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

The Many Deaths of Jo Grant by: Cavan Scott and Mark Wright directed by: Lisa Bowerman: Death to Life Over and Over Again

The Many Deaths of Jo Grant is performed by Katy Manning as Jo Grant with Nicholas Asbury as Rowe.  It was written by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright, directed by Lisa Bowerman, and was released in October 2011 by Big Finish Productions.


Seeing the character of Jo Grant die once would already be hard to watch, but Cavan Scott and Mark Wright write a story in which she dies a grand total of four hundred twelve times, with four of those deaths being shown over the course of the story.  The first of these takes place on Earth during her time with UNIT.  The Doctor is missing while a spaceship materializes over the Earth, aliens called the Xoanthrax are invading, and Jo and Rowe have to defeat them.  The Doctor returns to Earth and it turns out he’s injured himself gravely.  The Xoanthrax wish to destroy humanity.  Jo and the Doctor are in London when Big Ben is infected by some sort of fungus which has infected a UNIT soldier and it is only a matter of time before Jo is infected.  A colony is on the verge of extinction with Rowe as their leader so to find a way to save themselves they decide to sacrifice one Jo Grant to a pit that has a creature living symbiotically with the planet itself.  An Armageddon barge going to destroy a planet with Captain Rowe at the helm and the Doctor armed only with a sonic screwdriver has to stop him, but he is unable to defeat the evil space Captain, but Jo jumps in the way sacrificing herself so the Doctor can live.


Then the curtain is raised and we can see what’s really going on which takes place over the majority of the second half of the story.  I won’t spoil it, but Mark and Wright are excellent at writing the plots as they keep you on the edge of your seat to see how Jo is going to die this time around.  They also instill quite a bit of fear and tension as you realize just what is going on when it comes to these deaths.  The biggest problem is one of the deaths really doesn’t sell and you can see it coming a mile away so there’s a stretch of about ten minutes where the listener is just waiting for it to happen.


Katy Manning performs admirably in all the scenarios as Jo Grant.  She’s giving the same style of performance as in Find and Replace, and it’s an excellent performance.  Her impersonation of Nicholas Courtney in the first half of the story is excellent, but sadly the Brigadier doesn’t really do much for the amount of time he gets in the story.  This is a story focused on Jo and how much she loves the Doctor which is done excellently.  The second half goes into the feelings the Doctor has for Jo, while he isn’t in love with her, he definitely cares for her deeply.  The character of Rowe is also interesting as he’s played by one actor in five versatile roles.  Nicholas Asbury gives an excellent performance in all the roles that he’s given and is an excellent villain for the story.


To summarize, The Many Deaths of Jo Grant is an excellent character examination that has a big problem with lulling in the middle.  Katy Manning is excellent as Jo Grant and the writing from Cavan Scott and Mark Wright is also on top form for the most part.  80/100.

The Rocket Men by: John Dorney directed by: Lisa Bowerman: When Do You Know You're in Love

The Rocket Men is performed by William Russell as Ian Chesterton with Gus Brown as Ashman.  It was written by John Dorney, directed by Lisa Bowerman, and released in August 2011 by Big Finish Productions.


There is nothing in this world that can bring a tear to your eye like a good, old fashioned love story.  Yet whenever Doctor Who has delved into love stories I often find myself needing to wretch from the amount of cliché’s present.  There’s also usually quite a lot of problems when it comes to characterization in these types of Doctor Who stories as the characters usually have their romance be their only character trait of note.  The Rocket Men however is actually a story that gives the fans exactly what they want when it comes to the romance of Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright.  The opening narration questions when someone can know they’re in love and how far they will go to save one another.  The Rocket Men is a story that pushes Ian over the edge and makes him take the active role in saving Barbara’s life as they are both pushed to the edge of sanity while the Doctor is sidelined for most of the story as he’s trying to find a way to defeat the titular rocket men.  The story itself sees the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki arrive on a floating city that is a holiday spot above the planet Jobis.  Outside are flying manta rays and everything is peaceful, but the story opens in media res so the audience knows that there is going to be an invasion from the Rocket Men so we know everything is going to fall apart which is a great hook for the story and creates a feeling of dread in the listener.


William Russell as Ian Chesterton goes through a large character arc over the course of this story as he realizes just how much he feels in love with Barbara Wright.  In the beginning of the story when they’re just going around having a bit of fun on Platform One, the Doctor’s off doing scientific experiments, and Ian and Vicki are exploring, Barbara gets sick.  This is really the first inkling that Ian and the audience really gets that Ian’s feelings for Barbara may be more than just being friends.  Ian wants to stay with Barbara while she’s sick and has to stay in bed but is convinced to let Vicki have fun and when he ignores his feelings, the Rocket Men show up.  It’s a wake-up call for Ian that he does care for Barbara as the Rocket Men identify the TARDIS team as a threat and are the ones to capture them and torture them.  The story not only has scenes of torture, but then has Ian in the role as the action man, taking one of the Rocket Men’s rocket packs and fistfights the Rocket Men’s leader outside the floating city.  This is the climax of the story and is just an excellent way to frame a climax.


The Rocket Men are really the only other element of this story outside of that excellently written love story.  John Dorney has created an antagonist that works really well with the era of the show that he was working with.  Pirates who steal using jetpacks is something straight out of a science fiction B movie.  Disney had a film where the Nazi’s had rocket packs and the Rocket Men are a villains at least partially inspired by this type of villain.  Dorney has also done more than make them stereotypes, but makes them terrifying villains for the length of the story.  They are ruthless when it comes to killing those who get in their way.  They come to Platform One to rob it and are packing heat.  Ashman is their leader and it is Gus Brown’s portrayal of the character that really does a lot to ensure there’s a bit of fear in the character.  He forces Ian to do things that Ian would never do like abandoning his friends so he can rescue them and almost suggests doing a double suicide as a way to end their air battle in the end of the story.


To summarize, The Rocket Men is the best love story Doctor Who could ever have thought to give an audience, and it isn’t even a television story.  William Russell gives Ian a life outside the Doctor and gives a real chance to express Ian’s feelings to Barbara.  The titular Rocket Men create a credible threat for one story that comes straight out of the time the audio is set and John Dorney crafts an excellent narrative for us to follow.  The release is flawless in the presentation of the story from Big Finish. 100/100

Tales from the Vault by: Jonathan Morris directed by: Lisa Bowerman: A Jacket, A Painting, A Crytal, A Capsule

Tales from the Vault stars Daphne Ashbrook as Captain Ruth Matheson and Yee Jee Tso as Warrant Officer Charlie Sato, with Katy Manning as Jo Grant, Wendy Padbury as Zoe Heriot, Peter Purves as Steven Taylor, and Mary Tamm as Romana.  It was written by Jonathan Morris, directed by Lisa Bowerman, and was released in July 2011 by Big Finish Productions.


Bringing back the characters from the TV Movie is a near impossibility as of now with Big Finish mainly due to the fact that the rights are still in the hands of Fox.  They’re really the only thing they kept from the production as the BBC always owned the Doctor, the Master, and the TARDIS, as well as the DVD rights to the TV Movie.  Big Finish goes around this by establishing a spin off event for the two actors to return, but as two UNIT officers assigned to the Vault, or the Black Archive, where all the alien artifacts recovered are stored for study or use when the situation arises.  To set this up Jonathan Morris writes four separate mini-stories with a framing story being Ruth Matheson giving Charlie Sato a tour of the Vault on his first day on the job.  She tells him the stories of four artifacts, all with a connection to a man known as the Doctor.


The first artifact is an army uniform that was recovered while the Third Doctor and Jo Grant were working for UNIT.  The jacket has the living consciousness of a dead soldier in the form of a psychic imprint.  Jo’s friend tried it on and went on a mad spree before threatening suicide and it’s up for the Doctor and Jo to stop him.  Jo recounts this story on old cassette tapes as she hates writing down her reports.  Katy Manning is excellent at narrating the story in the Short Trip formant giving us insight into the long past of an unseen adventure, but this is the weakest of the four mini stories.  You just don’t care for Jo’s friend and Katy Manning’s excellent performance can’t force those emotions to manifest in any way.


The second artifact is a painting, painted by an alien.  This alien painting wouldn’t be in the Vault if it didn’t show what it shows.  It has the ability to retrieve the scene of the observer’s death which drives them mad and sends them too it.  Ruth Matheson interviewed a Romanadvoratrelundar who along with the Doctor recovered this painting and gave it back to UNIT.  Mary Tamm is excellent as Romana in this segment and the story is probably the highlight of the four stories because of how well it fits into the Graham Williams era of the show.  This is a plot that just has laughs yet a really good underlying threat in the form of a painting.


The third artifact is a crystal which can delete the memories of people, by absorbing their consciousness.  This is a story unseen that involves the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe working with UNIT sometime after The Invasion, but to protect his companions the Doctor had their memories wiped and a copy of Zoe placed into the crystal.  This story as told by Wendy Padbury, who is probably the weakest performer as her voice has deepened the most out of time which doesn’t really work considering this is supposed to be a young Zoe.  The plot is of gangsters who have been using the crystal to make the witnesses forget of their robberies.  It’s Jonathan Morris doing comedy which is actually really good for what it is overall.


The final artifact are some wax cylinders sealed in a time capsule, opened because the time has come.  It sees Steven Taylor, wonderfully played by Peter Purves, recount the Doctor’s involvement with aliens in the Boer War.  It’s a simple story, but it gets Charlie thinking of how these four artifacts fit together, and then the alien reveals itself.  Saying anymore would be spoiling the ending, but I will say that it is an amazing ending.  Daphne Ashbrooke and Yee Jee Tso give excellent performances in the story and work as narrators.  Tso gets to be all naïve and innocent and works much better than his turn as Chang Lee in the TV Movie.  Ashbrooke also gives us the convincing tough soldier act as she’s prepared to kill her comrades if it will protect security.


To summarize, Jonathan Morris gives us an excellent outing in Tales from the Vault.  It’s a great way to start a potential spin off from the show, even if there are only a few outings in total for the two UNIT officers.  Some things don’t work but on the whole the story works and keeps everything moving and interesting to listen to. 85/100


The Cold Equations by: Simon Guerrier directed by: Lisa Bowerman: Towards Absolute Zero

The Cold Equations 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 June 2011 by Big Finish Productions.


Establishing a tone for a story is extremely important in getting the plot to work and for those experiencing the story.  Doing it in a visual medium can be done with establishing shots and low lighting when you want to have a tense story.  It can be done with music on audio, but sometimes just having performers giving it their all is enough to make the tone work.  The opening scene of The Cold Equations is enough to set the tone as hopeless.  Before even the credits we are treated to a scene where Steven and Oliver are running out of air.  They’re in a spaceship that has broken off from its main structure, the Doctor is in the section with the air and cannot get to them, the TARDIS is off in space, and the air is nearly gone.  Purves and Harper speak softly and Steven asks, what is Oliver’s secret.  Cue credits.  It is an amazing hook for a story and you know that there really isn’t anyway the characters can survive the situation.  Peter Purves in particular just gives this sense that he is about to die in this situation which I think is partially due to him using his natural voice for this scene.  This is a double edged sword for the narrative as the first part of the story while dedicated to explaining what the equations of the title are, has the problem of being just a lot of buildup for the inevitable destruction at the cliffhanger while the second half is Steven and Oliver together in the spaceship.


The story really only has enough energy to keep the audience invested in the second half which causes the first half to drag on before getting to any sort of conclusion.  It’s really down to the actors and Lisa Bowerman’s direction to allow the story to feel real, as the music is done extremely subtly.  I can only praise Lisa Bowerman for the work she’s done on crafting this story into something completely realistic for the futuristic setting.  It has that same tone that worked for The Edge of Destruction and could easily have been seen on television with some minimal sets with the exception of revealing Oliver’s secret.  Bowerman’s directorial strengths are played to when crafting this audio for the listener.  Peter Purves as Steven Taylor works incredibly well as the narrator for the entire story.  He’s got one of those voices that could engage a listener in a dramatic reading of the phone book.  Steven also gets to play the action hero as he’s the one working towards finding a way to get more oxygen or even get back to the TARDIS.  Purves has to deal with an absurd amount of technobabble, but technobabble that according to Simon Guerrier is accurate to the story.  Tom Allen as Oliver Harper gives a different little light to the story as Oliver works as the man from 1966, but Guerrier writes him with such ingenuity, giving him a chance to really by a fluke find solutions to part of the problem.  The drama comes with how he reveals what his secret is.  Allen portrays it as a crime tantamount to murder, but the reveal has this cathartic release of tension when it is revealed that he’s gay.  That’s the secret and Guerrier plays it with the assurance that change is just around the corner from the 60s.  It doesn’t come across as bad or forced, but just feels natural.


To summarize, The Cold Equations does an excellent job at exploring Oliver Harper and creating a story from the old base under siege storylines to one of a spaceship running out of oxygen.  It gives us much to look forward when it comes to the next story with all three being arrested on the planetoid Grace Alone.  The story only fails in a very slow start but the performances make up for a lot of those flaws in abundance.  The direction is also excellent.  90/100.

The Perpetual Bond by: Simon Guerrier directed by: Lisa Bowerman: You Don't Go Into Battle Without Your Sword

The Perpetual Bond 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 released in February 2011 by Big Finish Productions.


Once the Sara Kingdom trilogy was completed Simon Guerrier moved on to a second trilogy of Companion Chronicles for the First Doctor, but with a twist.  Set in between The Daleks’ Master Plan and The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve, this trilogy would concern the new companion Oliver Harper, a stockbroker from 1960s London who has committed a terrible crime and is escaping the law with the Doctor.  The story establishes who Oliver is and his discovery of the alien Fulgurites making business on Earth and rushing away from his job as his friends are arrested.  He’s going to go on the run and hopes he can get away which hooks the listener into the character of Oliver Harper, but a lot of the problem of the story comes with the fact that Oliver is a bit of a one dimensional character on the whole.  Tom Allen gives a great performance and he interacts well with Peter Purves, trying to explain 1960s culture to a man from the future, and his outrage at what the Fulgurites are dealing in is genuine.  The problem is that we don’t know much about who Oliver is outside of playing companion to Steven Taylor and being on the run which is unforgivable, especially after Guerrier gave us Robert in the Sara Kingdom trilogy as a wholly defined character from the start.


Steven Taylor for this story actually gets development as at the beginning we get his reaction to Sara Kingdom’s death on Kembel so we go straight into The Perpetual Bond with the character at that point in his life.  Steven does want to see justice done, but is willing to go with the Doctor on vacation when they land in London.  They want to meet up with Ian and Barbara immediately just to get a sense that everything is going to be alright in the universe which is a great angle to play the story at.  Steven also has to interact with the London of the 1960s and it completely out of his depth.  He has no idea what the difference is between the bowler hat or the top hat and why either are significant to 1960s culture.  The people there seem extremely primitive to what he’s used to and when it is revealed what the Fulgurites deal in he takes humanity as even more despicable.  The First Doctor however actually shows his anarchist side when he is trying to find ways around the legal dealings of the Fulgurites, which just makes him seem alive.  When he and Steven notice one on the bus they decide forget Ian and Barbara, there’s an adventure to be had, which gets their minds off the loss of Sara Kingdom.  It seems a little tasteless, but on the whole it doesn’t cause too much bother.  Peter Purves does an excellent job as Steven and the First Doctor, but excels in this story as the narrator of the events.  It’s a job that suits Purves’ British voice.


The Fulgurites make excellent villains as what they are doing is according to them the moral decision.  They find one adult human as good as any other adult human, which is an interesting commentary of having complete equality as it destroys uniqueness of character.  Indeed I’d rather have a younger man as my slave than an older one as it would work more.  It’s a concept that just doesn’t make sense in the thought processes of the villain.  NOTE: I do not promote slavery and anyone who has slaves in areas where it is illegal should be reported to the government.  Also Lisa Bowerman is in the director’s chair which is a great direction overall even if the story has quite a few flaws.


To summarize, The Perpetual Bond is by no means a story to rival Home Truths but it sets up the Oliver Harper trilogy with intrigue from an excellent cast and some foes for the Doctor to face with aplomb overall. There ae some logical problems with the plans of the villains and Oliver really isn’t that developed as a character outside of the secret he is keeping that Guerrier hides from the audience.  75/100.

Peri and the Piscon Paradox by: Nev Fountain directed by: John Ainsworth: The Fish and the Worrior Queen

Peri and the Piscon Paradox is performed by Nicola Bryant as Peri Brown with Colin Baker as The Sixth Doctor.  It was written by Nev Fountain, directed by John Ainsworth, and was released in January 2011 by Big Finish Productions.


Peri hasn’t been travelling with the Fifth Doctor long.  Erimem has come and gone but the Doctor takes her to 2011 Los Angeles to track a Piscon criminal Zarl.  Everything seems fine until the Doctor and Zarl get into a fist fight in a disused department store and Peri notices a woman across the street that looks exactly like her, but older.  Sure she’s had nose work done, but it’s definitely her so they go out for coffee.  This older Peri reveals she works for a government agency that tracks down alien life on Earth, married her high school sweetheart, has three children, and lives a pretty happy life.  It’s everything Peri would want for herself and now they’re trying to track down Zarl.  You see according to Peri the Piscons believe that after death they reincarnate as select humans and Zarl is a king looking for his dead wife who reincarnated into a friend of the older Peri.  The Doctor tries to find another way instead of killing Zarl, who wishes to reincarnate to be with his wife, but older Peri has other plans.  She shoots Zarl and reveals to her younger self that her life is in shambles.  She has no children, is incredibly vain, married several times, and has nothing going for her.  Nicola Bryant does an excellent job narrating the story of Peri and convincing the audience, but it still leaves a lot of questions to be answered as the audience knows what happened to Peri.  The older Peri has become the complete pessimist when it comes to life while the young Peri resolves at the end of the story to stay the optimist always, no matter what the cost.  You would never guess but it is Colin Baker under heavy ring modulation in the role of Zarl and he gives a humorous performance.  You really feel for the guy with how far he wants to go to be with his wife and you question if even Peri is doing the right thing in killing him.  Fountain writes an excellent script for the story and we get a lot accomplished in the time it has.




Pei never travelled with the Doctor, having him take her home after the events of Planet of Fire.  She left home after getting her degree and a divorce from her high school sweetheart, moving to Los Angeles, California to become a famous relationship councilor on daytime television.  She is successful but unhappy, that is until the Sixth Doctor shows up to tell her that something has gone wrong with the web of time.  Peri should have died on Thoros Beta, or at the least become a Warrior Queen, not the Worrier Queen on daytime television as seen here.  Things get complicated further when the Doctor accidentally kills a Piscon called Zarl who the Fifth Doctor is coming to get.  Thinking quickly the Doctor and Peri decide to stuff the Doctor in a fish costume while Peri pretends to be an agent of the government sent to stop Zarl from causing harm.  They tell their younger selves that they have to kill Zarl with a gun, which actually transports the Doctor in a fish costume to the TARDIS, to be reunited with his dead wife.  They even get Peri’s friend in on the act telling her it’s for a reality show.  The younger Peri of course catches on to the ruse eventually and the sky is falling as Peri is rejected by her younger self.  The plot leaves Peri even worse off when it is revealed she is one of five Peri’s created by the Time Lords after the events of The Trial of a Time Lord to seal up the Web of Time.  Nicola Bryant gives an excellent performance as Peri, keeping emotions high as you feel for the poor woman she’s become, and she has amazing chemistry with Colin Baker who is excellent as the Sixth Doctor.


How do you pad out a story to four parts when you only have enough material for two parts?  Well according to Nev Fountain you just retell the same story from two different character perspectives, but that sounds rather boring on the whole so Fountain writes Peri and the Piscon Paradox from the perspective of Peri at two different points in her life.  The first is from a point where she is travelling with the Fifth Doctor while the second half of the story is devoted to a version of Peri who has become a “Worrier Queen” in Los Angeles, California.  The story then tells two narratives with two very different developmental outcomes that mean very different things.  The complex nature of the story was perfectly realized by director John Ainsworth who commissioned a score to sound like it was from the 1980s when concerned with young Peri and a score from 2011 when concerned with an older Peri.  It’s an easy trick to pull off, but it increases the quality of the story exponentially as it gives each half a very different feeling from each other and because of this Peri and the Piscon Paradox gets 100/100.

Quinnis by: Marc Platt directed by: Lisa Bowerman: A Throwaway Line Turned Into Brilliance

Quinnis is performed by Carole Ann Ford as Susan Foreman with Tara-Louise Kaye as Meedla.  It was written by Marc Platt, directed by Lisa Bowerman, and originally released in December 2010 by Big Finish Productions.


How could Marc Platt make such a good story from a throwaway line in The Edge of Destruction?  Platt takes the line about the ship nearly being lost on the planet Quinnis four or five journey’s back and makes it a thematic inspiration for Susan reminiscing about her sun sometime after Relative Dimensions with the Eighth Doctor.  It isn’t necessary to listen to Relative Dimensions to understand this story as Platt in his genius only has this as the bookends of the story while the bulk is taken up by the main plot.  This isn’t like a Simon Guerrier story that doubles two plots and it really shows as Platt uses the hour of runtime to almost full advantage.  The biggest criticism I can levy at Quinnis is that its first few scenes are just a bit too rushed, but are still able to execute a pretty good twist with the Doctor actually becoming the rainmaker for this group of people where you would think he would be thrown off the cliff and this is only the beginning of the story’s twists.


The plot really focuses on Susan and her feelings of being left out as she travels with her grandfather, a man much older than her.  She doesn’t have any friends so when the ship arrives on Quinnis she latches on to the first girl her age as a friend in Meedla and in turn the audience uses Susan’s viewpoint to understand the story.  We get wrapped up in the superstitions of the people of Quinnis with people going into the valley to farm once the rains come and big black birds causing bad luck.  Platt almost writes with this wonder of a child that translates into the performed story well only to pull the rug out from underneath the listener halfway through episode two “The Plains of Despair”.  Episode One, “The Rainmaker” is one that has this hopeful tone with playful children enjoying themselves until the rains come and nearly sweeps away Susan and Meedla which is the prologue for things to come.  “The Plains of Despair” sees the big twist reveal itself with the witch doctor like figure featured on the atmospheric cover of the story revealed to be a protagonist.  Yes Platt makes the good and kind Meedla the symbol of bad luck, and Susan is responsible for releasing her from a trap and promising her a trip in the ship.  Oh and the Doctor is in the story for quite a bit, but this really isn’t the story for him being told.


Platt shines in writing the characters, as this story has characters that rival some of the full-cast audio dramas when it comes to the amount of characters used.  He makes each and every one interesting even a stalls lady with a piglet, based off of a woman Platt saw on vacation according to the CD extras.  The story is really a focus for Carole Ann Ford as Susan to develop to the point she is seen at the beginning of An Unearthly Child.  It’s an early story for her with very few adventures under her belt, but she has become lost in a lot of her life.  She has no home to speak of and her grandfather has thought that it is time she interacts with people her own age because of the trouble she causes in the story.  The listener really gets to feel for Susan because of the portrayal by Ford who has the cadence of someone who is lost to the winds of time.  The listener falls for the tricks of Meedla hook, line and sinker.  Meedla is played by Tara-Louise Kaye, daughter of Carole Ann Ford which I do believe helps with the realism in the story as the two actresses already have a lot of chemistry with each other.  Kaye performed with hay fever but still gave the story her all and made the character her own with a lot of care given to letting the audience fall for her tricks and making the villainous side of the character really be a juxtaposition with the kind hearted girl of the first half.


To summarize, Quinnis is another brilliant story from Marc Platt extrapolating an emotional chance for character growth from a throwaway line in a very early serial.  The acting is great and the atmosphere from Lisa Bowerman’s direction makes the listener connect with the events.  Problems with this story are a real lack of the Doctor being a character pre-An Unearthly Child and some opening scenes that feel rather disjointed on the whole.  90/100