Monday, March 6, 2017

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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