REVIEW – JAGO & LITEFOOT SERIES 11

There are some releases that I count as a treat. I have made no secret that Jago & Litefoot is my favourite of all the Big Finish ranges, there is just something special about them – the banter between Jago & Litefoot, the beautiful characterisation, the abundant alliterative articulation of Mr Jago, the cool calm and collected Professor Litefoot, the dialogue between the two and their co stars Ellie Higson (Lisa Bowerman) & Inspector Quick (Conrad Asquith) I am immensely fond of them all and it is a testament to the writing that I can imagine their lives when they are not having the adventures that we hear. It is amazing that a couple of characters that appeared in a single TV story back in 1977 have now notched up 11 series of their own as well as appearances in Companion Chronicles, 4th Doctor Adventures, The Worlds of Doctor Who Box Set and Colin Baker’s swan-song box set – and 11 series in the quality has not let up, not one little bit, in fact these once guest stars in Doctor Who now have The Doctor (Colin Baker) and his arch enemy The Master (Geoffrey Beevers) as guest stars in their series.

 But what exactly is The Master doing in Victorian Britain, what does this mean for Jago & Litefoot & how is The Doctor involved in proceedings, well dear reader, read on & I will try to enlighten you. Series 10 ended on a cliffhanger (as J & L Box sets do) to tease us about Series 11, this particular cliffhanger made my blood run cold, it involved Inspector Quick encountering the emaciated form of The Master and being taken over by him – Six LOOOOONG months later the story continues and we encounter satanic cults, a surreal world constructed from poetry, alien Vampires, hypnotism and a desperate Master who will go to any lengths to revitalise himself – so without further ado lets have a look at the stories:

 1. Jago and Son by Nigel Fairs

 People are going missing, seems like business as usual for Jago & Litefoot but their investigations lead them to a Satanic Cult based on the seemingly defunct Hellfire Club. Investigating from two different angles, Litefoot teams up with his old archaeologist friend Jean Bazemore (Rowena Cooper) whilst Henry Jago is joined in his investigation by his hitherto unseen and unknown son – Henry Gordon Jago Jnr (James Joyce), but is all as it seems, is Jago’s son all that he seems and what connection do he and his Mother have to the Hellfire Club? A blistering start to the box set with bluff and counter bluff and the “is he, isn’t he” mystery of Henry Jago Jnr played out throughout the episode – added to this is the mystery of The Master and the reason he has appeared in Jago & Litefoot’s world and his continuing and deepening control over Inspector Quick. Almost stealing the show though is Rowena Cooper as Jean Bazemore, a superb addition to the J & L canon and a remarkable female foil to the usually unflappable Professor Litefoot. I really hope we hear more from her in upcoming series.

 2. Maurice by Matthew Sweet

 This is a very odd episode. Strange, surreal and quite disturbing. Professor Litefoot meets and befriends Maurice Ravel (Andy McKeane), when Litefoot joins Maurice for dinner at his apartment he finds himself transported to a world constructed from a surreal nightmare poem (literally) where he finds another Maurice who claims that the Maurice that Litefoot has met is an imposter. Confused? you will be. The plotting is intricate, it all makes perfect (if odd) sense – its one of those stories you have to just go with and not try to second guess events because believe me you never will. Imagine if the world of Edward Lear or Lewis Carroll invaded the world of Jago & Litefoot and you will get some sort of idea of the ambiance of the story – not to everyones taste, but for me the highlight of a very high quality box set.

 3. The Woman in White by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris

 Doctor Who does it so why not Jago & Litefoot – I am talking about the “celebrity historical”, except for Jago & Litefoot it should be renamed the “celebrity contemporary” as this story features not one but TWO celebrities of the Victorian era – Bram Stoker (Jonathan Forbes) & Sir Henry Irving (Edward De Souza) who join our heroes in a tale of ghosts, Vampires (what else) and a sinking theatre. This story works on several levels – as a pure adventure it is fast paced, full of danger and excitement and  also as a very witty pieced of writing about Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula – characters called Harker, Wilhelmina and a very Renfield like performance from Henry Irving all add layers of colour and humour to the proceedings. This episode also has The Master’s plan coming to fruition….

 4. Masterpiece by Justin Richards

 The Master is literally draining the life from Jago & Litefoot, he has manipulated them through their friends Ellie & Inspector Quick to become so desperate that they call The Doctor for help because The Master needs the Doctor, he needs his Artron Energy to revitalise his desiccated body, but The Doctor has not heeded Henry & George’s summons and the situation is getting worse. A slow burner of a finale, it is worrying to hear our heroes slowly have their life drained away and not being able to do anything about it – they have never been this debilitated before or so desperate – this is a real heart in the mouth, edge of the seat finale that builds slowly to a crescendo. And as always we get a cliffhanger to next series to round off the set.

 Geoffrey Beevers’ Master fits in exceptionally well to J & L world – he is a well rounded take on the Doctor’s arch enemy and most definitely not an “arch” arch enemy, he is all oily charm and desperate manipulation, he seems to be held together purely by the force of his will. His manipulation and use for his own ends of Inspector Quick and latterly of Ellie Higson & his cruel draining of Jago & Litefoot purely to get The Doctor’s attention is cold and cruel even by his standards, it is made even more offensive because Jago, Litefoot, Ellie and Quick feel like family and any affront to them is an affront to the sensibilities of the listener – the characters are really that relatable and beloved

Another exceptional box set, but as this is a Jago & Litefoot Box set did you expect any less? A bold experiment bringing in a major Doctor Who villain as the “big bad” in to another series, but the Beevers Master fits in just perfectly to the gas lit fog strewn Victorian soundscape. As Jago may say “a memorable melange of masterful machinations” and as I may say, actually I will say this set is heavy in Victorian Values & I value this set at 10/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

This title was released in April 2016. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until May 31st 2016, and on general sale after this date.

1. Jago and Son by Nigel Fairs

With missing persons, dead bodies and a Satanist cult to deal with, both Litefoot and Jago need help. Professor Litefoot finds himself working with Jean Bazemore, an old archaeologist friend. Jago, however, finds he is assisted by someone he never even knew existed – his own son. Or is he? Can Jago be sure of anything?

But there is more to events than the detectives know. An alien menace is stirring underground. Once again, Jago and Litefoot find themselves fighting for their lives…

2. Maurice by Matthew Sweet

As he tightens his grip on Inspector Quick, the Master becomes interested in the young composer Maurice Ravel. For his part, Ravel befriends Professor Litefoot. But is anyone truly who they seem or able to control their own destiny and actions?

When Litefoot goes missing, it’s up to Jago to investigate. But the Professor finds himself in a nightmare landscape where reality and fiction seem to have merged. Will he ever manage to escape? And if the real Maurice Ravel is trapped with Litefoot, who exactly is walking the streets of London?

3. The Woman in White by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris

The great actor Henry Irving is not as great as he once was. In fact, he’s awful – a shadow of his former self. Worried that something may be terribly wrong, Irving’s assistant Bram Stoker enlists the help of an old friend – Henry Gordon Jago.

With Irving’s state deteriorating, Professor Litefoot also faces a challenge. He performs an autopsy on a man who has had all his bodily fluids drained from him. Can the detectives discover the connection between the great actor and the mysterious dehydrated corpse? And how does it relate to the Woman in White who supposedly haunts Irving’s theatre?

4. Masterpiece by Justin Richards

The Master’s plan is nearing completion – and he is sure that Jago and Litefoot will help him bring it to fruition. With Inspector Quick increasingly under the Master’s influence, the Infernal Investigators find themselves tired and fatigued, as if their very life force is being drained away…

With the help of Ellie together with stage hypnotist Madame Sosostris and her assistant Mr Nocturne, Jago and Litefoot finally track down the Master. But as they make their way towards his lair, the Time Lord’s true scheme is revealed.

Written By: Nigel Fairs, Matthew Sweet, Simon Barnard, Paul Morris and Justin Richards
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Christopher Benjamin (Henry Gordon Jago), Trevor Baxter (Professor George Litefoot), Ellie Higson (Lisa Bowerman), Conrad Asquith (Inspector Quick),Geoffrey Beevers (The Master), James Joyce (Henry Gordon Jago Jr), Rowena Cooper (Jean Bazemore), Andy McKeane (Maurice Ravel), Jonathan Forbes (Bram Stoker), Edward de Souza (Sir Henry Irving), Robbie Stevens (Mr Manners/Stanley Harker), Maggie Ollerenshaw (Dame Wilhelmina Gussett/Woman in White), Rachel Atkins (Madame Sosotris/Bishop) and Colin Baker as The Doctor.

Producer David Richardson

Script Editor Justin Richards

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

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PEARL MACKIE ANNOUNCED AS THE NEW COMPANION

Pearl Mackie has been named as the actress who will play the Doctor’s latest travelling companion, Bill.

Pearl Mackie said:

I’m incredibly excited to be joining the Doctor Who family. It’s such an extraordinary British institution, I couldn’t be prouder to call the TARDIS my home!

Peter Capaldi is such a brilliant actor, and his Doctor is such a wacky and wonderful character, I can’t wait to see what adventures are in store for him and Bill throughout time and space. Reading the script at the audition I thought Bill was wicked. Fantastically written, cool, strong, sharp, a little bit vulnerable with a bit of geekiness thrown in – I can’t wait to bring her to life, and to see how she develops through the series.

I always loved stage combat at drama school so I can’t wait to get on set and kick some evil monsters into the next dimension!

Shooting the trailer was absolutely mental, there were pyro- technics and smoke and I met my first Dalek! I’m not sure it will ever become ‘the norm’ seeing crazy monsters on set, but I cannot wait to meet some more! The weirder the better, bring it on!

The actress is currently starring in London’s West End at the Gielgud Theatre, in a production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a critically acclaimed play based on the award-winning book by Mark Haddon about a 15 year old maths genius with Asperger’s Syndrome, and the amazing journey he sets out on in order to solve the mysterious death of his neighbours dog.

Mackie comes from Brixton in South London and trained as an actor at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, graduating in 2010.

Since finishing drama school she has worked across theatre, film, television and radio appearing at the RSC, The Park Theatre, The Finborough, for the BBC and on the West End stage.

Peter Capaldi said:

It is a genuine delight to welcome Pearl Mackie to Doctor Who. A fine, fine actress with a wonderful zest and charm, she’s a refreshing addition to the TARDIS and will bring a universe of exciting new possibilities to The Doctor’s adventures.

Showrunner Steven Moffat adds:

A new face in the TARDIS, a new voyage about to begin: welcome aboard the amazing Pearl Mackie! This is where the story really starts.

Charlotte Moore, Acting Director of Television, said:

It’s so exciting to be revealing the much anticipated new companion to the nation in such spectacular style. Pearl brings a wonderful energy and lights up the screen. She will captivate Doctor Who fans old and new across the globe.

Pearl Mackie

Doctor Who returns later this year with a Christmas Special and then for a full twelve-part series in 2017.

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REVIEW – THE CURSE OF THE FUGUE

Lucie Miller. Lucie “Piggin” Miller. What is there to say? She was magnificent – THE companion for the 8th Doctor in the same way that Jo was THE companion for 3, Sarah-Jane was THE companion for 4 & Donna was THE companion for 10. She shone so brightly over four series and then was gone – a real character, a believable character, we all know someone like Lucie Miller. Whilst she was undoubtedly well written, a character that writers just seemed to “get” and write well, her characterisation is in no small part down to the astounding Sheridan Smith, one of the UK’s best and most celebrated actors – on paper Lucie could have been just a loud mouthed working class girl from Blackpool – Sheridan Smith took the character and made her her own. So it was with great joy that I found out one dark grim January day that Sheridan Smith was returning as Lucie Miller for a couple of Short Trips releases, the first of these being this months “The Curse of the Fugue” by Alice Cavender.

 Its 1974, and it all seems a bit grim – power cuts, foil top milk bottles and worst of all The Doctor has left Lucie to work as a carer in an old peoples home whilst he goes off investigating a mysterious device. Its so lovely to hear Lucie Miller again – her reappearance is tinged with sadness as we already know what her fate is going to be – but just hearing her character in this short interlude is magical – Sheridan Smith brings her back to life, its like she has never been away – Lucie is obviously not at all happy at being left behind by The Doctor and entertains the residents of the home by telling them about the future (she doesn’t seem to care much for the laws of time!) to keep the spirits up between power cuts. Amazingly for just about half of this 32 minute release the story seems to be a straight historical period piece about being stuck in the 1970’s, the atmosphere is just spot on – and then we get to find out just why The Doctor has left Lucie here – because one of the residents is not exactly what she seems and may (or may not) have been a secret agent during World War 2, and may (or may not) know something about the artefact that The Doctor is looking for.

 With bags of character and a feeling of cold, damp winters days, this release has a slightly maudlin quality and is very slow to get to the plot, however this really does give time to build on the all important 1970’s atmosphere – Sheridan Smith is quite quite fantastic playing Lucie coming back to her with ease after a gap of five years, bringing joy to the listener that she is back, but making the listener remember as well that this is a fleeting interlude and that her fate is already sealed. Power cuts, the elderly, a super weapon and an even more super Lucie Miller all combine to give this 8/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

February 1974 is grimmer than usual for the British. Huddling together by candlelight the nation endures regular power cuts, however the situation is far worse for one old woman. Out of the dark come visitors who know of her terrible burden of wartime secrets. All she fought to save is threatened. Whom can she trust? The troubled ghosts which plague her, a young man who has befriended her, or her new carer Lucie and her strange friend, The Doctor?

Producer: Ian Atkins
Script Editor: Ian Atkins & Nicholas Briggs
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Written By: Alice Cavander
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Sheridan Smith (Narrator)

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NEW COMPANION TEASER TRAILER

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REVIEW – NIGHTSHADE

Sometimes stories are seasonal, they have a feeling and an ethos which completely grounds them in a particular season of the year. Surprisingly Nightshade is set in the winter but it feels distinctly autumnal. If you have ever been to Scandinavia, or indeed listened to “Stay On These Roads” by A-ha you will know what I mean. This story is steeped in melancholy, nostalgia and regret, it has a bleakness of spirit that permeates its very essence.

This is an important story in the history of Doctor Who – it is the first story written by one Mark Gatiss and he wears his influences on his sleeve in this one. First of all Mark is a self confessed Pertwee fan – this one feels like a Pertwee story in many ways, a could have been story from season 7. It’s also heavily influenced (almost an homage) to Quatermass (which itself was a huge influence on the early Pertwee era) but it’s more than this, because it actually feels like a New Adventures novel brought to life as well. This is a very early New Adventure, The Seventh Doctor and Ace are portrayed pretty much as they were on TV and for a two hour story not a lot really happens for quite a lot of the story – but when it does boy does it happen.

So Nightshade is quite small scale in many ways but aeon spanning in others, first of all the small scale – The Seventh Doctor and Ace arrive in the small Yorkshire village of Crook Marsham, it’s a rain sodden, bleak little place where nothing really happens and the melancholy of the place seems to even get to the Doctor who is contemplating retiring from being Times Champion and returning to Gallifrey, Ace on the other hand meets a young man called Robin who could turn out to be the love of her life. Its not the angst ridden emo fest you may be expecting either because events soon overtake Seven and Ace and again they have to get involved. The main plot involves the residents of Crook Marsham being haunted by ghosts of their past, being threatened by nostalgia and none more so than Edmund Trevithick (John Castle) – a retired actor who used to play Professor Nightshade on TV – now in his dotage at an old peoples home he is trying to relive his glory days through repeats of his TV show – but he finds himself threatened by the alien creatures that he used to act with – but these are no men in rubber suits, these are real. Add to this a deep space tracking centre receiving weird signals and an increasing body count and the obligatory “evil since the dawn of time” and simmer gently…

This story is very very big on atmosphere – a feeling of autumnal melancholy is part of its makeup and its two hour length allows all the characters to develop naturally and the drama to unfold at its own pace, it actually feels rather leisurely in pacing, enough happens to fill the two hours but every aspect of the story is given plenty of time to breathe and to mature. At its heart this is a very traditional story, but the skill of the Gatiss and Kyle C Szikora who adapted it and the natural style of acting that Scott Handcock engenders make this far more than the sum of its parts – one foot in the past, one foot in the 1990’s but with eyes looking forward to the more emotional take on Who that we get now this is a confident adaptation of one of the best remembered New Adventures – characterful, deep, melancholy and autumnal and a very well deserved 8/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

SYNOPSIS:

This title was released in April 2016. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until 31st May 2016, and on general sale after this date.

Professor Nightshade – tea time terror for all the family, and the most loved show in Britain. But Professor Nightshade’s days are long over, and Edmund Trevithick is now just an unemployed actor in a retirement home, fondly remembering his past.

It’s the same through the entire village of Crook Marsham - people are falling prey to their memories. At first harmlessly, and then, the bodies begin to turn up.

The Doctor and Ace arrive on the scene – but, with the Doctor planning his retirement, it may be time for Professor Nightshade to solve one last case.

CAST:

Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), John Castle (Edmund Trevithick), Samuel Barnett (Robin), Katherine Jakeways (Jill), Edward Harrison(Dr Hawthorne), Jonny Magnanti (Lawrence), Tom Price (Sgt Barclay) and Carole Ann Ford (Susan)

Written By: Mark Gatiss, adapted by Kyle C Szikora
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Nightshade is based on the novel by Mark Gatiss from the Virgin New Adventures series of Doctor Who books

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REVIEW – AND YOU WILL OBEY ME

There is a song by Paloma Faith called “Picking Up The Pieces” that kept popping in to my head whilst I listened to this release, because that really is what the Doctor appears to be doing in this story. The main body of events took place 32 years before the Doctor arrived, and he is really just helping to mop up a series of tragic events – but as always I get ahead of myself.

And You Will Obey Me is the first in a trilogy that Big Finish have called “The Two Masters” trilogy, the three stories feature the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors and two incarnations of the Master played by Geoffrey Beevers and Alex Macqueen, and it starts with an auction…

You see the Master is dead, his house where he had been hiding for 32 years burned to the ground, and all that remains is an ornamental Grandfather Clock which is being auctioned and is attracting rather a lot of attention from the Doctor, a mysterious stranger called Annie (Sheena Bhattessa), a couple of teenagers, a mysterious bidder in tweed and a telephone bidder. This rather unassuming beginning is the gateway to an epic adventure that spans 32 years and the lives of four teenagers who due to a series of events were thrown off their school bus and had to take a shortcut home.

Now then – the observant among you may have noticed that the Doctor is without companions and that this doesn’t really happen during his era – worry not, this story takes place just after The Awakening, Tegan and Turlough are off on a trip with Jane Hampden (a character we met in The Awakening) when the Doctor receives a distress call from the Master’s TARDIS and pops off to 2016 to investigate.

So the stage is set, the Master is dead, but two separate teams of assassins have picked up his distress call, because even in death the Master has a backup plan, this time the Master has been playing a very long game and the time has come in 2016 to reap the seeds he sowed in 1984.

From the very beginning of part one the tension begins to build, we know the significance of the Grandfather Clock, so does the Doctor – but what about the other bidders why are so many people interested in it, do they know of the Master or is there an even bigger game afoot? The following four episodes lead us on a dramatic journey involving 8 foot high Mosquito assassins, Russian mercenaries armed with stasers and a race of Cyborgs who wish to atone for their very existence – but the real heart of the story comes in part three – peel away the sci-fi trappings, take a step back from posturing mercenaries with Gallifreyan weapons, because part three really is something extraordinary. Played as a flashback to 1984, to the four teenagers who took a shortcut, and we see in all its putrid evil the manipulative grasping self interest of the Master as played by Geoffrey Beevers. His body may be wasted and burned as he was in The Keeper of Traken, but his will and his charm have not deserted him – the evil he does here may be small scale, but the damage he does, the repercussions of the damage and the sorrow and heartbreak he causes are felt like they really never have been felt before – this time we see the consequences of the Master’s actions in 1984 which lead to the Doctor picking up the pieces (thanks Paloma) in 2016.

Let me get my (now mandatory) Peter Davison praise in, as I said last month, on TV Davison never really was “my” Doctor, but here again he excels, he has given more depth and layers to his character over the years, his breathless enthusiasm, charm and politeness almost played as a shield to hide his harder side which has been formed by his losses – there is an exceptional scene where he realises that he may have inadvertently helped the Master by his inaction in Little Hodcombe, listen out for it, its outstanding and in one scene perfectly encapsulates the essence of the Fifth Doctor.

This release crams a lot of story into its four episodes, so much happens, so much maybe should not have happened but what will be will be and in the case of this story has been and will always have been – no “timey-wimey” get outs, events have their consequences and sometimes the punishment is to live with those consequences.

Yet another triumph for the main range; beautifully constructed plot mechanics, excellently acted, tightly directed (and there is a lot of plot) with just a couple of dangling threads that I am hoping will be resolved in the next two instalments. Or to put it another way a quite “Masterful” (sorry) 10/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

SYNOPSIS:

This title was released in April 2016. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until 31st May 2016, and on general sale after this date.

The Master: wanted for crimes without number, across five galaxies.

The Master: escaped his pursuers. Last known location: rural Hexford, England, Earth.

The Master: dead and buried in an unmourned grave, in a lonely churchyard.

Apparently.

CAST:

Peter Davison (The Doctor), Geoffrey Beevers (The Master), Sheena Bhattessa (Annie), Alex Foley (Colin), Peta Cornish (Helen/Jade Nymph), Russ Bain(Mikey/Grigor), Tessa Coates (Janine), Nick Ellsworth (Gomphus/Auctioneer). Other parts portrayed by the cast.

Written By: Alan Barnes
Directed By: Jamie Anderson

Producer David Richardson
Script Editor Alan Barnes
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

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REVIEW – LEGACY OF DEATH

Legacy of Death is the second part of a story started last month with The Paradox Planet, if you have not heard that I suggest you do before proceeding any further as this is going to get a bit complicated. Done? Okay, I will continue.

We left our heroes last month in a bit of a pickle (to use a technical term) you see they are stuck on the planet Aoris – a planet at war with its own past, where the citizens of era 24 are at war with the citizens of era 14 in the name of the preservation of wildlife – so far, so season 17. Its about to get a bit more complicated.

Whereas The Paradox Planet felt like a typical Fourth Doctor, Romana 2, and K9 story – this second part goes in to overdrive with it being more akin to modern Doctor Who under Steven Moffat – all sort of “timey-wimey”, if you will. This is a story that really demands to be listened to in a state of complete concentration, it’s very difficult to lose track of the various plot threads, multiple K9’s, multiple TARDIS’s and where in the timeline the Doctor fits in to events as our heroes travel back and forth between the two eras. But – and it is a very big but – despite all this “messing about in time” as I like to call it, the story has a logical sense of cause and effect – decisions made in era 14 do effect era 24, characters motivations are changed in a natural organic way by witnessing events of the war.

So what on the surface appears to be a Moffat style time travel story is actually a bit more complex, this story carries the spirit of Hartnell’s “you cannot rewrite history, not one line” and melds it into a mind bending, complex, but ultimately satisfying story which is more about the interaction of characters than being a bit clever with time travel. As always Tom Baker and Lalla Ward cannot put a foot wrong – they are my favourite “classic era” pairing – Tom is at one moment full of joy, the next bristling with moral indignation – and he gets in an “Are You Being Served?” reference, so whats not to love?

It’s a difficult story to review in its own right as it’s the second part of a story, however the tension, the speed of events and the sense of impending doom has been ramped up in this release (and an Are you being Served? reference to boot), so I award it 8/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

SYNOPSIS:

This title was released in April 2016. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until 31st May 2016, and on general sale after this date.

The Doctor, Romana and K9 have found themselves trapped in a temporal war. On Aoris, the past battles the future – and the future fights back!

With both sides of the war now capable of time travel, the conflict is about to enter a deadly stage. As the pieces of history lock into place, there is little the Doctor can do.

With more Time Tanks moving into combat, the endgame is approaching. The people of Aoris risk extinction at their own hand.

Can even the Doctor save the same planet twice in the same day?

Note: This adventure continues from The Paradox Planet.

CAST:

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), John Leeson (K9/Machina) Simon Rouse (Drang), Tom Chadbon (Embery), Paul Panting (Fyrax), Emma Campbell-Jones (Shola), Laura Rees (Tyrus), Bryan Pilkington (Lostar), Jane Slavin (Medea). Other parts portrayed by the cast.

Written By: Jonathan Morris
Directed By: Ken Bentley

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REVIEW – THE AVENGERS – STEED & MRS PEEL (VOL 1)

Mrs Peel, were needed! The four words that defined my TV experience in the early 1990’s. I sort of remembered The Avengers from the early 1980’s but it was the repeats on Bravo in the early 1990’s that made me a fan. What isn’t there to like about The Avengers, especially the Emma Peel era? It had everything, dapper clothes, groovy theme tune, fast paced sparkling dialogue, utterly bonkers plots – and I do mean utterly bonkers - I can well remember Epic, an episode where an insane film director wants to make a film of Mrs Peel’s life, or Something Nasty in the Nursery or The Cybernauts – all complete with mad over-the-top camp as Christmas villains played by wonderfully plummy eccentric British character actors. On top of this you had the chemistry between Steed and Mrs Peel.  Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg just worked, a perfect double-act, the characters just bounced off each other, the dialogue was wry, witty, filled with innuendo, and charming, an iconic pair of TV heroes for the ages – when people remember The Avengers it is usually the Steed and Peel era they refer to – that’s how iconic they are.

So it was with a sense of wonder that I found out last year that Big Finish were adapting the Comic Strip adventures for audio – Julian Wadham would be reprising the role of Steed but who would be playing the iconic Mrs Emma Peel? We needed a cut glass voice, a sense of fun, a sense of the wry and the absurd, excellent comic timing and more than anything else, chemistry with Julian Wadham – and Big Finish got the casting pretty nigh on perfect with Olivia Poulet, she is all these things and much more, she is a fabulous actress who has completely immersed herself in the character of Mrs Peel, and made her her own without having to impersonate the great Dame Diana Rigg – yes indeedy Wadham and Poulet are Steed and Peel. Close your eyes and listen to the theme music, you’ll be transported to a world of slightly over-saturated film, champagne, high fashion, Bentleys and bonkersness, because once again – “Mrs Peel, we’re needed”.

 As is the tradition with Big Finish the set is split in to four stories:

Return to Castle De’ath by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris

Steed and Peel return to Castle De’ath and become embroiled in a plot involving a foreign Prince, an eccentric Colonel, a mysterious Countess and a dour Hotel owner and her mute manservant. This is pure 1960’s kitsch as Prince Abdul Bey (Sam Kordbacheh) is repeatedly the subject of assassination attempts – Mrs Peel joins forces with the eccentric Colonel Augustus-Smyth (played with camp joy by Simon Greenall) to unmask who is behind the mysterious ghostly Piper. This is a delightfully silly opening to the set with all the cast completely on form; it’s completely authentic and faithful to the ethos of season 4 and 5 of The Avengers with the dialogue, music, everything! There is a joy to the proceedings that is infectious, this made me smile – not just a mouth smile but a warm growing whole smile – brilliant.

The Miser by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris

When a train almost crashes and the passengers are taken off unconscious the mysterious “Miser” makes an announcement that this is only a warning and he will wreak havoc again if all the money in all the Banks in England are not handed over to him – Sounds like a job for Steed and Mrs Peel! This story is completely “Avengers”, it has a rather silly megalomaniac with bizarre motivation, it has Mrs Peel in b-movie peril, though she isn’t really that bothered, it has Steed facing off against flame thrower wielding Scarecrows – what else do you need? Okay it is again wonderfully acted and completely authentic to the 1960’s – the plot moves very very quickly and rather a lot happens in the 50 minutes or so running time – the last scene in which the villains are defeated is a delight. In fact you can sample the episode HERE and I suggest that you do!

The Golden Dresses by Paul Magrs

Now for something as zany and left-field as The Avengers, this is left-field. Madame Zingara (Jacqueline Pearce) is the purveyor of haute couture to ladies of society – but the ladies of society seem to be losing their husbands, and it turns out the husbands that they are losing are men with very high ranking jobs in security. Steed and Peel investigate and discover – wait for it – that the ladies of society are being brainwashed by the golden dresses created for them by Madam Zingara. See, I told you this one was super bonkers and it really is! A slice of cold war craziness with traitorous British sailors and confused Russian tailors. Magic!

The Norse Code by John Dorney

Closing the set is something quite bizarre – a trip to the Norfolk Broads for Steed and Peel in search of a missing agent uncovers a plot by a long hidden cult of Vikings to take back England from the Saxons! Yes, you read it right… cue Steed dressed as a Viking complete with a false beard and Mrs Peel as a Milkmaid (just go with it), as the small Norfolk Village complete with Yokel pub landlord, eccentric English Professor Oswald English, would-be Viking Kings and Valkyries, all vie for scenery chewing time with Steed and Peel. It even has longboats launching to Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries – which Professor English points out is actually German. It’s a hoot from beginning to end.

Authenticity is the watchword with this set, from the chemistry between Steed and Peel, to the “We’re Needed” scenes to the “tag” scenes at the end of the episodes – everything is as it should be. I am not really a comic book fan, I find them flat and lifeless – Big Finish have taken the comic books off the page, made them three dimensional and given them heart, soul and joy – just as they should be. Now excuse me whilst I furl my brolly, crack open a bottle of Bollinger 1934 and award this exceptional box set 10/10. Mrs Peel, we’re needed. And with this sort of quality I hope that Wadham and Poulet are needed for a very long time.

Written By Ed Watkinson

SYNOPSIS:

This title was released in April 2016, and will be exclusively available to purchase from the BF website until 31st May 2016.

Recreations of the comic strip adventures of Steed and Mrs Peel which appeared in Diana magazine in 1966 and 1967.

Return to Castle De’ath by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris

Steed is left hanging, Emma pays the piper.

Steed and Peel return to the scene of an earlier adventure to find it much changed. Now a ski-resort, Castle De’ath is playing host to many new visitors – including a wealthy Prince targeted by assassins.

Assigned as bodyguards, the Avengers have to keep the Prince alive and discover which of the Castle’s guests are behind the murderous plot – before they succumb to it themselves.

The Miser by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris

Steed has a nasty scare, Emma has a pressing engagement

When the phrase ‘sleeper train’ takes on a very literal meaning, Steed and Peel witness the first action of The Miser, a terrifying extortionist.

The race is on to stop his ambitious scheme – but in this case, appearances can be deceptive.

The Golden Dresses by Paul Magrs

Emma hits the heights of fashion, Steed plumbs the very depths.

The ladies of society can’t get enough of Madame Zingara’s Golden Dresses. Especially now their husbands have gone missing.

Steed and Peel look into the world of haute couture to discover the dark secret of this latest craze. Can they pull it off with style?

The Norse Code by John Dorney

Steed has the horns of a dilemma, Emma milks her moment.

An agent has gone missing whilst holidaying in the Norfolk Broads. With an American nuclear bomb being stored in the region, Steed and Peel can’t take any risks.

But the last thing they expect to find on their boating trip is a Norse longboat. What are Vikings doing in East Anglia?

CAST:

Julian Wadham (John Steed), Olivia Poulet (Emma Peel), Sam Kordbacheh (Prince Abdul Bey), Shelia Reid (Morag McIntosh/Matron), Allan Corduner (James McTaggart/Murdoch/Crabtree), Ruby Thomas (Countess Beatrice of Burgundy) ,Simon Greenall (Colonel Augustus-Smyth), Jeremy Clyde (The Miser), Graham Seed (Dick North), David Acton (Montague Pratt/Air Marshall Cuthbert Fortescue), John Banks (Dave/Squire Trevitick/Train Guard), Phillip Pope (Derek/Reg the Trainspotter/Newsreader) Jacqueline Pearce (Madame Zingara), Becky Wright (Bunty/Nurse), Christopher Naylor (Emil/Sailor), Nick Underwood (Anton/Rough Sailor/Announcer), Timothy Speyer (Oswald English/Captain Jolleye/Radio Presenter), Ewan Bailey (Ivan Stevenson/Venka/Newsreader), Francesca Hunt (Ingrid Thornton/Brunhilda), Jot Davies (Wellington). Other parts played by the cast.

Written By: Simon Barnard, Paul Morris, Paul Magrs, John Dorney
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Producer David Richardson

Script Editor John Dorney

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

BUY YOUR COPY HERE

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REVIEW – TORCHWOOD: ZONE 10

I was really sad when Toshiko was killed off at the end of Torchwood series 2 – she was my favourite character and I thought that she had a lot more to offer than we were shown on screen. Tosh was intelligent and resourceful and a perfect character to be revisited by Big Finish, and boy is she revisited here.

Freed from the confines of the Hub and being overshadowed by Jack, Gwen and Owen – Toshiko has been doing some investigating of her own, she has been investigating something called “The Pulse” – a radio signal that has been baffling scientists for over 40 years, back in the Cold War days the Russians blamed the Americans for it and vice versa but no one has been able to decipher it – until now…

Toshiko goes solo here following up on research in to the Pulse that she has been trying to decipher for years, because Toshiko has finally deciphered it, and it is a message for her spoken in Russian.

The message leads Toshiko to Russia, to an uneasy alliance with Maxim Ivanov (Krystian Godlewski) of the KVI – the Russian equivalent of Torchwood and to the frozen wasteland that houses the mysterious Zone 10. This is a very difficult story to review without giving out major spoilers – however it is fair enough to say that Zone 10 is a restricted area for a reason, it is the wasteland left after a short and cataclysmic war between the KVI and the mysterious “Committee” – the shadowy villains that have been a linking theme through many of the Torchwood releases and that an innocent survivor has been caught up in the aftermath of this war a lady called Anna Volokova (Ella Garland).

As with the rest of the releases in the Torchwood range much has been done to flesh out the main character – Naoko Mori slips back in to the role of Toshiko like she has never been away, bringing a more confident side to the character that was never really allowed to flower in the TV show. Toshiko seems driven by her curiosity and need for knowledge, willing to take great risks and go in to danger to satisfy her need to know – not reckless just driven by the truth and her need to know it. Maxim Ivanov is a no nonsense Russian agent who accompanies Toshiko on her journey to Zone 10, he is a hard edged agent and he know more about Zone 10 and the machinations of the Committee than he first lets on. The most interesting character though is Anna Volokova – she is in many ways the key to the mystery of the Pulse and of Zone 10 and is a fountain of information about the Committee.

This is as completely different from last months release as it is possible to be, last months was a light-hearted romp, this is a serious gripping drama – it has a claustrophobic intense feeling all the way through and as a listener I felt that perhaps Toshiko had stumbled into something way over her head and that it is sometimes better to let sleeping dogs lie, because in her pursuit of knowledge Toshiko may have inadvertently kicked a hornets nest and I have a feeling that the swarm is coming for Torchwood very soon. Tightly directed, grippingly written this is a play that completely sucks the listener in to its world, and it is a dangerous world where humanity are the unwitting playthings of the Committee. Bleak, intense and intriguing, another fab release. 9/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

SYNOPSIS:

They call it “Pulse” – a radio signal which has puzzled the world for 40 years. But now Toshiko Sato has solved it.

She’s uncovered a message which leads her to Russia, and into an uneasy alliance with the KVI – the Russian equivalent of Torchwood. Toshiko needs to get into Zone 10 – a frozen wasteland which officially doesn’t exist.

An intergalactic war was once fought in Zone 10. And it turns out there’s a survivor.

Naoko Mori (Toshiko Sato), Krystian Godlewski (Maxim Ivanov), Ella Garland (Anna Volokova), Geoffrey Breton (FSB Agent)

Written By: David Llewellyn
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Producer: James Goss

Script Editor: Steve Tribe

Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

BUY YOUR COPY HERE

Torchwood contains adult material and may not be suitable for younger listeners.

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REVIEW – WASHINGTON BURNS

As season 25 rolled into season 26 which rolled in to the New Adventures we saw a change of dynamic in the relationship between The Doctor and companion. No longer was the companion there to get captured/rescued/ask questions – Ace (and later Bernice) were modern resourceful women and an integral part of the Doctor’s increasingly tangled plans. We also saw a shift from The Doctor just blundering in to an adventure to being a “fixer”, using his almost omnipotence to fight evil in the universe.

Washington Burns follows the New Adventures pattern, it has a manipulative Doctor and a resourceful Ace and a very interesting “New Adventures” style villain in the guise of Cerebra. Cerebra is an entity that can inhabit any information, written, printed, electronic and take over the minds of those who read this information. In a far future Washington DC the Doctor and Ace seemingly defeat Cerebra only to discover it has travelled back in time to Washington DC in 1814 and has infected the Library of Congress, local newspapers and the books of a presidential aide – its influence is growing again and it is up to the Doctor and Ace to stop it.

On an almost monthly basis I say that these are short stories on a grand scale – and this is no exception. Running at only 33 minutes and 45 seconds this story takes in a future war and the advance and burning of Washington DC by the British army.  As always the production values are excellent and Sophie Aldred gives a lovely performance as narrator imbuing Ace, the Doctor and the supporting characters with distinct personalities and instilling a sense of urgency to the proceedings. Although it is a short story, it really does not feel like an interlude, more of a prequel and I have a feeling that we will be hearing more of Cerebra in coming main ranges. A clever use of an established historical event to tell a story spanning the ages. 8/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

SYNOPSIS:

You have to stop reading. It can get into anything, anything written down. You can’t let it get a hold. We’re doing what we can to stop it. Here and back in 1814. Washington isn’t safe. America isn’t safe. Nowhere is CEREBRA. You have to CEREBRA reading before it CEREBRA. If it gets into your mind CEREBRA it’s all CEREBRA. Everything’s CEREBRA. CEREBRA. CEREBRA. CEREBRA…

CAST:

Sophie Aldred (Narrator)

Producer: Michael Stevens

Script Editor: Jac Rayner
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Written By: Julian Richards
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

BUY YOUR COPY HERE

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REVIEW – THE PARADOX PLANET

Lets face it, Doctor Who is completely bonkers and I am proud of its bonkersness (is that even a word?) and why shouldn’t I be? What other show can claim to have had The Web Planet, The Underwater Menace, The Sunmakers, all of season 17, Timelash, Paradise Towers and The Happiness Patrol in their canon – answer: none. It’s episodes like this that whilst not being to everyone’s taste show off the infinite creativity and again utter bonkersness (still not sure if it’s a word or not) of the writers. These oddball stories really give our show something special – a sense of fun, a sense of weirdness and a sense of not being afraid to be different.

This months Fourth Doctor release is most definitely a bonkers release – the concept is just a little bit mad because on the planet Aoris the past is at war with the future. Yup, soldiers from era 24 are at war with the denizens of the past in era 14 (known as the age of greed). The soldiers from the future are under strict orders not to kill anyone in the past for fear of causing a paradox. So far, so odd. It gets stranger – the future are at war with the past in order to preserve endangered species. Bingo! – you read it right, the plot goes from odd to bonkers in one sentence – the future is at war with the past in order to preserve natural history.

I thought I had read, seen and heard it all in my 40 or so years as a Doctor Who fan but this revelation made me laugh out loud in incredulity and admiration in its sheer, well “bonkersness” and bringing this tale of madness and menageries together is none other than our very own boggle eyed loon Tom Baker. Tom seems in his element in this story – he and Romana (Lalla Ward) are trapped in separate eras of the war, and had this been a new series story we would I am sure have had a horrid “timey wimey” hand waving explanation for things – no such nonsense here, events follow a set cause and effect – a bomb planted in era 14 is there in era 24 coming to the end of its countdown for example. The Paradox Planet isn’t the whole story though, the story carries on in next months conclusion Legacy of Death – because this one ends on a cliffhanger that I just didn’t see coming.

It’s a very odd story as I have previously stated, wonderfully acted by Tom, Lalla and a stellar supporting cast of Who Luminaries like Tom Chadbon – bye bye Duggan! – and Simon Rouse – You can’t mend people – the story is very fast paced and I did find myself getting a little lost towards the end in the scenes regarding the cult of Machina – I am sure all will become clear in Legacy of Death.

Overall, a plot from left field with sound grasp on cause and effect and a sparkling performance from the cast and a great set up for part two. 8/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

SYNOPSIS:

Whilst travelling in the vortex, the TARDIS is struck by an advanced war machine – a Time Tank! Losing Romana, the Doctor and K9 pursue the Tank to Aoris, a world quite literally at war with itself.

Soldiers from the future are attacking the past of their own planet – gathering resources and stealing endangered species. But the past is not without weapons of its own – leaving deadly devices ready to trigger many years ahead after their enemies have been born.

Trapped at opposite ends of a temporal war, the Time Lords have two time zones to save. But who is in the right, and who in the wrong? And when history itself is against you, can anybody actually win?

Note: The adventure continues in Doctor Who: Legacy of Death.

CAST:

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), John Leeson (K9/Machina) Simon Rouse (Drang), Tom Chadbon (Embery), Paul Panting (Fyrax), Emma Campbell-Jones (Shola), Laura Rees (Tyrus), Bryan Pilkington (Lostar), Jane Slavin (Medea), John Banks (Valchak)

Written By: Jonathan Morris
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Producer David Richardson
Script Editor John Dorney
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

BUY YOUR COPY HERE

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REVIEW – THE PETERLOO MASSACRE

Peter Davison was never my Doctor. When I was I child it was Tom, when I was a teenager it was McCoy. As an adult it was Tennant and now Capaldi, but never Peter Davison. I didn’t dislike him as the Doctor, and find the man himself very affable, but his Doctor never really quite did it for me. Maybe it was just because he wasn’t Tom, or maybe I thought he was too young or had too many companions, or wasn’t playing the Doctor long enough to become established. Whatever the reason Peter Davison just wasn’t my Doctor, and do you know dear reader, I never thought he would be – but life as they say is full of surprises…

This particular surprise happened on Wednesday 16 March 2016, exactly 32 years since Peter’s last episode as the Doctor on TV. This was when I started to listen to this months main range release The Peterloo Massacre, because this is the story that has made Peter Davison my Doctor.

Momentous words indeed, but this is one of those very very special stories – it’s Doctor Who as it used to be in the Hartnell era, it’s a pure Historical with the TARDIS team caught up in tragic events unable to stop them happening. It’s also brilliantly written and acted and a damning social commentary on the attitudes towards the working classes by the wealthy in the early 1800’s. Doctor Who getting political, Peter Davison as a radical – bring it on!

The story begins with the TARDIS having to make an emergency landing after becoming lost in the smog of the industrial revolution. The Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan are taken in by rich industrialist called Mr Hurley (Robbie Stevens), a man full of bluster, pomp and self- importance, a “self made man” who has clearly forgotten his roots. Hurley is a mill owner and member of the local militia, and on a trip to his mill the Doctor and Tegan witness the appalling conditions in which his workers have to toil. They are little more than undernourished exhausted slaves. The Doctor can barely contain his rage and Tegan being Tegan, she’s a lot less tactless. The plight of the workers and the yawning chasm in wealth and social status between rich and poor is almost too much for her to bear.

Nyssa befriends house maid to the Hurley’s, Cathy Roberts, a young lady with a secret who is thrilled to have been selected as a speaker at the rally for workers rights at St. Peters Field. Cathy’s an intelligent, kind girl who in a different age would be fulfilling her potential as a solicitor or trade union convenor rather than being a servant, but such were the strict social conventions of the time. Her father thinks that the workers should “know their place” and be content with their lot. This situation is a powder keg about to go off in an horrific and brutal way. The date of August 16 1819 will always be remembered for the blood of innocents being spilled, of the day that the voices of the many were silenced by the cruelty of the few intent on protecting the social order for their own ends.

There are two exceptional cliffhangers in this story, part one where The Doctor finally realises what date in history they have arrived at, and episode three.

Episode three’s cliffhanger is cold and bleak and cruel and personifies the pointless cruelty of the ruling classes – hauntingly directed, acted with indigence, moral outrage and shame, the cliffhanger and its denouement must go down as one of the most shocking scenes in Doctor Who.

The day August 16 in 1819, should have gone peacefully, for the crowds were lively and loud, but not violent – shouting for better working conditions, democracy and bread. The powers that be, the lords, the landowners, even the Church, decided that the workers would not be heard. The protesters were read the riot act by a cowardly priest, were not even heard and mercilessly ridden down by cavalry and fired upon. This happened. As the Doctor says to Mr Hurley: “15 fatalities, 654 casualties”

Let me talk about Peter Davison for a moment. This is his standout performance as the Fifth Doctor, a tour-de-force of moral outrage, indignation, barley disguised contempt and anger. Here he is the Doctor I always wanted him to be – a radical taking a stand against injustice, a warrior battling against a system that is wrong and battling with words and intellect. After 32 years all the pieces have dropped into place and Peter Davison is finally my Doctor.

This is an exceptional release and there have been a lot of those lately, but this really is something special. Paul Magrs, Jamie Anderson and all involved in the production can take a bow – this story can proudly stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of the best. This is an event in History I knew very little about and now want to find out more. Here is a good starting point. The events of the day led to a slow and creeping social change that led to increased democracy and representation for women. I will finish with a verse from Shelley’s poem about the Massacre – “The Masque of Anarchy”:

“Rise like Lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number,

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you-

Ye are many – they are few.”

Humbled to have been able to listen to this: a true classic. 10/10.

Written By Ed Watkinson

SYNOPSIS:

“They say there’ll be thousands pouring into Manchester tomorrow. From all over the county, north and south. It’ll be a piece of history. People will remember this!”

Lost in the smog of the Industrial Revolution, the TARDIS crashes four miles south of Manchester, in the grounds of Hurley Hall – a grand mansion belonging to a local factory owner, a proudly self-made man. But while Hurley dreams of growing richer still on the wealth of secret knowledge locked up in the Doctor’s time and space machine, his servants hope only for a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. His young maid Cathy, for instance, whom Nyssa learns is looking forward to joining the working people’s march to St Peter’s Field, in the heart of the city. There’ll be speeches and banners and music. It’ll be like one big jamboree…

Or so she thinks. For the city’s establishment have called in their own private militia, to control the crowd. One of the darkest days in Manchester’s history is about to unfold – and the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan are right in the thick of it.

CAST:

Peter Davison (The Doctor), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Janet Fielding (Tegan), Hayley Jayne Standing (Cathy), Robbie Stevens (Hurley), Gerard Kearns (William), Philip Labey (Thomas Tyler), Wayne Forester (Walton/Roberts/Rev Small), Liz Morgan (Mrs Hurley/Sister). Other parts performed by members of the cast.

Written By: Paul Magrs
Directed By: Jamie Anderson

Producer David Richardson
Script Editor Alan Barnes
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

BUY YOUR COPY HERE

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REVIEW – TORCHWOOD: THE VICTORIAN AGE

There was once a film called “Abraham Lincoln – Vampire Hunter”, it sounded good, the trailers were good. It bored me. I actually fell asleep before the end. A fantastic premise – an historic President of the United States of America hunts vampires in his spare time, let down by poor execution. Torchwood – The Victorian Age could have another name – it could quite easily have been called “Queen Victoria – Alien Hunter”, and could quite easily be a Hollywood Blockbuster – because that dear reader is exactly what this story is. Do I need to say any more? That should surely be enough? No? Okay, read on…

Set in 1899, Captain Jack Harkness is on loan to Torchwood London and it’s a frought time as Queen Victoria (Rowena Cooper) is about to make her annual inspection – surely nothing can go wrong? Of course it does… within minutes of Queen Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland (and Empress of India, don’t you know), a full scale emergency is in place – an alien has escaped. Archie, in charge of Torchwood London, has been aged fifty years and Her Majesty is most definitely not amused (had to get that in somewhere). What follows is the most unlikely of buddy movies as Captain Jack and Queen Victoria scour London in search of the escaped alien. Her majesty toting an alien blaster and commandeering horses – Jack bemused at the situation and trying to keep the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland (and Empress of India) safe. On their adventure the Queen takes time to talk to her subjects… there is a delightful scene with Louise Jameson which is very emotionally charged and shows the Queen as a person, not as a figurehead and icon.

This is a steampunk alien infested take on Victorian London  and the Queen is as tough as old boots – she has the measure of Captain Jack and is a superb foil for him. This monarch cares deeply for her subjects – when towards the end Jack suggests she take over as operational head of Torchwood London – there couldn’t be a listener out there who punched the air at the thought. Rowena Cooper makes the Queen testy, feisty, regal and with a heart as big as London – but a Queen you would never dare cross – and without a doubt not amused – she brings what could easily be a formulaic caricature portrayal to life, not going for the easy performance – this really is Rowena Cooper’s take on the Queen and thanks so much to Scott Handcock for directing her this way and to AK Benedict for writing those wonderful lines.

This story treads a fine line between farce and action movie – I think it would be best described as a “romp” but it excels in all categories and to use an oft used Daily Mail phrase: “I for one” look forward to hearing more from Queen Victoria – and coming from a staunch republican that is praise indeed.

A long reigning and highly amused 9/10.

Written By Ed Watkinson

SYNOPSIS:

London, England, the 1890s. Queen Victoria, ruler of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India, has arrived for her annual inspection of the Torchwood Institute. This year, everyone is quite determined, nothing will go wrong.

Several minutes later a terrible creature is unleashed on the streets of London. No one knows where it comes from, what it is, or even why it’s on Earth. It’s ruthless, has no morals, and is quite unstoppable. Captain Jack Harkness is on the loose, and Queen Victoria is along for the ride of her life.

Torchwood contains adult material and may not be suitable for younger listeners

CAST:

John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Rowena Cooper (Queen Victoria), with Youssef Kerkour, Louise Jameson and Aaron Neil.

Written By: AK Benedict

Directed By: Scott Handcock

Producer: James Goss

Script Editor: Steve Tribe

Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

BUY YOUR COPY HERE

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REVIEW: DOOM COALITION 2

Frankie Howerd knew of course, he knew the rules – when it came to storytelling there was no limit to Francis’ genius… add in your own titters and oo-er missus at this point.

But he did – because for every episode of Up Pompeii he would begin, not at the beginning, but before the beginning – he would regale us with “The Prologue”. All very nice you may think, but what has this got to do with Doom Coalition 2?

Well, if you were expecting linear, you are reading the wrong reviewer – I come from the “off at a tangent” school of appraisal, but my reference to dear Francis should make sense further on…

This is another of the very highly anticipated releases from Big Finish – not only does it carry on the story from Doom Coalition 1, but it is a Classic/New crossover as it features none other than River Song. Long time readers will realise that when River enters a story all my critical faculties take a back seat, but at the expense of a telling off from Mrs W I will try my best here… but the idea of River Song in an Eighth Doctor story… 

I think River is magnificent, a wonderful tragic heroine  - every appearance is tinged with melancholy, as we the viewers and listeners know how she will eventually die. And she is also the Doctors’ wife, don’t forget. But not yet, not this Doctor, not Number 8 – the tragic thing about this set is that she cannot meet the Doctor in this incarnation – but she can meet his companions – but I get ahead of myself and we need to rewind a bit…

So where were we, oh yes… dear old Francis and The Prologue. You see I was always told that a good story has a beginning, a middle and an end. I disagree. An outstanding story has a Prologue (told you it would make sense), a beginning, a middle and an end – and in Doom Coalition 2, Big Finish haven’t only delivered this, they have set the standard for four part box sets going forward. It really is that good. It’s the sort of good that makes you smile, makes you proud to be part of Doctor Who fandom, that our show attracts this much talent and passion. Doom Coalition 2 is, as you may gather, a bit of a classic. So, clear your minds dear readers and prepare for Mr Nick Briggs, in a toga, sitting down and giving us “The Prologue”….do you have that image? Good then I will begin…

Beachhead by Nicholas Briggs

The Prologue – the prelude to the main adventure, a pre-title sequence if you will. but every bit as important as the rest of the story because this story is the hook that gets you to the rest of the story. The Doctor, Liv and Helen take a well deserved holiday in the seaside village of Stegmoor, beaches, hill-walking, bracing weather – the perfect place to recharge the batteries. However, this being Doctor Who that was never going to happen. Nick Briggs is a master at Doctor Who scripting, and this one is a love letter to 1970’s Who – it’s a perfect modern update of the UNIT era earth invasion staple, but this is UNIT era Who run through a New Who filter. Sometimes there are stories referred to in Doctor Who that we didn’t see on TV – this story is a sequel to one such story. The Doctor has been to Stegmoor previously, in his third incarnation, and is remembered by Philippa Gregson (Julia Hills) who has a recollection of a white haired scientist with a Police Box. It’s an interesting take on an Earth Invasion story – the villains of the piece are the Voord and their characters are a lot more developed from the rubber suited monsters they were in The Keys Of Marinus. It’s a fast-paced story and when we get to the end we are in no doubt that this is just the beginning of an epic. Salute, Mr Briggs!

 Scenes from Her Life by John Dorney

Sometimes a story comes along that completely pulls the rug out from under me, that completely blindsides me and Scenes From her Life is just one of those stories. Where do I begin? Okay… imagine driving listening to a radio station, and by radio I mean an old analogue radio that is a little bit out of tune, and as you drive the stations tune in and out and you get snatches of different programmes, plays, music, news, sport, all mixed up and fading in and out. Got that? Well this is exactly how I felt with this story – it’s a puzzle box of a story with snatches of different parts from different characters dropped in and out and a story about a spaceship full of slaves being experimented on, a Time Lady called Caleera who has extraordinary psychic powers, an ancient couple of Time Lords Lord Stormblood (Vincent Franklin) and Lady Sepulchura (Jacqueline King) – but above all else this is Helen Sinclair’s story. Hattie Morahan is given he chance to shine in this and become the woman she needs to be. Now then, imagine after driving for miles and getting more and more fed up with your out of tune radio you decide to buy a DAB for the car – crystal clear, all making sense, perfect sound – this is how the final act is played out. The true danger of the situation when you suddenly realise what you have been listening to all along. A mind bending David Lynch-esque enigma of an episode and one of the best I have heard in a very long time.

The Gift by Marc Platt

Following on from the revelations in the previous story The Doctor, Liv and Helen arrive in San Fransisco in 1906. The Doctor has gone a bit peculiar and is seemingly obsessed with getting a haircut. The story centres on one Charles Virgil McLean (James Jordan) who is trying to put on a definitive version of King Lear, however Mr McLean is in debt to the local gangsters and his production is not getting the audiences due to Caruso being in town. McLean’s luck seems to change when he is given a strange psychic “gift” that allows him to conjure money from the air – but there is always a price. This story is almost the calm before the storm as the events of the previous episode are tried and tested. The “gift” is a deadly weapon, but is it a weapon that the Doctor can control? There has also been an intruder in the TARDIS, an intruder who wears expensive parma-violet perfume… Almost a celebrity historical in which the celebrity is an established historical event rather than a person – it leads very nicely into the box set finale.

The Sonomancer by Matt Fitton

With the TARDIS being guided to the planet Syra, Professor River Song – hooray! – is already there trying to save the indigenous people from the cataclysm that is about to befall the planet. She has summoned the Doctor and at one point asks Helen “is it the Magician, the Spiv or the geography teacher?”, she seems genuinely heartbroken that the man that arrives is not her “sweetie” yet. This final episode again has an epic sweeping feel and sees the return of arch villain The Eleven (Mark Bonnar) and the new threat of The Sonomancer. It is genuinely a joy to hear Alex Kingston as River Song, she gives a commanding performance taking charge of the situation and acting like the Doctor, as he is off dealing with The Sonomancer. Again is is Hattie Morahan as Helen Sinclair who shines in this episode, her scenes with River are genuinely touching, and River’s parting words of “look after him until it is my turn” brought a bit of tear to my eye. This episode is fast-paced blockbuster entertainment – the action just does not let up and not all of the questions posed earlier in the set are answered. I may have been wrong earlier when I said a great story needed a prologue (thank you Lurcio), a beginning, a middle and an end – I forgot that it has to leave them wanting more. And this final story most definitely does that  - it’s going to be a long wait until October.

The original Doom Coalition was superb – this one is even better. The structure works like a dream and Helen Sinclair is really developed as a character. The stories work as part of a set and also as part of a greater whole, and like any good drama leaves questions to be answered – the biggest of all must surely be ‘who are the Doom Coalition?” If Doom Coalition 3 and 4 are anywhere near as good as this then we are in for the trip of a lifetime as we find out. A fast paced, traditional, surreal, beautiful epic and a very well deserved 10/10. Salute!

Written by Ed Watkinson

SYNOPSIS:

Beachhead by Nicholas Briggs

In an attempt to recharge his batteries after his confrontation with the Eleven, the Doctor takes Liv and Helen to the sleepy English seaside village of Stegmoor. But they find the village in turmoil and, to make matters worse, their arrival uncovers a mystery from the Doctor’s past which threatens the future safety of the planet. Can the Doctor prevent the Voord from invading Earth? And more importantly why have they come in the first place?

Scenes from Her Life by John Dorney

Investigating the appearance of the Voord on Earth, the Doctor, Liv and Helen follow a trail which takes them to the other side of the universe. There they discover a mysterious and almost deserted gothic city lost in space and time, in which the grotesque inhabitants are conducting a vile and inhumane experiment. The Doctor and his companions must hurry to save the lives of those in danger before the experiment is a success and the unimaginable consequences become all too real.

The Gift by Marc Platt

The TARDIS deposits its crew on Earth in San Francisco, 1906. There they find an actor-manager desperate to stage his definitive production of King Lear. But a real storm is headed their way when he becomes the possessor of a mysterious psychic ‘Gift’ which is hungry for power and intent on wreaking havoc and destruction. But exposure to so much psychic activity has the Doctor becoming increasingly erratic. Can he battle his demons and save the world?

The Sonomancer by Matt Fitton

On the other side of the galaxy a mining company is exploiting the already unstable planet of Syra for every precious mineral it contains. River Song is attempting to save the native people. She needs the Doctor’s help, but she also knows he mustn’t yet discover her true identity. The final confrontation sees the Doctor once again face his enemy the Eleven in an attempt to prevent the destruction of Syra and the genocide of its inhabitants.

CAST:

Paul McGann (The Doctor), Nicola Walker (Liv Chenka), Hattie Morahan (Helen Sinclair), Alex Kingston (River Song), Rebecca Night (Matilda Gregson), Julia Hills (Phillipa Gregson/Dispatch), Kirsty Besterman (Ishtek/Lilly), Andrew Dickens (Voord Guard/Police Sergeant/Mr Rogers), Emma Cunniffe (Caleera), Vincent Franklin (Lord Stormblood), Jacqueline King (Lady Sepulchra), Hamish Clark (Swordfish), James Jordan (Charles Virgil McLean), Paul Marc Davis (Pepé Gonzalez), Cory English (Sam Sonora), Laura Harding (Ethel Halliday/Mariam), Enzo Squillino Jnr (Aldo Deluca), Derek Ezenagu (Ruslan/Ivo), Janet Fullerlove (Yeva/Wife), John Banks (Husband/Guard/Mineworker/Galactic Heritage/Shopkeeper) and Mark Bonnar as The Eleven.

Written By: Nicholas Briggs, John Dorney, Marc Platt, Matt Fitton
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Producer David: Richardson

Script Editor: Ken Bentley

Executvie Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

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REVIEW – PRIME WINNER

Mistaken identity, dopplegangers, clones, duplicates, robot doubles – all staples of Doctor Who storytelling for a very long time. The Daleks’ robot Doctor in The Chase, the parallel universe in Inferno, Commander Maxil, The Android Invasion, Caecilius – even the Meta Crisis Doctor – the Whoniverse seems to be littered with people who look like our heroes for one plot reason or another. And this months Short Trips release uses the hook of a lookalike to draw us into the story – but maybe not the lookalike you were expecting.

Remember Peri’s first story Planet of Fire? Remember her stepfather Howard? Well he is the lookalike that drives the story. But I get ahead of myself. This story is very Sixth Doctor, its setting is a giant casino in space and you can just imagine the awful gaudy 1980’s costumes and too bright lighting used to great effect as the Doctor and Peri play detective to find out what exactly is going on and why “Howard” is on board the casino and why he is winning so many “Prime Wins”?

Nicola Bryant is a fantastic actress – I tend to forget that she is not an American – I am so used to her playing Peri, but in this story she slips effortlessly from herself as narrator, to in character as Peri, to getting Colin Bakers’ bombastic intonations off to perfection, to imbuing all the minor characters with a sense of individuality. The writing is very visual – Nigel Fairs has completely evoked the feeling of a Saturday night in 1985 (if the hiatus hadn’t happened), in fact with the running time of 42 minutes this episode would have been a perfect one part story, if such things had been done back then. The pacing is excellent, slightly longer than the usual Short Trips release but the extra 12 minutes or so are used to good effect fleshing out the rather complex but perfectly resolved plot. Yes it’s a mistaken identity story, and quite a small scale bit of villainy – but written and performed this well, this release can hold its head up high with the most epic of releases. A definite Prime Win and an odds on 9/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

SYNOPSIS:

The TARDIS makes a forced landing in a lavish room looking very much like the foyer to a 1930s casino. But the games being played in the halls are unlike anything they would find on Earth, and the players are far from human. And then Peri sees her stepfather…

CAST:

Nicola Bryant (Narrator)

Written By: Nigel Fairs
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Producer Michael Stevens

Script Editor: John Ainsworth
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

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REVIEW: THE WAR DOCTOR 2 – INFERNAL DEVICES

The power of words is a wonderful thing. Think back to New Years Day 2010… David Tennant was on his last hurrah as the Tenth Doctor and during the episode Gallifrey is coming back – but it isn’t the Gallifrey of the past with bumbling ineffectual dusty old Timelords, this is the Gallifrey from the darkest days of the Time War.  As the Doctor says everything from that time will come back: “the Skaro Degradations, the Horde of Travesties, the Nightmare Child, and the Could’ve Been King with his Army of Meanwhiles and Neverweres”, all horrific sounding, all evocative of the Hell that the Time War must have been in the last days. How awful it must have been to make the War Doctor consider using The Moment…

This second box set is subtitled “Infernal Devices” and is made up of three stories, each focusing on a different weapon of mass destruction from the height of the Time War and further sees the descent of the Time Lords into a force for evil. The War is at its height and an increasingly desperate Time Lord War Council look for new ways to win. Just think about this – The Time Lords, guardians of the web of time, who observe but do not interfere, have been changed by this war, they have become almost a mirror image of the Daleks. They are now prepared to do whatever it takes to win – in many ways by engendering this change in the very nature of what it is to be a Time Lord, the Daleks have already won the Time War, because the Time Lords have become as merciless, as corrupted and as single-minded as their enemies. As always I digress… but this set is a challenging listen, it takes everything you thought you knew about the Time Lords and turns it on its head, asking many questions of the listener, offers many moral dilemmas on the nature of war, humanity, survival and victory. The three stories are:

Legion of the Lost by John Dorney

The Time War has changed the nature of the Time Lords, they are exploring different ways of achieving victory and are (to coin a phrase) “thinking the unthinkable” – at what cost should victory in a war be achieved, is there any circumstances where losing what make you the people you are is worth sacrificing in the name of a greater good? These and many more questions are posed here, but it is up to the listener to answer for themselves.

The story begins with The War Doctor disabling a weapon known as the Annihilator – a weapon so powerful that it can remove a whole timeline from existence but the memory is retained. This however is only the tip of a very dark and desperate iceberg. On the planet of the Technomancers, Mages who fuse magic and science to horrific ends – their leader Shadovar (the wonderful David Warner) has offered the Time Lords a deal which could ensure victory, but it is a deal with a great cost.

This is a chilling episode, really chilling. The moral ambiguity is uncomfortable because we look on the Time Lords as the “Good Guys”, but are they? Are they really any better than the Daleks – the language being used by them is horribly reminiscent of Davros’ justification for victory – it’s an episode to be appreciated rather than enjoyed, and an episode to be admired for its courage in posing ethical dilemmas.

A Thing of Guile by Phil Mulryne

In story one we witness desperate Time Lords resorting to desperate measures – this episode turns the scenario on its head. Asteroid Theta 12 is a secret Dalek research base where Daleks are thinking the unthinkable and trying to find a way to win the war. Whereas the previous episode has seen the Time Lords losing more and more of their “humanity” (for want of a better description) this sees the Daleks trying in part to regain theirs…

The Time War really has changed the nature of what it is to be a Dalek as well as a Time Lord. The weapon in this is “The Anima” a device that Cardinal Ollistra (Jacqueline Pearce) would like further information on and tasks the War Doctor with investigating. Another grim and bleak episode with very little hope, because even the Doctor is not the Doctor who saves the day any more – he too has been changed by the War…

The Neverwhen by Matt Fitton

The Neverwhen Flux is an horrific weapon, it traps those in its field in a time bubble and evolves and devolves those in the bubble throughout their species evolution. It also does not allow the combatants to die. Eternal war, eternal death, no rest – pure Hell. For Cardinal Ollistra it’s an opportunity for victory – for the War Doctor it’s an opportunity to stage manage peace. He may deny his heritage, but the Doctor of old has to be in there somewhere. This is a wonderful story. A difficult story, a harrowing story, a brutal story but there is a glimmer of hope, because in the midst of all this hate, all this death, all this horror, the War Doctor tries to find peace, tries to engineer a peace. Whether he succeeds or fails is immaterial the fact is he tries and this is a wonderful thing because after all his protestations he is deep down inside still the Doctor we know and love – he just isn’t ready to admit it yet. To admit it will take another weapon, a special “moment” – but that is another story…

Tinged with the horror of war, overtly harsh, brutal and pulling no punches, this is a very brave box set. By focusing on weapons and how they affect the people that use them a picture is painted of corruption on an epic scale, of a once noble race ruined and brought low by a never ending war – but in this bleakness is the War Doctor, a guttering, flickering flame of hope, a candle that has nearly gone out, has nearly been made dark by the war. But not quite. John Hurt is phenomenal – he is utterly vulnerable, full of self-loathing, in denial of his actual nature and a perfect Doctor for the utter hell that is the Time War. It is not that difficult to see why the horror of the war made him want to use The Moment, but why The Moment made him hesitate and confront who he really was. Infernal Devices is a descent into the maelstrom of madness and a very worthy 9/10.

Written By Ed Watkinson

SYNOPSIS:

Legion of the Lost by John Dorney

In a time of war, every means of victory must be explored. In the Time War, the unthinkable must be thought, and neither side can afford to be squeamish about their methods.

When the destruction of an obscene weapon leads to the Time Lord once known as the Doctor uncovering a secret Gallifreyan initiative, he cannot believe what is being considered.

Should victory be sought at any cost? Or are there worse possibilities than losing to the Daleks..?

A Thing of Guile by Phil Mulryne

The Daleks are developing a secret weapon on Asteroid Theta 12. It is imperative that their plans are uncovered.

Cardinal Ollistra has her hands full studying the range of ancient and mysterious armaments the universe has to offer, but she makes it a personal mission to investigate the Dalek project.

On this dangerous assignment, there is one particular Time Lord she wants at her side – and he will be accompanying her whether he wants to or not.

The Neverwhen by Matt Fitton

On an isolated world ravaged by battle, time itself has become a weapon, laying waste to all who live and die there. Arms and technology are in a state of flux – and it seems that everlasting war is their only option.

The arrival of one battered Type Forty TARDIS inside this nightmare offers hope to the combatants trapped within.

But when he discovers the truth, the horrors of the Neverwhen will shock even the War Doctor…

CAST:

John Hurt (The War Doctor), Jacqueline Pearce (Cardinal Ollistra), David Warner (Shadovar), Jamie Newall (Co-ordinator Jarad), Zoë Tapper (Collis), Robert Hands (Captain Solex), Oliver Dimsdale (Commander Trelon), Laura Harding (Navigator Valis), Barnaby Kay (Commander Thrakken), Jaye Griffiths (Daylin), Tim Bentinck (General Kallix), Tracy Wiles (Commander Barnac), and Nicholas Briggs as the Daleks. Other parts played by the cast.

Written By: John Dorney, Phil Mulryne, Matt Fitton
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Producer David Richardson

Script Editor Matt Fitton

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

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SHARE THE ORANGE

Ninth Doctor actor Christopher Eccleston leads the latest campaign from Alzheimer’s Research UK #sharetheorange.

The project features stop motion animation from award winning studio Aardman, demonstrating how the diseases that causes dementia, most commonly Alzheimer’s, physically attacks the brain. Through damage caused by the disease, the brain of a person with Alzheimer’s can weigh around 140 grams less than a healthy brain – about the weight of an orange.

Eccleston, whose father Ronnie died with vascular dementia following a 14-year battle with the disease, said:

We have to think differently about dementia. We have to stop believing dementia is an inevitability; something that simply happens to us all as we grow older. If we don’t, we’re never going to truly fight it.

Dementia is caused by diseases and diseases can be beaten. We’ve tamed diseases like cancer and heart disease and a diagnosis of either is no longer a certain death sentence. People with dementia deserve this same hope. This film aims to show that dementia is caused by physical processes that scientists can put a stop to.

While scientists fight dementia in the lab, by sharing the film anyone can fight the misunderstanding and fatalism that surrounds dementia in our society.

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DOCTOR WHO MAGAZINE INCREASES IT’S CIRCULATION

Doctor Who Magazine has increased its circulation according to figures released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

In the period July to December 2015 the magazine had an official certified circulation of 26,514 copies, up from 25,663 in the previous six month period. The figure is good news for the magazine which has arrested a steady decline in circulation since the peak of 36,000 in the second half of 2013.

Tom Spilsbury, Editor of Doctor Who Magazine, said:

Doctor Who Magazine’s new ABC figure is 26,514 – up 3% from the previous figure released six months ago, which covered the first half of 2015. Overall – mirroring the TV series’ UK ratings – DWM’s 2015 numbers were down a little on 2014, but our figures are still extremely healthy, maintaining a good lead over our nearest competitor, SFX, which posted a 2015 average circulation of 22,224. So we’re pretty happy.

Doctor Who Adventures has a certified circulation of 17,710, down slightly from 20,506 in the previous six months. The magazine was transferred to Panini during the first part of 2015.

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REVIEW – AQUITAINE

Audio is a wonderful medium – it fires the imagination way more than TV could ever do, and the reason for this is that we the listener create the pictures. Now as Doctor Who fans we all know what the Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa look like, and a cursory glance at the cover of this months main range audio release “Aquitaine” will give you a good idea what Hargreaves (more of him later) looks like – but two listeners can listen to the very same story simultaneously and come up with a very different interpretation of the the overall visuals.

doctor_burton_5_by_michaelthepure-d6x9vq3Something about this story screamed Tim Burton at me, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Hargreaves (him again) has the art deco gothic stylings of a Burton character but it wasn’t until I listened to the isolated music score at the end of the release that the penny dropped, the score reminded me of Danny Elfman and brought back warm memories of Edward Scissorhands. The music has a sweet, charming melancholy – an otherworldly, not quite of this universe, dream-like quality. Listening to Aquitaine I imagine the Fifth Doctor looking like the image on the left…

It’s that sort of story, visual and intellectually stimulating – the sort of story that fires the imagination. It’s also very sad, very melancholy and introspective, and will make you consider your own place in the grand scheme of things.

This story may have the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan, but this really is a story about Hargreaves. Third mention of him, so I had better explain.

The Aquitaine of the title is a spaceship in orbit on the outer most reaches of a Black Hole and Hargreaves is the ships computer, butler, gardner, medic – basically Hargreaves is the personification of the Aquitaine – and can I raise my virtual hat to Matthew Cottle for an extraordinary performance, full of pathos and tinged with heartbreak. Each day Hargreaves tends to his daily tasks, cleaning, running diagnostics, cooking the crew their meals. Hargreaves is reminiscent of the “Jeeves” style of Butler – typically English and attentive to his tasks to the point of obsession. The problem is Hargreaves is just going through the motions as the crew are missing and he is all alone aboard the Aquitaine doing his daily tasks because that is what he does. It’s all quite sad, but at the same time charmingly quaint. Just imagine that somewhere in the vastness of space there is an abandoned spaceship with a robot Butler and this robot Butler will tend to the ship until the end of time because that is what he does… never complaining, never taking time off, just repeating his tasks century in and century out….

Charming is most definitely how I would describe this story – utterly charming and it really is down to Peter Davison and Matthew Cottle who carry the heart of the story. It is also filled with abject horror; the Aquitaine is filled with ghosts and monsters, it has dangerous plants that carry an incurable infection. It is also a time travel story. Stop! I usually don’t like those, “all that “timey wimey” nonsense is just a cheat” (is what I usually say) but when it is done as well as it is here, Aquitaine is the exception that proves the rule. The whole thing makes perfect logical sense, the “sci fi” of the gravitational effects of the Black Hole are more than adequately explained and really do work as a device to drive the drama forward rather than making me roll my eyes. Actually when the effects of the black hole do become apparent the story becomes even more interesting…

Episode three has an absolute belter of a cliffhanger that is up there with part three of The Caves of Androzani, the cliffhanger in The Stolen Earth and the cliffhanger to part one of Big Finish’s Protect and Survive – it’s one of those moments when the Fifth Doctor completely loses his cool calm and collected persona and does something utterly reckless and dangerous.

The remainder of the cast,  Harry Myers as Dr Akunin, Nina Sosanya as Captain Maynard, Gerald Kyd as Lt. Savinio and Danusia Samai as Lt Jennings are all given interesting build ups before actually being introduced and how they interact with Hargreaves and the regulars depending on when they meet adds to the clever jigsaw puzzle feel of the story – listen to it and you will see (or hear) what I mean.

The four episodes just fly by – the story really is that absorbing… time travel, infection, greed, ethics beeswax and tea-making have probably never been in the same sentence together, but Aquitaine has made it possible. It is a story that demands to be listened to on multiple occasions to fully appreciate the nuances of the script and how it works hand in hand with the musical score and the subtleties of the cast. A real gem of a story and utterly charming.

10/10.

Written By Ed Watkinson

SYNOPSIS:

Today should be much like every other day for Hargreaves, the computer consciousness that co-ordinates daily life aboard the spaceship Aquitaine, stationed on the outer fringes of a black hole. Water the plants, run the diagnostics, cook the Captain’s breakfast; then tidy the plates away, rotate the ship, clean the windows of the observation deck. When at last the day’s work is done, Hargreaves will dim the lights in the sleeping quarters. But no-one will sleep aboard the Aquitaine tonight. Because the Aquitaine’s crew is missing.

But today will be different. Today, a space/time ship called the TARDIS will materialise in the botanical section, bringing the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan aboard the Aquitaine. Together, they’ll seek to discover the truth of what happened to Hargreaves’ crew…

… if only the ghosts will let them.

CAST:

Peter Davison (The Doctor), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Janet Fielding (Tegan), Matthew Cottle (Hargreaves), Harry Myers (Dr Sergei Akunin), Nina Sosanya (Captain Anna Maynard), Gerald Kyd (Lt Maurizio Savinio), Danusia Samal (Lt Freya Jennings)

Written By: Simon Barnard & Paul Morris
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Producer David Richardson
Script Editor Alan Barnes
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

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REVIEW – THE LABYRINTH OF BUDA CASTLE

Season 17 – you knew where you were with Season 17 – starts with a TARDIS scene with pithy dialogue, and cuts to a pretty over-the-top villain with a scenery-chewing plot to take over the universe. Tom clowns around making silly flippant comments, Lalla does all the serious bits – there’s a big explosion and they all go home. Perfection.

This months Fourth Doctor release is a very “un-season 17” like experience. Well it is and it isn’t. It starts in Budapest with some delightfully Adams-esque dialogue between Tom and Lalla – this is pure City of Death territory – beautiful lines about songs of Copenhagen and Budapest and getting tulips – it all seems very familiar – and then… well it then takes a very dark turn. We go from the pithy flippancy of Williams right back to the Gothic horror of Hinchcliffe in the space of one scene. Put it this way – imagine if Robert Holmes had been script edited by Douglas Adams, silliness and slaughter hand-in-hand is the order of the day here. And being set in Budapest it’s not too long before a Vampire is the suspected culprit…

For all the gothic homages during the Hinchcliffe tenure, Vampires were not really touched upon and horror homages were not really a Williams trope – but The Labyrinth of Buda Castle beautifully melds together the sensibilities of both eras – we have the overt horror of Hinchcliffe combined with the wise cracking zingy dialogue of Williams – oh and the villain of the piece played by Mark Bonnar has a fabulous in-joke of a name – Zoltán Frid. Tweet me if you want an explanation!

Joining the Doctor and Romana on this perhaps Vampire hunt is Celia Soames (Kate Bracken) a Vampire Hunter who has come to Budapest in search of Dracula. Their search leads them to the Labyrinth of Buda Castle (of the title) where the army are holding back a monster and its maker – it seems that Zoltán Frid has been playing a very long game and he is very very hungry…

Suitably flippant, cleverly written and very gory, this is pure “B” movie heaven. It has a labyrinth, a monster, a plan that has been hundreds of years coming to fruition, women who want to be the bride of Zoltán Frid, a silly Tom, a serious Tom and a stern Romana! The tone swings like a pendulum between horror and humour, always wrong-footing the listener and making the Doctor even more unpredictable than he usually is in his Fourth incarnation.

A story to make you hunger for a stake (sorry, couldn’t resist!).

7/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

SYNOPSIS:

The Doctor and Romana land in Budapest, intent on enjoying another holiday, but shortly after landing they find themselves too late to save the life of a man who has seemingly been attacked by a vampire. As they learn that this is the latest in a series of violent attacks, it becomes clear that they have stumbled onto something that needs investigating.

Aided by a vampire hunter who is searching for Dracula, they look into the nearby Buda caves, currently being used for storage by the military – and find that the soldiers have problems of their own.

Stalked through the tunnels by a monster, and up against an ancient evil, the race is on to escape alive – and foil the dastardly schemes of the maniacal Zoltan Frid.

CAST:

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), Kate Bracken (Celia Soames), Mark Bonnar (Zoltán Frid), Peter Barrett (Guard-Major Priskin), John Dorney (Ensign Kanta), Anjella Mackintosh (Anita Kereki) other parts played by members of the cast

Written By: Eddie Robson
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Producer David Richardson
Script Editor John Dorney
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

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