard, a character with an extremely tight character arc.  Any stories that would have been inserted into the arc would possibly loosen everything if it was deep in the story.  Solitaire however is a story that nicely inserts itself just after Embrace the Darkness, but not before The Time of the Daleks making for at least some interesting results.  The story also works as a pilot for a series of adventures staring India Fisher as Charley on her own without the Doctor.  John Dorney does this by only allowing the Doctor to appear as a ventriloquist’s dummy in the corner with Fisher providing a voice through the side of her mouth while events unfold become necessary for the intervention.  Many stories from Big Finish bring back past villains and this story is Charley versus the Celestial Toymaker in a game set in a toy shop.


Sometime before the audio opens the Eighth Doctor, who has complete faith in Charley, makes a deal with the Celestial Toymaker to be turned into a doll and to let Charley play a game without any of his help.  If Charley wins they can go free and continue to travel, but if she loses they have to stay there forever.  The action of the plot mimics the premise of The Celestial Toymaker, but unlike the Trilogic Game which was a puzzle that the Doctor could easily figure out in the allotted moves, the game of Solitaire is much more dastardly.  Charley doesn’t know what the name of the game is, nor the rules or objective so she can win.  It’s an impossible task as Charley and by extension the listener don’t know if what she’s doing is in the right direction or if it’s completely far off from everything that has to be accomplished.  It creates a real sense of chaos that at any moment she could lose the game, but what John Dorney adds to the story is the toyshop being alive.  After a period of time the shop will decrease by 10% and continue increasing until Charley is crushed to death.  This adds a real sense of tension to the story as it refuses to say when the building will shrink again.


Charley Pollard has a great characterization here as she and David Bailie really are doing a full cast audio that just happens to have two characters.  Charley is resourceful in her own situation with the Toymaker, applying basic logic and analyzing the Toymaker’s answers to her questions to find solutions.  Dorney also allows her to make missteps while allowing the audience to guess where the story will go next.  What improves is how sometimes once Charley thinks she has a solution it turns out that, yes, she was several steps in the wrong direction and has to back up if she wishes to continue.  India Fisher steals the show as she refuses to be broken until the very end when it is absolutely necessary for her to win, not even when she thinks she’s killed the Doctor by throwing him into a disintegration cabinet, which is actually the TARDIS.  David Bailie as the Celestial Toymaker is also great in this story as he brings menace to the role.  This is his chance to really imitate Michael Gough in this audio which really makes the character work.  You see the Toys rebel against the Toymaker yet Bailie always keeps a mood of coolness that is chilling when listened to.


To summarize, Solitaire is really just a story for Charley to be Charley and go against a foe for all ages.  The writing and acting of this story form a perfect combination to allow one of the best stories for Paul McGann even if McGann isn’t in the story.  Fisher and Bailie are guided under Nick Briggs’s excellent direction to create a story with a surreal tone and just a lot of great imagery that stays in the mind long after the closing theme plays.  100/100

Shadow of the Past by: Simon Guerrier directed by: Lisa Bowerman: His Last Name Was Marshall

Shadow of the Past is performed by Caroline John as Liz Shaw with Lex Shrapnel as Marshall.  It was written by Simon Guerrier, directed by Lisa Bowerman, and released in April 2010 by Big Finish Productions.


The highest points of The Scales of Injustice were how well it fleshed out Liz Shaw as a character and doing The Companion Chronicles, a series of talking books narrated in character by a companion, to feature Liz Shaw would allow this development to continue.  Simon Guerrier’s Shadow of the Past has Liz in the starring role front and center, but does more to explore a different side to her own character, her love life.  Shadow of the Past gets its title from UNIT calling Liz Shaw into the UNIT Vault from one of the adventures she would rather forget.  Sometime after Doctor Who and the Silurians, the Earth was invaded by body snatchers displaced from their own planet.  The Mim, space octopi, have the ability to infect humans to gain an impression and then take their form, blending in until it’s time to strike.  The story in the past takes the form of a mix of Spearhead from Space and Terror of the Zygons, oddly enough the first and last stories to feature the UNIT Family, making this aspect another shadow from the past.  The Doctor has been taken over by the Mim and is prepared to blow up the Earth and it’s up to Liz Shaw to save the day from the impending danger.  The plot, mainly because of how much of a mix of other stories it is, comes across as rather average and at points is easy to tune out to without missing anything of importance.


The Mim work extremely well as villains as they have this nice mixture of sympathetic background, intrigue, and intimidation to be effective as threats.  The imagery Guerrier evokes with the Mim make them feel like Lovecraftian horrors from the stars.  Doctor Who during the Hinchcliffe era never really evoked The Blob as a horror film, but that is at least a little of what Shadow of the Past does.  The most interesting fact however is that at the end of the day, they aren’t killed, because barely anything would be able to kill them.  The Mim are effectively immortal and that scares the Doctor and Liz that they won’t be able to defeat the monsters this time around.  The end of part one has that sense of foreboding as the Doctor is out of action.  Caroline John gives a brilliant performance in this one as she communicates a mix of intelligent collected thinking and primal fear.  She has to be the one to defeat the Mim and it scares her.  What is more interesting however is the way John narrates the story, almost coming across as distant and attempting to conceal knowledge.  This of course is intentional by Bowerman, who is excellent in direction, and John who are telling this story to Marshall, the guard to the vault where the remains of the Mim are found.  I   will say no more.


To summarize, Shadow of the Past is an excellent example of a lackluster plot improved exponentially by good characters.  Guerrier does a great job at creating the characters and a villain that makes the peril come alive in a story which has an ending scene that is responsible for the quality as you see a character development nearly thirty years in the making.  The direction is excellent and returning to UNIT is always a good time to be had.  Marshall will be remembered.  75/100.

The Drowned World by: Simon Guerrier directed by: Lisa Bowerman: Your Life For Your Daughter's

The Drowned World is performed by Jean Marsh as Sara Kingdom with Niall McGregor as Robert.  It was written by Simon Guerrier, directed by Lisa Bowerman, and released in July 2009 by Big Finish Productions.


Following up Home Truths with a story is of course a must and The Drowned World continues the story.  As that is the case this review will contain spoilers for Home Truths so do not read on unless you’ve listened to Home Truths.  There will also be spoilers for The Drowned World in this review.  The problem with following up Home Truths is that listeners will be more interested in the story of the House and Robert.  You will want to know what the world will decide to do with the House, as Sara Kingdom’s ghost exist and grants wishes.  Guerrier it seems wrote the storyline with the House first and tacked on the story of the drowning world on as an afterthought.  This makes the pacing just drag in places whenever we cut back to the flashbacks that the House is recording for Robert.  It isn’t a bad story by any means, being an homage to the base under siege that really lets Sara Kingdom shine while the Doctor is out of action for a while.  There are points where peril is definitely felt during this portion of the story and Marsh does a good job of narrating the story, it just doesn’t engage you as well as the mystery of Home Truths.  This really is apparent in the first half of the story when it is Sara narrating, but moving into the second half Robert actually gets to narrate the story to his sleeping daughter.


Most of the story is focusing on the ‘present’ day with Robert having to go back to the house with an old fashioned phonograph to record Sara Kingdom telling a story.  The powers that be, possibly a police state with a council dealing with administration of justice, want to shut down the House, but are allowing Robert to prove his case that Sara isn’t dangerous.  Here’s the problem for Robert, Sara or more specifically the House is dangerous.  It wants to grant everyone’s wishes with no real moral compass for right and wrong and we really see in The Drowned World, the cliffhanger of the story sees Robert humiliated as Sara used her powers to wipe the phonograph cylinders.  She’s doing this just so she can lure the council so she can grant their wishes.  She allows Robert’s wife to become pregnant, but Robert realizes what he’s done.  He has given her power and makes the House go quiet.  It’s a passionate scene and the second episode actually only picks up eleven years on with Robert travelling with his daughter, and stumbling on the House in a storm.  He realizes where he is, but it seems the House is dead so he tells his sleeping daughter more of the story before Sara wakes up.  The conclusion of the plotline with Robert sees Sara offering Robert and his daughter to stay in the House.  It’s this poignant ending to the story and makes up, in part at least, for the boring focus of the drowned world problem.


Jean Marsh as Sara Kingdom I’ve noticed especially in this one is how different she sounds when speaking and acting.  Speaking as herself she is very casual and allows for jokes with her cast mates and crew.  She’s very cynical and doesn’t see herself as a companion (but Robert can be Sara’s friend).  Acting changes Marsh into the character she’s playing, always pitching her voice up a bit and giving off an attitude of no nonsense about everything.  It’s a transformation into the character that can just captivate a listener and she does brilliantly at making the House feel different from Sara Kingdom.  Her performance as the House feels like Sara Kingdom with a very dark edge that it means well, but just lands in the uncanny valley and this feeling of dread with the inner workings only caring about the directive of satisfying needs.  Lisa Bowerman is also great at directing the story as always with some nice 1960s era futuristic music.


To summarize, The Drowned World is a story that doesn’t really hold up the quality of Home Truths with some of its parts being rather bland.  The overall quality is great with two performers who have a great gasp of the characters.  The A plot, which is the title of the story, doesn’t do anything interesting with the material while Simon Guerrier is too busy writing out the story of Robert and Sara Kingdom in the far future.  The directing is great and the story will bring emotions with the characters who are brilliantly written in a piece of character drama.  80/100.

The Mahogany Murderers by: Andy Lane directed by: Lisa Bowerman: Another Case for Investigators of Infernal Incidences

The Mahogany Murderers is performed by Christopher Benjamin as Henry Gordon Jago and Trevor Baxter as Professor George Litefoot with Lisa Bowerman as Ellie Higson.  It was written by Andy Lane, directed by Lisa Bowerman, and was released in May 2009 by Big Finish Productions.


Love them or hate them, audiences became fans of Henry Gordon Jago and George Litefoot when The Talons of Weng-Chiang aired.  Talks at one point were in the works to give Jago and Litefoot their own spin-off series.  Nothing came of that project until Big Finish Productions commissioned Andy Lane to write a story featuring Jago and Litefoot meeting up and investigating a series of murders where the killers turn out to be made out of wood.  The plot thickens when it turns out their convicted killers, who should already be dead.  It is then up to our heroes Jago and Litefoot to save the day with a nice little sequel hook revealing that a mysterious Dr. Tulp is the one behind this.  He’s still out there and he must be found and brought to justice.  You really wouldn’t think that Jago and Litefoot would last through time, but I think that it speaks volumes towards Robert Holmes’s writing of double act and Benjamin and Baxter’s marvelous performances that have let them survive.  The Mahogany Murderers doesn’t include the Doctor, and this is one of those reasons people are hesitant to listen to the audio.  You don’t really notice it from the opening to closing piano the mood is set.  You’re in Victorian times and a flair for the dramatic is in order.  The Doctor has no part to play in the story and it seems to always have been written so the Doctor doesn’t appear.  Andy Lane writes a marvelous story with some great ideas and atmosphere.  While he teases Dr. Tulp, the real villain of the story is Jack Yoevil who is a murderer turned into a mannequin.  Yoevil is voiced mostly by Christopher Benjamin who goes over the top quite a bit, but still makes the character feel quite menacing.


Lisa Bowerman has two roles to play in this story.  She directs the story with her usual flair, and the extras show just how attached she is with The Talons of Weng-Chiang as her brother featured in that story.  She obviously loves the characters of Jago and Litefoot and is enjoying working with Benjamin and Baxter.  The music and sound design are placed at the right moments so you can really get the feeling that this is Victorian London.  It really helps the mind’s eye picture up the foggy streets of London.  Her more impressive feat is leaving an impression on the audience as Ellie Higson, barmaid of the Red Tavern.  Ellie works well as a one off character and is really there just to make the world feel a bit real, but she’s pretty funny and goes along with letting Jago drink to his heart’s content.  Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter are really the main event as they’re the ones doing most of the acting.  It is through Benjamin going over the top while Baxter plays the straight man that allows all the comedy to flow through the story.  Lane has developed these characters.  They still are friends after the fact and will solve the occasional case, but Litefoot still has duties in the morgue which have to be attended to.  It’s the first body of a man coming back to life that makes him get Jago involved.  Jago however is down on his luck with the Alhambra being closed for renovations so he just is trying to get by.  It’s through their character arc that really makes everything feel quite alive.


To summarize, The Mahogany Murderers is a brilliant story that to be honest could be standalone and doesn’t need to be followed up on.  It is good however that Jago & Litefoot was commissioned as a full series of audio dramas as there is a lot to grow with these characters.  Andy Lane’s script, Bowerman’s direction, and the acting from the performers is really what makes the story stick out as a piece of perfection when it comes to opening a series.  100/100

Home Truths by: Simon Guerrier directed by: Lisa Bowerman: A Woman Waits to Tell Her Story

Home Truths is performed by Jean Marsh as Sara Kingdom and Niall McGregor as Robert.  It was written by Simon Guerrier, directed by Lisa Bowerman, and released in November 2008 by Big Finish Productions.


On an island near Ely stands a house.  In this house sits an old woman waiting for visitors.  She will give them food and rest, and tell them a story.  This woman is long dead Sara Kingdom, whose dust spreads over the planet Kembel…


Home Truths tells two intertwining stories about this house in Ely in the future.  One set in the far future, the other in the past.  One about Sara Kingdom telling a night constable a story, the other about the Doctor, Steven, and Sara Kingdom solving a murder mystery.  Now I will not be spoiling the plot to this story as if I have to be brutally honest this is an audio that you should listen to blind with very little known about the story itself, but I will say one thing.  The plot is perfect.  It is only two episodes long as all the Companion Chronicles are, but it has the same amount of plot as a six part story.  The twist near the end will bring you to tears as everything falls into place and the story becomes a story about immortality.  It is a twist that will get in your mind and stay with you for a while.  The plot with the Doctor is pretty standard fare when talking about Doctor Who, but with enough twists to stay interesting and keeps the listener invested with the story working towards a conclusion that will make you weep.  Life and death come into question and you really don’t know just how things will be changing in the upcoming portions of the trilogy.


Jean Marsh is great narrating the story, and is able to capture her younger self extremely well.  The best portions of her narration come into the inflection in her voice as the way she tells the story and denotes the action, feels like a mother telling a child a bedtime story.  This adds to the atmosphere of the story putting it in an almost fantasy realm.  She voices the Doctor by doing an interesting impression of William Hartnell.  It isn’t nearly as good as Peter Purves or William Russell doing Hartnell, but Marsh is able to capture the character.  Steven doesn’t have too much dialogue in the story, but Marsh does well at performing his role as well.  Sara is telling the story to Robert who is a night constable sent to investigate the house as there are tales of ghost stories.  The audio devotes plenty of time to developing the setting by having about fifteen minutes of the story for Robert and Sara to just talk about what’s going on.  It shouldn’t be very engaging, but the writing from Simon Guerrier is what really keeps the audience interested in the proceedings.  A fairy tale is really what Lisa Bowerman is evoking in her striking direction of the audio as you can feel yourself sitting next to the fire and listening to an old woman tell you a story.


To summarize, despite this review remaining spoiler free Home Truths is something that everyone should really experience for themselves as they will have a real trip going through their minds as they listen to the unfolding mystery.  The acting makes the story feel personal and the direction evokes classic fantasy at its very best.  Guerrier understands the characters to a tee and keeps the story gong opening up sequel opportunities. 100/100

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Doctor Who and the Ribos Operation by: Ian Marter: Conjuring Tricks

Doctor Who and the Ribos Operation is written by Ian Marter based on The Ribos Operation by Robert Holmes.  It was the 52nd story to be novelized by Target Books.


Why does Doctor Who and the Ribos Operation have to be told in 140 pages for such a simple story?  I praised Robert Holmes for his simple story and to be honest much of the story should be told in a simple way.  It really only needs 120 pages maximum to be told adequately in a novelized form, but Marter uses 20 extra pages.  What that doesn’t mean, however, is that the extra page length is wasted.  No Marter does add in the events just before the original television story opening with the Doctor actually deciding to go onto a holiday before being intercepted by the White Guardian.  Is it really needed, no, but as he is going on the script the adaptation of Part One runs much more smoothly considering the original episode had pacing problems in the opening scenes.  Marter includes many of the lines and actions of the Doctor and Romana, only about a minute or two’s worth of screen time, left on the cutting room floor before broadcast.


The medium is a bit of a detriment to the performances of the original television story.  The Doctor and Romana make it through alright, as they aren’t difficult to capture and Marter knows Tom Baker personally.  It’s actually all the supporting characters that become boring here as they don’t have the acting to back them up.  There is something lost with Garron and Unstoffe without the performances of Iain Cuthbertson and Nigel Plaskitt.  They just lose a lot of the chemistry the actors gave the characters from the script alone when in novel form.  The Graff Vynda K, or as Marter decides to change the character to the Graff Vynda Ka, is also really boring without Paul Seed’s over the top emotional portrayal.  He just comes across as a standard spoiled brat in the novelization.


To summarize, Doctor Who and the Ribos Operation is not equal to the sum of its parts as it uses a lot of what made the story work on television, but sadly it doesn’t amount to much in the long run of stories.  It tells the story with some improvements but many losses to the characters, which was where the magic of the story was.  70/100.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Ribos Operation by: Robert Holmes directed by: George Spenton-Foster: Only One Will Make It Out Alive

The Ribos Operation stars Tom Baker as the Doctor, Mary Tamm as Romana, and John Leeson as the Voice of K9 with Cyril Luckham as the White Guardian, Iain Cuthbertson as Garron, Nigel Plaskitt as Unstoff, and Paul Seed as Graff Vynda-K.  It was written by Robert Holmes and directed by George Spenton-Foster with Anthony Read as Script Editor and Graham Williams as Producer.  It was originally broadcast on Saturdays from 2 to 23 September 1978 on BBC1.


Writing a story arc into Doctor Who that would last an entire season seemed like a revolutionary concept back in 1978 when the Key to Time arc began production.  While now it’s something that happens every season but before then there had really only been one season with a central theme connecting the stories, which was Season 8 with the Master appearing in every story as the villain.  Graham Williams had an enormous task on his shoulders getting a writer to open the arc and do so in a manner that would keep the audience coming back for more.  So he got Robert Holmes in with one of his more underrated efforts to open the season with The Ribos Operation.  The opening ten minutes of the story are dedicated to the setting up of the arc with the TARDIS being dragged off course by the White Guardian who has a task for the Doctor.  The forces that run the universe have decided that it is time for just a moment the universe must stop and have a reset.  So this can happen the Doctor must travel the six segments of the Key to Time, a perfect cube, which are hidden across time and space.  He is given a young Time Lady, Romana, as an assistant and sent off to find the first segment, which is hidden on the planet Ribos.


Ribos as a planet is interesting as it goes through two seasons after several years, one that is warm and one that is cold.  Now most of the story really just has the Doctor and Romana being interested in their mission to collect the first segment of the Key to Time while political drama is playing out around them.  The plot I said was one of Robert Holmes’s more underrated scripts as its simplicity and easy to see goals along with a script brimming with a good mix of comedy and drama that allows the four episodes of the story to fly by without much notice.  There really are only two big problems with the story, and they are still pretty small in comparison to the rest of the story.  First of all the opening scenes introducing Romana to the Doctor are a bit poorly directed.  One moment Romana is standing, the next kneeling down, and the next standing again.  It’s the editing that really makes the scene’s pace feel very much off from the rest of the episode and jars from shot to shot with some of the jokes landing and others missing the mark.  Second the effects for the Shrivenzale or however you spell it just reeks of Doctor Who needs monsters so let’s just stuff in a monster for good measure.  That’s really the big problem as the costume’s talons and claws look like they’re ready to fall off.


Tom Baker as the Doctor and Mary Tamm as Romana are really the ones having the time of their lives as the search for the first segment of the Key to Time is the main plot of the episode.  They’re the ones investigating Ribos and looking for it, while the con artistry goes on around them.  Part One has the Doctor and Romana really go off at each other as they don’t want to admit they’re just as smart as one another.  It’s this great dynamic that allows the characters to grow into the standard Doctor/companion relationship without really having any of the traditional trappings of those types of stories.  The Doctor also interacts with the rest of the cast extremely well just by using his manic eyes.  The Doctor also gets to have the last word when it comes to the end of the story which is extremely interesting as he has to actively kill the villain which is taken very lightly and defiantly.  Mary Tamm’s first impression as Romana is also great as she comes across as extremely pompous.  That was the point of the production and she has her ego deflated over the course of the story which really does make her feel like a deep character, even if the best of her is yet to come.  John Leeson voicing K9 doesn’t have too much to do in this story which works pretty well considering this is an icy cold planet so there isn’t any reason to bring him out too much.  The White Guardian played by Cyril Luckham also gets to have his one scene that is genuinely good.  The costume design by June Hudson must be applauded as the Guardian has this otherworldly atmosphere which is down to the odd costuming decisions.


The plot on Ribos involves Garron and Unstoffe, two con artists, conning the Graff Vynda-K, an alien prince disinherited from a galactic war, into thinking Ribos is great in Jethrik, the most valuable mineral in the universe.  The con artist plot is again very simple and easy to follow, but is filled with brilliant characters that allow for a good story.  Garron and Unstoffe, played by Iain Cuthbertson and Nigel Plaskitt respectively, are one of Holmes’s famous double acts that stick in your minds.  They’re con artists, yet they almost think they’ve got this heart of gold and are really just pulling the wool over the eyes of the extremely gullible.  They don’t mean any harm and end the story very much alive, but without anything to their name. Unstoffe also gets to interact with this minor character, Binro, who is an example of how backwards Ribos is, that just gets this emotional scene that is excellent.  The villain of the story is the Graff Vynda-K who is extremely shouty and a hammy delight.  He’s a spoiled brat who slowly becomes unhinged over the course of the story into a complete madman which is just fun to watch.


To summarize, The Ribos Operation is a classic story that is often overlooked by a lot of people and opens the Key to Time with brilliance.  There are some minor flaws, but quite a lot of things really do make up for a lot of the lackluster stuff in the story.  The acting is great, the story is simple and effective, Dudley Simpson’s score is actually pretty good for a late Tom Baker score, and the characters will make you wish to come back for more.  If only some of the effects were better and the first episode had the magic of computer editing.  92/100.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Probably Not the One You Were Expecting #12: The Well-Mannered War by: Gareth Roberts adapted by: John Dorney directed by Ken Bentley

The Well-Mannered War stars Tom Baker as the Doctor and Lalla Ward as Romana with Tim McInnerny as Admiral Dolne, Hamish Clark as Fritchoff, Michael Troughton as Menlove Stokes, David Troughton as the Black Guardian, and John Leeson as K9.  It was written by Gareth Roberts, adapted by John Dorney, directed by Ken Bentley, and released in April 2015 by Big Finish Productions.


Adapting The Well-Mannered War was kind of a given considering Big Finish already had decided to adapt the other Gareth Roberts Fourth Doctor Novels.  They make this nice little trilogy of stories that can sum up just how good the Season 17 tone could be, but my biggest problem when reviewing these, and the same with the rest of the Novel Adaptations, they’re just too perfect of adaptations.  The Well-Mannered War’s writing process went something like this: John Dorney sat down with a transcript of the novel and changed everything into dialogue.  That’s really all that happened when this novel was adapted into a two hour audio drama.  Okay so the small scene with Stokes at the University of Dellah wasn’t included, but everything else that I can remember from the novel was.   There really isn’t much I can say about the plot itself as I already covered it in my review of the novel.  I will say the way that Dorney put in the cliffhangers and ended the episodes was really great and made you want to keep listening even when Roberts didn’t actually include many points at good cliffhanging points.  It’s all in the adaptation and Ken Bentley’s direction of the actors that makes the adaptation of the novel into audio work, which is great considering that this was originally meant to be the last novel to be adapted.


Tom Baker and Lalla Ward are on top form which is still amazing considering they don’t actually record their lines together.  Yes their divorce is still affecting their lives as they don’t record their stories together, but you can’t tell.  They sound like they did back in Season 17 when they were madly in love with each other and didn’t have a care in the world.  The laughs in the novel get a bigger laugh just because they are done on the audio.  Baker as the Doctor has this way of mastering comedy with one line, but with the next line giving us this sense that the world could be ending and we need to be listening to what he’s saying or else we will suffer a horrible fate.  It’s all in Baker’s performance that the comedy of the story really is allowed to work and he pulls it off marvelously.  Lalla Ward as Romana also shows just why I like her version of the character just a touch better than Mary Tamm.  She’s got the voice of an aristocrat, but acts almost childish as she is a Time Lady which is this interesting offset for the character.  She works well with the material from the novel especially with her scenes with John Leeson as K9.  John Leeson is just doing his standard performance as K9 which works to offset Lalla Ward in several scenes and make the big reveals near the end of the story to stand out from the rest of the story.  The ending itself is a highlight as it is performed by Baker and Ward.


The adaptation also sees Michael and David Troughton in the studio for their own parts.  Michael Troughton reprises his role as Menlove Stokes with a rather flamboyant performance that suits the idiotic artist.  The character’s betrayal near the end is also brilliantly performed by Troughton as you really feel bad for how Stokes and every other character has been manipulated into getting the events into motion for the Black Guardian as played by David Troughton to take over.  David Troughton only gets the one scene as the Black Guardian, but easily does the role justice considering it was originally taken by Valentine Dyall, a celebrated radio actor.  The rest of the characters also get to have a good time to shine with the Femdroids being performed as androids and the Darkness being truly scary with just this normal voice.  It’s the normalness that makes the villain work on audio as it draws you in.


To summarize, The Well-Mannered War in adapting the novel word for word doesn’t fix any of the problems of the original novel.  It’s essentially just another way of experiencing the same story, but that story is such a good one and mixed with perfect casting and direction, the audio is just as good as the original novel.  The cliffhanger is intact from the novel and hopefully Big Finish will be able to give us some sort of ending to the unresolved escape.  90/100.

Four to Doomsday by: Terrance Dicks: Ship of Mystery

Four to Doomsday was written by Terrance Dicks, based off the story of the same name by Terrance Dudley.  It was the 77th story to be novelized by Target Books.


The trouble with Four to Doomsday is that it has a weak script and an extremely slow pace, but maybe the novelization could have rectified that.  Well it doesn’t do anything to help the story, Adric still is a little traitor, the Urbankans still make themselves out to take over the Earth for no real reason, and a lot of bad space science, which all contribute to make the story fail, it’s actually a big improvement on the original television story.  Now Terrance Dicks, having written for the Fifth Doctor has taken a few liberties with the material while making it work better.  The opening of the novel itself is enough to get you roped into the story as you have this description of the empty spaceship.  Heck all of Dicks’ descriptions of the settings is enough to get anyone at least a little bit interested in how the novel is going to proceed and the events are going to unfold.  Dicks also works well with softening the characterization of the regulars with adjectives pontificating the dialogue and descriptions of their actions that makes them more in line with the versions of the characters that would develop.  The televised Four to Doomsday had the problem of a lack of chemistry between the main actors as they were doing their first shoot and it was with an already weak script.  Dicks uses the offset nature of the characters to get in his own little digs through the mouths of the characters.  It actually works and injects just a little bit of humor into an otherwise dry storyline.  He especially goes after Adric for completely justifiable reasons as Matthew Waterhouse always gave a less than stellar performance.


To summarize, simply through having an author who isn’t afraid to alter the material to engage the reader, the novelization of Four to Doomsday improves itself greatly.  It is still a bad story with all the problem of the original story, but it doesn’t hit you nearly as hard.  40/100

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Doctor Who and the Tomb of the Cybermen by: Gerry Davis: The Cyberman Controller

Doctor Who and the Tomb of the Cybermen was written by Gerry Davis, based off The Tomb of the Cybermen by Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler.  It was the 41st story to be novelized by Target Books.


Writing a Target novel to a missing story that is then returned to the archives is interesting and Doctor Who and the Tomb of the Cybermen is one of those few novels that has the opportunity.  Yet I cannot help but feel that the adaptation by one of the original authors, is just lackluster in comparison to the original story.  Sure The Tomb of the Cybermen had bad special effects and the Cybermen really didn’t do much, but Doctor Who and the Tomb of the Cybermen is a novel that adapts the story in such a slow pace that a lot of the original quality of the story.  It’s a book of 140 pages with the first 50 pages or so being dedicated to just the first episode of the four part story, then the next 40 for the second episode, 30 pages for episode three, and the final 20 pages for episode 4.  It makes the first episode which is exposition and set up feel extremely dragged out and difficult to get through while the actual story feels rushed.  There’s also quite a lot more wrong with the structure of this book, mainly the prose itself.  It isn’t like a novelization from Terrance Dicks who writes with a pulp fiction style, but comes across as very dry for the story.  There are passages of dry things obviously written based solely on the memories of Gerry Davis and the scripts of The Tomb of the Cybermen to make its story which you think would work.  The Doctor’s character and actions suffer the most as Davis is unable to bring Troughton’s charisma into a novel.  Davis also suffers from writing structure as the book is split into chapters which are supposed to end on a way to keep the reader interested and this is an adaptation of a story with great cliffhangers.  Yeah the chapters never end on the cliffhangers and the imagery of the scene loses some of its radiance with this change.


To summarize, Doctor Who and the Tomb of the Cybermen is a novel that is stripped of what made the story a truly great story, even though it does a straight adaptation of the original story.  The problem is in the structure of the novel is off and the performance of Patrick Troughton is missing.  50/100