REVIEW – ZALTYS

Weren’t the junkings of the season 19 stories an act of cultural vandalism, yes we still have Kinda & Earthshock but we also have Time Flight whilst classics like Zaltys remain only in audio form. Whats he on about? you may be (quite rightly) thinking – but Zaltys feels like a lost story from 1981, the structure, the friction between team TARDIS, the guest cast (more on them later) everything screams 1981. Very loudly.

 Because Zaltys is a classic, its one of the best season 19 stories we will never see but can be glad it exists – but who or what is Zaltys? Well Zaltys is a planet where the bulk of the story takes place, a xenophobic planet where the majority of the population have gone into hibernation because of an impending extinction level event leaving only the narrow minded   Talia (Carol Sloman), the progressive Perrault (Sean Barnett) and the Vulpine alien Gevaudan (Philip Franks) to keep watch over the population. And in to this situation blunders the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison in full “breathless enthusiasm” mode) and Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) who are looking for their lost companions Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) & Tegan (Janet Fielding) who have been teleported from the TARDIS to who knows where. Adric seems to be somewhere on Zaltys but Tegan is in an altogether darker and more dangerous place, she finds herself in the dark (literally) and being taunted by the deliciously arch Clarimonde (Niamh Cusack) and this is the interesting thing – Clarimonde seems to think that Tegan is Jo Grant and has encountered the Doctor in his third incarnation over 700 years ago….

 And then if you think Tegan is in dire danger The Doctor and Nyssa encounter the mean, gun-toting and downright nasty scavenger Sable (Rebecca Root) on Zaltys who has come to the planet to recover the fabled “lost treasures”. And she is fabulous, completely amoral, selfish, greedy and slowly losing the plot as she finds herself in way over her head. But what a character and Rebecca Root walks a fine line between realism and scenery chewing, because it would be so easy to go the complete ‘Soldeed” with the character but Rebecca Root instills her with a grounded reality and depth – I think that behind Sable’s bluster, bravado and cruelty is a very frightened woman raging against a situation she is not prepared for.

 The story evolves over the four episodes, what started out as a rescue turns into a very clever invasion story and harks back to the oldest and most deadly opponents of the Time Lords and a previous adventure of the Doctor which we have not heard yet – I hope Big Finish tell us the tale of Clarimonde & the Third Doctor in a forthcoming box set.

 As I said at the beginning of this review, its a classic and it really is, from the TARDIS scenes at the beginning with Tegan wanting to get home to the foreshadowing of Clarimond through the book Adric is reading, to the performances from all the guest cast the production oozes class right the way to the melancholy final few words by Adric – I cannot recommend this release highly enough, best main range release this year so far and an essential purchase for anyone who is a fan of Season 19. 10/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

This title was released in March 2017. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until April 30th 2017, and on general sale after this date.

In the Vortex, the TARDIS comes under a form of psychic attack – resulting in the abductions of first Adric, then Tegan. Following their trail, the Doctor and Nyssa arrive under the lurid skies of the planet Zaltys, whose entire population has vanished in strange circumstances. Soon, they discover that Zaltys is now the target of treasure seekers, come to scavenge this so-called Planet of the Dead…

Meanwhile, deep below the planet’s surface, Adric learns the earth-shattering reason why the people of Zaltys disappeared… and why they were wise to do so. And Tegan is, quite literally, in the dark – enduring interrogation by the mysterious Clarimonde. Any friend of the Doctor’s is Clarimonde’s enemy… because theirs is a blood feud!

Written By: Matthew J Elliott
Directed By: Barnaby Edwards

Cast

Peter Davison (The Doctor), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Janet Fielding (Tegan), Sean Barrett (Perrault), Niamh Cusack (Clarimonde), Philip Franks (Gevaudan), Rebecca Root (Sable), Alix Wilton Regan (Lusca/Siobhan), Carol Sloman (Talia/Computer). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer David Richardson

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

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REVIEW – THE SILENT SCREAM

Don’t be fooled by the morose face Tom has on the cover or the Season 18 theme music. Yes this may be dressed up as a season 18 story, but apart from the window dressing this is a pure season 17 romp of a story. No impending doom, no entropy, no 1980′s style incidental music – just a sense of joy and a lightweight runaround with plenty of laughs , corny gags and a scenery chewing villain with a madcap plan.

 A minimal cast, just the regulars along with Pamela Salem as silent screen actress Loretta Waldorf, Andrée Bernard as studio owner Lulu Hammerstein and Alec Newman as the dastardly Dr Julius and we are transported back to the golden age of Hollywood, but something is not quite right – silent actors are being coaxed out of obscurity to screen test for a new epic “talkie” but the film is cursed – every one that has tested has had their voice stolen and tonight is the turn of Loretta Waldorf – but Loretta has a visitor, a fan with mad eyes, curly hair and a ridiculous scarf and he is not going to stand by while Loretta has her voice stolen. But unfortunately thats just what he does and soon the trail leads him to Lulu Hammerstein and her strangely futuristic camera – and when the Doctor decides to screen test and his voice is stolen too who is going to save the day?

 This really has the feeling of a caper movie and rattles along at a fair old pace with everyone giving a “turn” rather than attempting realism (and why should they :-) ) I can just imagine Dr Julius twirling his moustache as he enacts his rather silly plan involving giving silent film stars a sort of immortality. Dr Julius is a rather interesting character a collector who has lost the joy of collecting and just collects for its own sake, he almost seems to  despise what his passion is and aims to critique just for its own sake……

 Tom Baker is wonderful in this one, playing up to the script and most definitely having a ball with the material he has been given – you can just see him all teeth, curls and boggle eyed hamming up every single line to gain the maximum joy for the audience and for himself – no this is not the Tom of season 18, but who wants Mr Morose when you can have this force of nature who is clearly having the time of his life.

 In the end this story is a failure, but only as a season 18 pastiche – as a jolly piece of Saturday teatime fun for all the family it succeeds. It may not be an earth shattering plot but it deserves a special place for the performances put in and the sheer unadulterated fun of the piece. This one cannot be silenced and really deserves 9/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

On the set of a busy Hollywood movie in the late 1920s, a damsel is in distress! As cameras roll, she opens her mouth to scream and… nothing comes out. Nothing at all. It’s happened again.

The Doctor, Romana and K9 have arrived in a terrified Tinseltown. A new film is being made and several stars of the silent screen are viewing it as a potential comeback… but it may prove a poisoned chalice. Actors are vanishing and strange creatures stalk the streets.

Something evil is lurking behind the scenery. Can the Doctor stop it when he doesn’t have a voice?

It’s time for his close-up.

Written By: James Goss
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), John Leeson (K9), Alec Newman (Dr Julius), Pamela Salem (Lorretta Waldorf), Jane Slavin (Nelly), Andrée Bernard (Lulu Hammerstein), John Banks (Cab Driver/ Director)

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

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REVIEW – TORCHWOOD: VISITING HOURS

Mum’s and their sons eh? An unbreakable bond, a fierce devotion, a force of nature that woe betide anyone tries to come between no matter who or what they are. And that is what this month’s Torchwood release – Visiting Hours is all about.

 Rhys Williams (Kai Owen) is an everyman p he is the “us” to Torchwood’s “them”, down to earth, working class – likes a pint and a night out and loves his Mum, and when his Mum is in Hospital after a hip operation it is his duty as a son to visit her, even if he does cut it a bit fine, well 12 minutes until the end of visiting time isn’t too bad is it??

 This story sees Rhys reunited with his Mum Brenda (Nerys Hughes) to give us another unique slant on what I have termed the “Cardiff buddy movie” (at least I assume the Hospital is in Cardiff) but you know what I mean.

Rhys & Brenda have that unwritten rule, that spark that only a Mum & a son have, I have it with my Mum a sort of exasperation mixed with love mixed with still feeling like you are ten and being told off. And Brenda does tell Rhys off, she is none too fond of his colourful language (which has an hilarious pay off) and like most mums Brenda NEVER STOPS TALKING!. I could have listened to Kai Owen & Nerys Hughes indulge in maternal banter for the whole 45 minutes of the production, they just work together (and as two of North Wales’ finest exports why wouldn’t they??) but on top of this new odd couple there is a plot – Big Finish, you are spoiling us :-)

 The hospital that Brenda finds herself in St Helens is state of the art, it also has a problem – patients keep dying and the bodies keep disappearing and guess who is on the list of patients to be disappeared? Yup, its Brenda, what the villains didn’t count on is that she would have her son with her. The action is frantic as Rhys wheels Brenda in her bed around the hospital trying to avoid his Mum becoming the next victim of, well I will let you listen for yourself, but its a bit grim – and all through this manic runaround we have the wonderful banter and Rhys constantly being told off by his Mum and Brenda chatting about  the inanities of her life, its so well observed and its so Welsh. The story feels as a hook to a bigger conspiracy as to who were carrying out the kidnappings and where exactly they came from and it may just pay off further down the line – if it doesn’t I don’t mind so much, I will be revisiting this one for the sheer joy of the Rhys & Brenda show, they are pretty much my favourite pairing so far in all the Torchwood range and I really do hope there are further forays developed – Sunday dinner with Auton chairs that Brenda has bought by mistake, Rhys taking Brenda shopping and… Actually just Rhys taking Brenda shopping would work fine for me. A great start to the new series and a fantastic 9/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

This title was released in March 2017. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until April 30th 2017, and on general sale after this date.

Everyone’s a little worried about St Helen’s Hospital. In many ways it is a miracle of the modern NHS. It has plenty to offer its patients. The problem is that a lot of them keep dying of natural causes in the night. And no-one can find the bodies.

People are beginning to notice. Questions are being asked. And there are rumours – the strange whispering figures seen at the end of the corridors, the electrical buzzing, the screams.

Also, Rhys Williams has come to visit his mother. Brenda’s had her hip done and is looking forward to a bit of rest and regular crumble. Rhys and his mam are in for a night they’ll never forget.

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

Written By: David Llewellyn
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Cast

Kai Owen (Rhys), Nerys Hughes (Brenda Williams), Karl Theobald (Mr Tate), Ryan Sampson (Mr Nichols), Ruth Lloyd (Nurse Brown), Stephen Critchlow (Dr Fletcher)

Producer James Goss

Script Editor Steve Tribe

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

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REVIEW – DOOM COALITION 4

Lets start by stating what this is NOT. This is not for the faint hearted or indeed for those who have not heard Doom Coalition’s one through three as there is an awful lot of back story there and Doom Coalition 4 continues right from the epic cliffhanger that Doom Coalition 3 ended on, so I suggest you catch up before reading any more – Doom Coalition is available HERE and reviews for Parts one, two and three are accessed from the links.

 Ok, so its twelve hours later and you are all caught up (with a slightly lighter wallet i grant you) but wow what a journey, and in a way it is sad that it has to end – there has been so much to enjoy  - a new companion in Helen Sinclair (Hattie Morahan) a new villain to go down in the canon of classics in The Eleven (Mark Bonnar) – the rather wonderful interaction, or maybe non interaction between Doctor number 8 (Paul McGann) and his future wife River Song (Alex Kingston) and a genuinely epic universe threatening plot that shows the Time Lords at their absolute worst, as completely amoral beings willing to sacrifice everything to survive – and when I say everything I mean everything – because the aim of the Doom Coalition is for all life in the Universe to end to save Gallifrey from the fate that has been predicted, utter destruction.

 Lets look at this “Doom Coalition” we have The Eleven, a Time Lord who still has all the voices of his past regenerations in his head and all are bad (apart from “The Eight”), then we have The Sonomancer (Emma Cunniffe) – a being who was once a Time Lord but has now transcended that state to become one with the Matrix, it is her job to create the resonance that will end everything and then there is Padrac (Robert Bathurst) Time Lord, old school friend of The Doctor and utterly convinced that the path he has chosen to follow is just and right and his plan has almost come to fruition but he hadn’t counted on the tenacity of The Doctor, Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker), Helen Sinclair & River Song. And the final act of this saga is played out over four stories:

 4.1 Ship in a Bottle by John Dorney

 After the grand finale of Doom Coalition three you might expect this set to hit the ground running, but no, Big Finish have done something rather different, they have given the predicament that The Doctor, Liv & Helen find themselves in time to breathe – as our heroes career forwards in time to a destroyed future where Padrac was successful we pull back from the frantic pace and slow right down to examine the predicament our heroes find themselves in and get to grips with their reactions to their fate. From denial to hope to despair to elation. But what would you do, trapped in an escape capsule, in a future that has been destroyed and slowly all the options for escape are dwindling away – would you despair? Or would you think that while there is life there is hope? Hattie Morahan really gets a chance to shine in this story, her tale of her Grandmother coming to terms with a terminal illness is moving and relevant to the situation – Liv on the other hand rages against the dying of the light, she will not give up even when all seems lost and then there is The Doctor who seems to have accepted that this is it and they will live out the remainder of their existence in an escape capsule. Not the beginning I was expecting, but definitely the beginning that the set needed.

 4.2 Songs of Love by Matt Fitton

 River Song is magnificent, just completely wonderful and left alone with Padrac and the Sonomancer on Gallifrey, what else can she do but play along and pretend she was on their side all along. The pace really picks up in this one, River is playing a very dangerous game and she is not the only one, it seems like Padrac’s plan has made him some enemies. A tense political thriller as Padrac manipulates the High Council of the Time Lords into agreeing with his insane plan by using patriotism, protectionism & fear of the unlike to make his points and gain support. River uses her position as newest member of the Coalition to try to aid The Doctor, Liv & Helen which leads to a rather wonderful scene which I cant tell you about due to the ever present “spoilers” but you will know it when you hear it. With everything turned up to 11 and the stakes genuinely never having been so high we head off to more familiar climes for part three…..

 4.3 The Side of the Angels by Matt Fitton

 Bit of continuity for those who listen to The War Doctor, but remember Cardinal Ollistra? well she is in this story but not as you expect her to be, she is not played by Jacqueline Pearce but by Carolyn Pickles for reasons that will become apparent.

The setting is New York in the early 1970’s – refugee Time Lords including Ollistra and The Monk (Rufus Hound) have been building a safe haven on earth to ride out the end of everything that will occur in about 500 years relative time. They have also done something very very foolish, they have done a deal with The Weeping Angels, and these are meant to be the “good guys” desperate times, desperate measures – the Angels are no one’s slaves and when The Eleven turns up things get a whole lot worse. Who would have thought that something as visual as the Weeping Angels work so well on audio – but the sound design is impeccable it give the whole episode an unnerving edge of seat feeling as things begin to inevitably deteriorate into chaos and death. Huge shout out to the amazing Beth Chalmers as Veklin in this episode too, really underplays it and nails the performance. And so on to the end.

 4.4 Stop the Clock by John Dorney

 How can it end? How will it end? The future is set in stone, every possible future leads to the destruction of Gallifrey. It ends like this – with cruelty and honour and hope and despair anything else would not do this box set justice. Of several stand out scenes there is one that sticks in my mind and you will know it when you hear it and you will be shouting at the character involved not to listen to The Eleven and to stand their ground. It stayed with me, it haunted me but that one scene more than anything gave an insight into the mind of The Eleven – the Second Doctor once said that there are some corners of the Universe that have bred the most terrible things, listening to The Eleven I can only assume he meant Gallifrey. Mark Bonnar was always incredible, genuinely incredible as The Eleven – but in that one scene he lifted the character to another level completely.

 Over finished gone done out – the end of an epic journey with the seeds sown for another epic journey for the 8th Doctor to embark upon. No one has come out of this unscathed, the repercussions will be felt for a very very long time and I will be there with 8 and his friends to experience it. A clock stopping 10/10.

Written By Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

This title was released in March 2017. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until April 30th 2017, and on general sale after this date.

The Doctor has been disposed of, and the end of the universe is nigh. There will only be one winner, but how many will lose?

4.1 Ship in a Bottle by John Dorney

The Doctor, Liv and Helen are hurtling into a future that has been utterly destroyed, trapped inside a shuttle with no possible means of escape. But with the lives of everyone in the universe in the balance, they’ve got to find one. And soon. When the stakes are this high, you can’t just give up. Or can you?

4.2 Songs of Love by Matt Fitton

Left to fend for herself against a bunch of power-hungry plotters hell-bent on destroying the universe, what choice does a girl have but to throw in her lot with the winning side? Using her past to her advantage, River Song returns to the ancestral seat of the Time Lords to make her last stand.

4.3 The Side of the Angels by Matt Fitton

Cardinal Ollistra has plans for New York, plans which involve the Deputy Mayor and her sponsor, one ‘Reverend Mortimer’ – better known to the Doctor as the Meddling Monk. The Eleven arrives to stamp out the resistance, but that isn’t the only danger the Doctor finds lurking in the shadows – for New York is a city of Weeping Angels.

4.4 Stop the Clock by John Dorney

The time has arrived. Events are in motion. The end of the universe is at hand and the Doctor and his friends have one hour to save eternity. Starting now.

Producer David Richardson

Script Editor Ken Bentley

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Written By: John Dorney, Matt Fitton
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

Paul McGann (The Doctor), Nicola Walker (Liv Chenka), Hattie Morahan (Helen Sinclair), Alex Kingston (River Song), Mark Bonnar (The Eleven), Robert Bathurst (Padrac), Emma Cunniffe (The Sonomancer), Rufus Hound (The Meddling Monk), Beth Chalmers (Veklin), Carolyn Pickles (Cardinal Ollistra), Jacqueline Pearce (Ollistra), Olivia Poulet (Jerasta), Vince Leigh (Volstrom/ Matrix Keeper/ Computer), Sasha Behar (Presidential Aide/ Tessno/ Ladonne), Ronnie Ancona (Joanie Carrington), Alex Beckett (Alekall). Other parts played by members of the cast.

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REVIEW – CICERO

I do like a good whodunnit (not the Pertwee TV show from the mid 1970’s) but a bit of Agatha Christie or Midsomer Murders or Jonathan Creek or at the moment Death In Paradise.

I really enjoy trying to solve the mystery before the detective – one of my proudest moments was solving solving the Jonathan Creek episode “Jack In The Box” before Mr Creek, but writer David Renwick got his revenge by fooling me not once but twice with the episode “Satan’s Chimney”.

I love the structure of a good whodunnit, the rules that they all adhere to – the killer must have the means, the motive and the opportunity to commit the dastardly deed – and these rules are followed most excellently in this special reales from Big Finish entitled “Cicero”

 Set in the ancient Roman Republic, Cicero sees two brothers Marcus Tullius Cicero (Samuel Barnett) – serious, bookish introverted but a brilliant legal mind at the age of only 26, and his younger brother Quintus Tullius Cicero (George Naylor) avuncular, womaniser, dinkier, man about town aged 22 charged with defending one Sextus Roscius (Simon Ludders) who has been accused of murdering his father – a most heinous crime which carries an horrific punishment if the accused is found guilty – truth is no one else would take the case so it leaves the brothers Cicero to save an innocent man.

 And so follows a mere 56 minutes of intrigue, conspiracy and the three rules of the murder mystery being not only adhered to but used in a final and barnstorming speech to the forum by Marcus Tullius – if the build up wasnt worth the price of this release THAT speech most definitely is. Throughout the story we see Marcus Tullius’ inexperience but as he pieces the case together he grows in confidence and even has an inspiration moment  as per Death In Paradise where everything suddenly falls in to place and the perpetrator or perpetrators are completely obvious. But the speech is a thing of beauty, a masterclass in growing confidence and character development, Samuel Barnett takes a nervous, bookish man who knows the truth and allows the certainty that he is right to outshine his few years and his lack of experience – by the end of his speech he has the forum eating from his hands.

 56 minutes is a very short time to cram in a murder, an investigation, a resolution and character development but David Llewelyn and Scott Handcock have not wasted one line in this tightly written script, everything moves the plot along, every line is relevant and whilst listening you will have a fair few “penny finally dropped” moments, well I know I did :-)

 This release came out of the blue for me and it took me a while to get round to it, but I am so glad that I did – I really hope this is not a one off and serves as a pilot for a new range for Big Finish because the Roman Republic and the worlds of the brothers Cicero are a destination I would dearly like to visit again. An engaging 9/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

Rome, 80 BC.

A wealthy landowner has been murdered in the street. His son, Sextus Roscius, is accused of the crime. When every lawyer in the city turns down his case, there’s only one man who can save Roscius from a guilty verdict and a particularly grisly execution…

Marcus Tullius Cicero: a mere twenty-six years old, but a rising star in the Forum. Together with his brother, Quintus, Cicero must investigate the murder of Roscius’s father and find the true culprit; but in their quest for justice, the brothers Cicero may be about to make some very powerful enemies indeed…

Written By: David Llewellyn
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Cast

Samuel Barnett (Marcus Tullius Cicero), George Naylor (Quintus Tullius Cicero), Simon Ludders (Sextus Roscius), Elizabeth Morton (Caecilia Metella), Stephen Critchlow (Etrucius), Youssef Kerkour (Titus Capito). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer and Script Editor: Scott Handcock
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

BUY YOUR COPY HERE

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REVIEW – GARDENERS’ WORLDS

The Pertwee era was known for its straight up, no nonsense action adventures, with very little of the weirdness and whimsy that had perforated the eras of Messers Hartnell & Troughton. But this months Short Trips story does something rather clever – it is recognisably a Pertwee era story, but it has a sense of weirdness – a sort of surreal dreamlike Lewis Carol like quality that makes it a very very different Pertwee era story.

To begin with it has all the UNIT tropes – strange goings on in a home counties village, Jo & the Doctor rushing off to investigate, The Doctor moaning about the military mind & Jo asking lots of questions – but hidden beneath this is a whole world of oddity…..

 Tim Treloar (he who gives good Pertwee) narrates the story and indeed he does give good Pertwee in the 36 minutes of the stories length, he is also engaging as Jo, Mike Yates & the lady at the centre of the whole set of weird goings on Meredith Bright. Meredith likes to cultivate roses, no ordinary roses, these are special silver roses that grant her every wish if she just talks to them – they have made her husband successful in his career, her children do well at school – but now the roses are getting out of control and taking over her garden, and there are strange mechanical pests who swarm and feed on them too AND post boxes are going missing, a Celtic Cross has appeared in the village square and Captain Yates has ceased to exist.

 Yes indeed, very odd, very weird, very dreamlike with a heap of whimsy not unlike season 24 – it has some lovely imagery of The Doctor pruning roses and just getting on with the job of being The Doctor in a situation he did not expect to find himself in – whats more, despite the “threat” being just some flowers, these flowers could inadvertently end the world as we know it – think Inferno but with petals and thorns and you wont be too far from the mark…..

 You really have to admire Tim Treloar and his performance as Doctor Number 3 – not quite an impersonation, but capturing Pertwee’s very essence and keeping the story moving at quite a pace, again a lot happens in the short 36 minutes and Treloar pitches it  just right.

 Not a conventional story by any means but a very Pertwee-esque story told from a slightly skewed perspective, a rose in bloom at 8/10.

Written By Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

Doctor Who: Short Trips Monthly is a series of new short stories read by an actor regarded for the role.

Release #26 is a Third Doctor and Jo story.

Strange occurrences plague the village of Colston Burghley – a mediaeval monument has appeared on the village green, postboxes have disappeared…and there’s trouble in Meredith Bright’s back garden. When Mike Yates finds himself at a loss, it’s down to the Doctor and Jo Grant to get to the root of the trouble…

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

Written By: George Mann
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Tim Treloar (Narrator)

BUY YOUR COPY HERE

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REVIEW – THE WAR DOCTOR VOLUME 04: CASUALTIES OF WAR

I cannot start this review without paying tribute to the late and very much missed Sir John Hurt – I will try to keep it short as pretty much everything meaningful has already been said. Sir John was truly a legend of stage and screen – the term legend is a very much over used one, but in the case of Sir John there is no other word to describe his contribution to the arts – whether you remember him as Quentin Crisp, John Merrick, The War Doctor or many of his other roles, or simply as the man himself – Sir John Hurt has made a lasting impression on the psyche of the UK – instantly recognisable, gravel voiced, avuncular and a real gentleman, we as Who fans were lucky to have you play The Doctor and took you to our hearts instantly and were privileged to have you back as the War Doctor in a series for Big Finish. You Sir, were truly The Doctor and will be truly missed.

 Bit of a lump in my throat writing that, and I apologise if it comes across as mawkish & inadequate, but believe me it is from the heart.

 Right back to the business at hand – as you may know I am not much of a Moffat fan, but casting a hitherto unknown Doctor was a master stroke, and persuading Sir John Hurt to play the part was even better – I was sad to see him go at the end of The Day of the Doctor, but we fans are a lucky bunch to have Big Finish tell us more of his story.

The War Doctor keeps insisting he is NOT The Doctor, that he does not deserve that name any more and though he cannot see it himself The War Doctor carries all the traits that make The Doctor special in exceptional circumstances he keeps true to his beliefs of compassion, honour, doing the right thing and protecting the underdog – and in this last series we see a dawning realisation that leads to that dreadful day in a barn with the moment, and a terrible choice to make.

 The level of anticipation for this set has been off the scale, the final War Doctor box set featuring none other than Leela (Louise Jameson) – companion to the Fourth Doctor, how will she react to the man he has become and how has the Time War affected her? Well dear reader, read on….

 4.1 Pretty Lies by Guy Adams

 Cardinal Ollistra (Jaqueline Pearce) & The War Doctor are trapped, they are stranded light years away from Gallifrey and desperate to get back and this story begins their long journey back trying to get help from anyone they can including journalist Schandel (Joseph Kloska) who seems to be a bit of a fan of The War Doctor and paints him as a hero in his reports. This story really is about perception and how clever editing can make a persons words mean a completely different thing, Schandel is much more concerned about perpetuating the legend of the War Doctor than the real hard truth, and this is a state of affairs that the War Doctor will have to use to his advantage, because in the Time War where there are Time Lords there will soon be Dalek’s and destruction will be brought to the innocent. A gripping opening with all involved giving exceptional performances – there is an air of desperation and of inevitability as the reality of a Dalek Invasion on an unequipped planet hits home and The War Doctor loses a little bit of his soul once again.

 4.2 The Lady of Obsidian by Andrew Smith

 After a grim and fatalistic opening episode, things are about to get a lot grimmer. Remember in The End Of Time Doctor 10 tells us about the weapons used at the height of the Time War, the terrible things that the Time Lords did? Well here we see the consequences of time weapons in The Unlived – creatures from potential futures but also in the Lady of Obsidian herself – at once dead, alive, never born and memories teeming through her of all the possible lives she has, hasn’t or may experience – and it is only the Lady and her forces that are holding the Unlived at bay inside the Obsidian Nebula – but in their pursuit of the War Doctor & Ollistra the Daleks are about to make new allies….

Cracking stuff that really does not let you pause for breath, even in the quieter more emotional moments, beautifully written dialogue for The War Doctor and The Lady, genuinely moving and inspiring and will melt the hearts of even the hardest of hard sci-fi fans.

 4.3 The Enigma Dimension by Nicholas Briggs

 And this is where it all ends. On Gallifrey, or a planet that once could be Gallifrey now inhabited by Daleks, or maybe not any of that at all – the answers are in the Enigma Dimension – and the answers found here will inspire the War Doctor to stand up and be counted to say “No More” and to take The Moment, because what he finds out, he may have always known – war charges people, war changes whole races and the “good” become what they set out to destroy. A stark, bleak ending to a series dealing with the starkest and bleakest times in the history of Gallifrey.

 And thats it – the saga of the War Doctor reaches its conclusion as all good things must, a poignant, bittersweet ending which ties in to the Day of the Doctor, and a lovely tribute to the wonderful performance we have enjoyed from the much missed Sir John Hurt.

 The War Doctor said “NO MORE” and of this series there will be no more but a satisfying conclusion like this makes that a little more palatable 9/10.

Written By Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

This title was released in February 2017. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until April 30th 2017, and on general sale after this date.

The War Doctor and Cardinal Ollistra are stranded far from their Time Lord forces, with Daleks closing in, destroying all that stands between them. They must call on the help of new friends and old to fight their way back to the front lines. From the outer reaches of the galaxy, to the heart of Gallifrey itself, the Doctor finds casualties in every place the Time War has touched. Among them, a fighter, a travelling companion of the distant past, who remembers him quite differently. A warrior woman named Leela…

4.1 Pretty Lies by Guy Adams

Trapped and desperate, light years from their armies at the heart of the Time War, the War Doctor and Cardinal Ollistra discover that wherever they go, destruction follows. A war reporter named Schandel may provide the key to their escape, but it is often said that the first casualty of war is the truth. When the choice between grim reality and a hero’s story means life or death, will the Doctor allow Schandel to print the legend?

4.2 The Lady of Obsidian by Andrew Smith

As a Dalek Strike Fleet heads to destroy another defenceless world, the Doctor seeks help from a shadowy guerrilla force. The Time War leaves many casualties in its wake, and inside the Obsidian Nebula the monstrous Unlived are held at bay only by the ‘Lady’ and her dwindling band of fighters. The War Doctor soon finds himself at the Lady’s mercy, and two old friends face new revelations…

4.3 The Enigma Dimension by Nicholas Briggs

The Dalek Time Strategist has a new plan to ensure final victory in the Time War. As its forces gather for a huge assault on the enemy, ahead of the fleet something hovers above the planet of the Time Lords. And on Gallifrey itself, shadows move among the Cloisters. The Time Lords face a threat alien to their entire universe. To save their world, the War Doctor and his allies must enter the Enigma Dimension…

Written By: Guy Adams, Andrew Smith, Nicholas Briggs
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast

John Hurt (The War Doctor), Louise Jameson (Leela), Jacqueline Pearce (Cardinal Ollistra) Joseph Kloska (Schandel), Julia Hills (Sera/Spokesperson), Mark Elstob (Editor/Old Man), Lizzie Roper (Rosata Laxter/High Minister), Chris Porter (Skaul/Freel), Alan David (Castellan Kanteer), Jane Slavin (Panopticon Guard Lintok), and Nicholas Briggs (Dalek Time Strategist/Daleks/Assault Team Leader).

Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer David Richardson
Script Editor Matt Fitton
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

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REVIEW – PATHFINDER LEGENDS – CURSE OF THE CRIMSON THRONE – SEVEN DAYS TO THE GRAVE

When something inspires you to relive old hobbies and to foist them on to your family you know that you have a winner. Because thats just what listening to last months Pathfinder Legends release has done – it has rekindled my long abandoned interest in table top RPG gaming, I have dug out of a 25 year hibernation my Rune Quest manuals and invested in a new set of polyhedral dice and am ready to introduce my rather reluctant family to the world of the RPG.

 Pathfinder Legends captures the swords and sorcery world of the RPG perfectly, I know it is based on an RPG but it really does capture the vibe of playing a table top game in a darkened room for hours on end, completely captivated by the world that the Games Master has created – and that is why audio is such a fantastic medium – it is all in the imagination and listening to Pathfinder Legends recreates this perfectly.

 So where were we? our heroes Valeros (Stewart Alexander), Ezren (Trevor Littledale), Harsk (Ian Brooker) & Merisiel (Kerry Skinner) are still in the city of Korvosa after the events of last months episode & Ezren, being a wizard, decides to try a Harrow card reading – this is a bad thing, he sees death, plague & destruction – a typical RPG portent of doom to begin another adventure. Plague has come to the city of Korvosa, a deadly plague known as the “Blood Veil” for which there is no known cure. Citizens suffering are carted off to a special “Hospice” to be cared for by the Queens physicians and guarded by the Queens personal guard – the fanatical Grey Maidens. But is all as it seems, what is the true intention of the crow masked Physicians and what involvement does the new Queen have in the events that are decimating her city? When Harsk & then Ezren fall victim to the Blood Veil it it up to Merisiel & Valeros along with Merisiel’s friend Kyra (Evie Dawnay) & Cleric Ishana Dhatri (Amerjit Deu) to unmask the true nature of the plague, to save their friends, save the city and defeat an even bigger threat.

 Brilliant RPG stuff, I could see this being played out as part of a campaign, lots of detective work, of talking to NPC’s (non player characters or not the main cast if you will) to find out information – this really is an onion of a story, layers peel back to give the characters more and more information to solve the conundrum of the Blood Veil – false trails, deadly missions and a final realisation leading to an epic showdown and a hook to the next episode – what more could you want? Of course the plot is predictable but it is so much funs going through the RPG set pieces with the characters, the plot mechanics are spot on, the pace never lets up, the characters are not allowed to pause for breath before being plunged in to the next perilous situation, they really suffer and any victories seem earned – they may be stock RPG heroes but Valeros, Erin, Harks & Merisiel have a warmth, an affinity & a camaraderie that will have you rooting for them in no time at all. A great adventure, heres looking forward to next month 9/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

Death stalks the streets!

What starts as an isolated outbreak swiftly turns into a full-fledged epidemic and soon no one is safe. The city’s resources quickly overwhelmed, a desperate queen takes harsh measures to stem the rising death toll. As bodies fill the streets it falls to Valeros, Ezren, Merisiel, Harsk, and their friend Kyra to curb the tide of panic, and save who they can.

But with the fates of thousands in their hands, can the heroes discover the truth behind the unnatural plague before Korvosa becomes a single mass grave?

Written By: David Bryher, based on a story by F Wesley Schneider
Directed By: John Ainsworth

Cast

Stewart Alexander (Valeros), Trevor Littledale (Ezren), Ian Brooker (Harsk), Kerry Skinner (Merisiel), Amerjit Deu (Ishana Dhatri), Rebecca Crankshaw (Tayce / Yvicca), Evie Dawnay (Kyra), Roger Parrott (Doctor Davaulus), Susie Riddell (Eries), Julia Righton (Lady Andaisin)

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

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REVIEW – DARK SHADOWS: PHANTOM MELODIES

It is always a joy to go back to Collinsport, to drink in the permanent autumnal, twilight atmosphere and enter the lives of the people who live there. I only discovered Dark Shadows last year but have been completely mesmerised by the series  - there is something in the atmosphere that makes the stories compelling no matter who the main character is in a particular tale and how little the listener knows about the character because by the end of each tale the listener has suffered with the character and experienced what they have experienced – such is the intimate nature of the Dark Shadows range and this months release, the first of 2017 a collection called “Phantom Melodies” is no different.

 Phantom Melodies is a collection of four short stories each lasting about 35 minutes and do not deal with ghosts singing the title might suggest, in fact thematically these are very deep stories dealing with temptation, perception, manipulation and loss to t a greater or lesser degree and all have that Dark Shadows atmosphere, that first day of autumn negatively charged feeling of anticipation that permeates the series.

 Last Orders at the Blue Whale by Rob Morris

 Rob Morris is the undisputed King of Dark Shadows and here he has the man himself Matthew Waterhouse narrating his tale as Harry Johnson. In the bar of the Blue Whale Harry, a petty criminal meets a sailor called Mordecai and cannot resist stealing the treasure that Mordecai has in his bag – but Harry gets more than he bargained for as Mordecai is a demon looking for eternal rest and for someone else to take his place in walking death and by succumbing to temptation Harry pretty much fits the bill. Unless he can find someone else suitable to take HIS place. Rob Morris paints a picture in words of a slimy desperate man who will betray anyone to save his own skin, even those he regards as friends, he sees everyone and judges everyone by his own low standards of cunning and deceit. But this being Collinsport, nothing is quite so straightforward and Harry’s choice of victim could be his salvation after all.

 The Scarlet Bride by Ian Atkins

 Andrew Collins narrates this creepy tale of a young bride “Agnes” who has gone to her finance’s home to prepare for her wedding. Agnes has promised to write to her infirm mother every day to let her know how the preparations are going and this she does diligently, and through her letters we find out that all is not well at the house of her fiancée, as Agnes is having dreams of an emaciated man who is scratching at her bedroom window and trying to break in to her room – a man who’s description fits a  certain Barnabas Collins…..

Tense and tragic, a downward spiral of despair from the pen of Agnes as her joy at her impending wedding gives way to abject terror – a real heart in the mouth story as the listener knows more than the character and really does know what danger she is in and how desperate her situation is, I found my self mentally willing Agnes to leave and leave now, but the story must run its course……

  On the Line by Ian Farrington

 The year is 1973 and Carolyn Stoddard (Nancy Barrett) receives a strange phone call, strange as the caller claims to be a future version of herself from July 2017. The future Carolyn wants the past Carolyn to avoid making the mistakes to ensure a timeline is preserved, but who exactly is manipulating who and what are the true intentions of future Carolyn? Nancy Barrett gives a stunning performance as both versions of Carolyn Stoddard – both recognisably Carolyn, both subtly different with those experiences that only time can give – a mystery with a resolution that very sharp eared listeners will pick up and solve, and an awful choice for 1973 Carolyn to make that will change the future. A tragic story of missed opportunities and possible futures.

 In a Broken Dream by Penelope Faith

 Amy Jennings has decided to put the past behind her and take up Elizabeth and Roger’s invitation of a visit to them in Paris, to relax, to see the sites and to reconnect with herself. But when she arrives at their apartment Elizabeth & Roger are not there and Amy is plagued by nightmares of her family and her recent past, and when she meets possible not  tall dark & handsome Didier and begins a holiday romance, things start to get a good deal worse. Manipulation really is the theme of this set and no more than in this final story, Amy (Stephanie Ellyne) really is the product of her experiences, everything she does, every person she meets, every incident however innocent is coloured by Collinsport a past she can never escape no matter how hard she tries. An intimate portrait of almost post traumatic stress and how you never can escape yourself no matter where in the world you are, beautifully performed and written with care for the character of Amy, I think this set has saved the best story to last.

 Four very different on the surface, yet very similar stories tonally and like all good stories stay with the listener. I urge you all to turn the lights down, turn the volume up and lose yourself for a couple of hours in the the wolds of Dark Shadows and experience its Phantom Melodies – 9/10.

 Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

Four tales of horror, romance and intrigue…

Last Orders at the Blue Whale by Rob Morris

Thrown out of Collinwood, petty criminal Harry Johnson is waiting to catch the next train out of town but a rash decision in the bar of the Blue Whale will unwittingly lead him into a battle for his very soul.

The Scarlet Bride by Ian Atkins

Agnes is getting married but what should be the happiest time of her life is being spoiled by strange dreams of a scratching at her bedroom window. She dreams of a mysterious man trying to break into her room… A man who stares at her as she dreams…

On the Line by Ian Farrington

Carolyn Stoddard is embracing her new life at university but a mysterious telephone call is about to change everything…

In a Broken Dream by Penelope Faith

In an attempt to distance herself from her past, Amy Jennings is visiting Elizabeth Stoddard and Roger Collins in Paris but, mysteriously, they are not there. Will her life ever be free from the unexplained?

Written By: Rob Morris, Ian Atkins, Ian Farrington, Penelope Faith
Directed By: Andrew Collins, David Darlington, Jim Pierson

Cast

Matthew Waterhouse, Andrew Collins, Nancy Barrett, Stephanie Ellyne

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REVIEW – THE ETERNAL BATTLE

How do you reconcile the different phases of the Tom Baker era. For me it goes something like this – dour, fun, cold (Hinchcliffe, Williams, JNT) but there really is more to it than that. Tom was laugh out loud funny in the Hinchcliffe era and could be (albeit very rarely) deadly serious in the Williams era. But what of his final hurrah with JNT/Bidmead. Sleek, cold, logical but at least while he was with Romana II still with a sense of fun – mad old Uncle Tom was not going down without a fight and this months Fourth Doctor release seems to have that end of term feeling, a last hurrah, a lap of honour before the inevitable meeting with The Watcher and that awful moment at the Pharos Project when my childhood ended.

Such was the impact of Tom’s regeneration, my life was never quite the same again – but onwards, upwards and backwards to a time when fun was more on the agenda and The Doctor (Tom Baker) has decided to take Romana (Lalla Ward) to the Lake District to visit of all things a Pencil Museum. Joyful, just joyful – this is the carefree Tom of early season 18 just wanting to get away from it all. If only life were that simple….

 The Doctor (being the Doctor) has got it wrong and has landed in the middle of a war zone. A war in which The Sontarans have been fighting an enemy for so long that they cannot remember, an enemy that does not stay dead, an enemy that comes back to life and The Sontarans may not be able to contain it. Despite the jovial atmosphere that Tom Baker creates this is very much a season 18 story, it may not have been achievable on screen in 1980 but this is very much set in the era of entropy and the radiophonic workshop because this story is grim, doom laden and has a bleakness about it that screams 1980 – and when a story makes you empathise with the Sontarans you really have gone down the rabbit hole and perhaps ended up in a pencil museum…

 The story follows a couple of different threads and it is completely logical (in a Bidmead sort of way) in involving bubbles of time and some-such techno-babble dressed up to sound like “hard science” (I still call it magic) but in the context of the story it works very well – it also serves The Sontarans very well giving scope to develop them beyond their TV characterisation & Dan Starkey gives a wonderful performance as ALL of them giving each distinct characteristics which differentiate them as characters and not just a generic clone race – they have been fighting a war a very very long time so it is logical that they would develop, and their greatest characteristic is honour.

 A relatively short story but big on concept and big on adding layers to an old enemy. Just a shame that they didn’t actually get to the pencil museum! 8/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

This title was released in February 2017. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until March 31st 2017, and on general sale after this date.

The TARDIS has landed in a war zone. The Doctor, Romana and K9 find themselves traipsing through an inhospitable battlefield. Strange lights flicker in the sky, and stranger creatures lurk in the darkness.

When rescued from an attack by a Sontaran tank, the time-travellers discover they’re facing a far more dangerous foe than the battle-hungry clones. This terrifying fight has been going on longer than anyone can remember… and shows no signs of stopping.

With the TARDIS missing and their luck running thin, the Doctor and his friends’ only hope of survival is to uncover the truth about what is happening on this planet. If they can discover the secret of the eternal battle they might just survive… but it might just mean the end of them all.

Written By: Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), John Leeson (K9), Dan Starkey (Field Major Lenk/Sergeant Major Stom), Jane Slavin (Captain Nina Albiston/Sycon Computer), John Banks (Brennan/Trooper Varn)

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 CONTINGENCY CLUB

 Doctor Who just seems to “fit” in to Victorian London – not the real Victorian London of Dickens or anything as grim as that, but the mythological steampunk retro Victorian London of comic books and pulp wiring. The London of fog and cabbies calling their fares “guvnor” in mock cockney accent and of those most secretive of institutions – the “Gentlemen’s Club” a haven for the upper class man to sit around, read the paper, drink brandy and sleep, and this months main range release concentrates on the most exclusive of exclusive clubs – “The Contingency Club” and as a lot of stories have been lately, its an odd one and its also a breath of fresh air whilst retaining the feel of Season 19.

 The Contingency Club has quickly established itself as THE club to be a member of, other notable institutions are losing members to it hand over fist, and its policy of exclusivity and selectively turning down membership on seeming whims make membership even more attractive for the great and the good of the day. Into this world of calm and order, of discretion and tradition falls (literally) the TARDIS and the season 19 team of The Doctor (Peter Davison), Tegan (Janet Fielding), Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) & Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) after the TARDIS loses power and falls out of the vortex – and oddly, very oddly as Tegan & Nyssa have the audacity to be WOMEN – they are welcomed to the club by valet Edward (Olly McCauley) who treats them as if they are old members, doesn’t comment on their attire or the fact that two of the party are WOMEN – in fact nobody seems to notice anything strange at all about our heroes – but our heroes start to notice very very odd things about the club itself. The valet is called Edward, not odd in itself, but ALL the valets in the club are called Edward and they are all the same person duplicated en masse – now if this were the far future then that wouldn’t be so much an oddity, but this is Victorian London…. Also the other members do not notice that Nyssa and Tegan are WOMEN (how dare they) even when they are told the responses seem vague almost like they are programmed to see only what they are allowed to see and what fits in with the world of the Contingency Club. All very strange indeed and it gets stranger by the moment as we discover more about the club owner Mr Peabody (Philip Jackson) and his mysterious benefactor The Red Queen (Lorelei King) and the real reason for the existence of the club. Throw in to the mix Clive Merrison as George Augustus society writer who has been denied membership of the club & is desperate to become a member and Alison Thea-Skot as Marjorie Stonegood, daughter of a club member who designed the London Underground but has not left the club and you have a first class pulp-Victorian steampunk Gothic mystery, with a personal stereo thrown in for good measure.

 Yes indeed pulp -Victoriana is a great setting for Doctor Who and The Contingency Club plays with the conventions of the genre very well – the villain from the future who can only use contemporary technology, the untouchable nature of the clubs due to who the members were, the obsequious butlers who are polite even when they are being awful, the gentlemen members themselves and of course The Doctor in his fifth incarnation, not the obvious clubbable gentleman – but a wry observer of the absurdity of it all – he even finds time to quote Groucho Marx and maybe for that alone this story deserves praise, as this really captures the essence of Five in one sentence. But its not just quips and quotes, its the feel of the whole thing and the futility of what the villain of the piece is trying to achieve, a little gem – 9/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

This title was released in February 2017. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until March 31st 2017, and on general sale after this date.

London, 1864 – where any gentleman befitting the title ‘gentleman’ belongs to a gentlemen’s club: The Reform, The Athenaeum, The Carlton, The Garrick… and, of course, The Contingency. Newly established in St James’, The Contingency has quickly become the most exclusive enclave in town. A refuge for men of politics, men of science, men of letters. A place to escape. A place to think. A place to be free.

The first rule of the Contingency is to behave like a gentleman. The second is to pay no heed to its oddly identical servants. Or to the horror in its cellars. Or to the existence of the secret gallery on its upper floor… Rules that the Doctor, Adric, Nyssa and Tegan are all about to break.

Written By: Phil Mulryne
Directed By: Barnaby Edwards

Cast

Peter Davison (The Doctor), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Janet Fielding (Tegan), Clive Merrison (George Augustus), Philip Jackson (Mr Peabody), Lorelei King (The Red Queen), Tim Bentinck (Wakefield/ Cabby/ Stonegood), Alison Thea-Skot (Marjorie Stonegood/ Computer), Olly McCauley (Edward/ The Knave). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer David Richardson

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

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REVIEW – THE WORLD BEYOND THE TREES

This is a very odd story, made even odder if you are not familiar with the Short Trip story “Damascus” (review HERE).

Set in the mid 1970′s this involves Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker) at a bit of a loose end at The Doctor’s house in Baker Street, she is stranded there with Dark Eyes herself Molly O’Sullivan placing this story sometime during the Dark Eyes Saga.

 As I said a real oddball story, but told in an engaging fashion by Liv Chenka herself Nicola Walker. We are really lucky to have an actor of her calibre play a companion at Big Finish – her delivery of the story is world weary, spiky, tired, and at some points where she recalls her relationship with her late Father almost wistful.

 But what about the story? It is quite surreal, The Doctor only features in a dream sequence that Liv has that tells her things that she needs to know including “knock four times” – that got my attention, I had images of a certain Mr Cribbins in full Grim Reaper mode but no, it was just a clever play on expectations, the four knocks are just that – four knocks.

The story is very dreamlike – Liv is the only one in London awake as everyone else is rendered insensible by a “listlessness field” and as Liv investigates the cause she meets up with the only other person in London still alive and is taken to the mysterious Project Damascus.

 The title of the story is very poetic, and the story has a very ambling freewheeling fairy tale lyricism to it – in fact in ambiance it reminds me of the TV episode In The Forest of the Night, though the actual story is completely different, there is something of the fantastical and the other worldly – like Doctor Who is only really pretending to be a science fiction show and is really a fantastic fairy tale about magical worlds, sleeping princesses, wise old Wizards and secret doors in Worlds Beyond The Trees….

 Does it feel like Doctor Who? Well that begs the question “what does Doctor Who feel like?” – to me it does, to others it may be just a bit too left field, but me being me – I LOVE left field and could see this as an animated episode in the style of Coraline, a Doctor Who story – undoubtedly, a strange fairy tale? definitely? a 9/10? most deservedly.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

Doctor Who: Short Trips Monthly is a series of new short stories read by an original cast member.

Release #25 is Liv Chenka story with the Eighth Doctor.

MedTech Chenka is alone. No Doctor. No TARDIS. No Molly O’Sullivan. But the strange environment she’s stranded in is about to get even stranger, with Liv the only one who can help out. There’s a message here, for her, and for someone very far away…

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

Written By: Jonathan Barnes
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Nicola Walker (Narrator)

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REVIEW – PATHFINDER LEGENDS 3.1 – CURSE OF THE CRIMSON THRONE: EDGE OF ANARCHY

This is a bit of a departure for me – its the first time I have listened to a Pathfinder Legends release and therefore it is the first time that I have reviewed one. And coming in at season three I was a little bit apprehensive about what I had missed before – would I understand the plot and the character? And what exactly IS Pathfinder Legends? Well after a bit of research I can tell you that Pathfinder Legends is based on the role playing game of the same name and is set in a fantasy world of magic and monsters much like Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones and it is right up my street. You see during the 1980’s I was a keen role player, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Warhammer, Rune Quest – all my sort of thing – and listening to this first release in series three gave me a warm nostalgic glow as I was transported back to long Saturdays , oddly shaped dice, painted lead figures and adventure!

Curse of the Crimson Throne: Edge of Anarchy does not hide its RPG roots, in fact it glories in them, it almost feels like you are listening to some players completely in character playing out a campaign – the structure is pure RPG, the story is pure RPG and boy does it feel like the beginning of an epic with lots of plot threads to tantalise the listener.

The story involves our heroes Valeros (Stewart Alexander), Ezren (Trevor Littledale), Harsk (Ian Brooker) & Merisiel (Kerry Skinner) waiting in a tavern in the city of Korvosa for Merisiel’s friend Kyra to show up, and just like Godot, she singularly fails to do so. This leads to a series of events that lets them in to a conspiracy regarding a murdered King, a machiavellian Queen, a city in ruin and riot and an awful miscarriage of justice in which our heroes may be culpable.

As I said, pure fantasy stuff, pure RPG but also edge of seat adventure – you may see the twists and turns coming a mile off, and they really do feel like chapters in an RPG campaign or “Fetch quests” but they are played out with such conviction that the band of heroes who I only joined in series three already feel like old friends – and it is this familiarity and genuine likability of the characters that drives the plot – I felt like shouting at them that they were being manipulated from the very beginning as they searched for a lost set of Harrow cards, were asked to return a lost brooch to the grieving Queen and the were charged by the Queen to hunt down her husbands alleged assassin – there is something going on and it does not bode well and only the nest five instalments will reveal the full answer.

I was hooked immediately, completely drawn in to the world of Pathfinder Legends – it may not be the best story ever, it may be predictable, but the ride you are taken on will transport you away from your normal everyday life to a world of magic, heroes and monsters and you will not want to leave. Pathfinder Legends feels like meeting old friends again for new adventures and I cannot wait for the next instalment. 8/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

In the shadow of the ailing king of the city of Korvosa, a new ruler gathers power, sending shockwaves through a populace already plagued by unrest and pushing the city to the brink of disaster.

In the face of anarchy, Ezren, Valeros, Harsk and Merisiel are searching for Merisiel’s friend, Kyra, but soon find themselves called upon to serve Korvosa. Strange magic and mysterious prophesies set them on the trail of a common foe – a path that draws them into a struggle to save the city from ruin.

Amid the intrigues of kings and generals, heroes and thieves, it’s up to the heroes to decide whether the rule of a new monarch will usher in a new age of glory or a reign of chaos.

Written By: David Bryher, from a story by Nicolas Logue
Directed By: John Ainsworth

Cast

Stewart Alexander (Valeros), Trevor Littledale (Ezren), Ian Brooker (Harsk), Kerry Skinner (Merisiel), Louise Faulkner (Zellara/Trinia Sabor), John Green (Gaedren Lamm), Richard Katz (Guard Captain), Imogen Church (Sabina Merrin), Kate Brown (Queen Illeosa), Sean Connolly (Vencarlo Orisini)

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

BUY YOUR COPY HERE

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REVIEW – GRACELESS IV

I don’t even know where to begin, for once my (admittedly)  flowery and verbose style is at a loss because how do you begin to review a Graceless box set? Really how? Because Graceless is a rare and beautiful thing that defies categorisation and is completely unlike anything else you may have heard. In a word, Graceless is unique.

OK, thats a starting point I suppose –  Simon Guerrier has created something “unique” so I will take that and freewheel on with my usual flowery verbiage until I come to an end? Are we all sitting comfortably? then I will continue…

 Graceless follows the story of two sisters Abby (Ciara Janson) & Zara (Laura Doddington) and how you view them depends on your view of the magic vs science debate – are they hyper evolved created beings with powers derived from the physical universe or are they two witches with magical powers who happen to live in a Science Fiction universe? Being an old romantic I go for the latter, it fits in better with my universal view that not everything needs to be quantified and explained and sometimes a bit of magical power is good. SO Abby and Zara, created by a being called “The Grace” to aid in the search for the Key to Time (see here) and then when it cast them out into the universe to fend for themselves, beings of almost infinite power with hardly any moral compass, who can do anything, literally anything – its almost like giving a cat a machine gun because Abby & Zara are still really children in their understanding – they try to do what is right and good – but what they deem as right and good may not be the morality that you and I have – their concept of right and wrong has been moulded by their experiences and they are learning all the time, learning what they can do, what they wont do and what their powers can do.

 As I said earlier I can only describe this series as unique, the episodes as a whole do not have a defined structure, some are like streams of consciousness, a drifting in and out of half heard and half remembered conversations, whimsical, dream-like, fairy tale like – Abby and Zara are like a couple of cosmic Babes in the Wood doing what they can to make a difference. And they do make a difference, not always in the way they had intended but they do, they try, they have a universal view, they genuinely do see the threads that bind the universe together, and they are not scared to pluck at the ball of twine and everything unravelling is just another possibility.

 Graceless is something that has to be experienced, not read about but just imagine words and music were paint and canvass and Simon Guerrier has painted an audio experience that is many things to many people – well its not really like that at all (even though it sort of is) because no amount of rambling can prepare you for this.

 Now in its fourth series, and taking place a long long time after series three Abby and Zara are old, retied, have lost their powers are know by the names Amy & Joy and are played by Annie Firbank & Sian Phillips – but even in retirement there is always one more mission for them, they will always be Graceless….

 4.1 The Bomb

 Joy/Zara (Sian Phillips) is approached by the mysterious and rather charming stranger Pool (Adam Newington) to come out of retirement to help him deactivate a bomb which is going to devastate the planet that they live on, one last chance to make a difference, one last shot at glory, one last roll of the dice to do the right thing. A very different take on Graceless, Annie Firbank & Sian Phillips capture the essence of Abby & Zara perfectly, elderly, but with a twinkle undoubtedly the same ladies that we have known over the last three series, time has not dampened their curiosity or their spirit of adventure even if it means their death. Which it might…..

 4.2 The Room

 Getting involved, trying to do the right thing – but shifting the balance just a small amount can result in catastrophic consequences. This is an exercise in how to stop a war. Kidnap the generals of the opposing armies and give them a common enemy? Or just go for a pieman breakfast at Marcella’s cafe and hope it all blows over, or just do nothing, or give said Marcella (Victoria Alcock) her wish of ending hunger, or ending war or get the Generals Cormorant (Nichola McAuliffe) & Slink (Carol Starks) to be captured by the neutral denizens of the orbiting moon and work as slaves. Or all of this, or none.

 4.3 The Ward

 If you are an immortal being of infinite power and want to do some good why not work in a hospital? Why not put your powers to good use saving lives, why not work in the frontline and get your hands dirty. And this is what Abby & Zara do – but as always there is a deeper and darker reason for their time spent at Space Dock Hospital – their relationships with Gutierrez (Carolyn Pickles) & Chaff (Dan Starkey) are the seeds in a very long game that whilst may benefit the greater good will leave pain and agony in its wake and on the flip-side a much much greater good – but was it a price worth paying?

 4.4 The Dance

 Nothing to see here. Its over, the end, the final song has been sung and a choice has been made. Move along, nothing to see….

 If Graceless were a TV show it would be on BBC 4 not BBC1 – it really is an acquired taste and a challenging listen in almost equal measures childlike, intense, surreal, cruel & joyful – its a fairy tale, its a tale of cosmic angst, its a tale of good intentions and bad decisions but most of all it is the story of Abby & Zara and their struggle to find their place in the Universe. And it is magnificent.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

This title was released in January 2017. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until February 28th 2017, and on general sale after this date.

Featuring four new episodes from Simon Guerrier:

4.1 The Bomb

There’s a legend told in a town by the sea, about two wicked sisters who died to save the world. Now the world faces another catastrophe and there’s no one to turn to for help. Which is bad news for Joy and Amy, and their grandchildren…

4.2 The Room

Buried under steel and iron and concrete, and protected by high security, there’s a secret room. From here, General Onora Cormorant directs the Gloit forces as they wage war across the whole planet. But stopping the war will take much more than just getting into that room…

4.3 The Ward

For more than a decade, Space Dock has had an exemplary health and safety record, not least because of the wicked sisters working in its hospital, bringing the dead back to life. But what are they really doing there, and what’s it got to do with one poor nurse’s love life?

4.4 The Dance

In the flood and the fire,
In the heart of the sun,
We were lost, we were dying,
We have only begun,
And the rest of the song,
Remains to be sung,
So we’ll dance through the night,
And the dawn never comes,
Just the two of us.

NOTE: Graceless contains some adult material and is not suitable for younger listeners.

Written By: Simon Guerrier
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Ciara Janson (Abby), Laura Doddington (Zara), Annie Firbank (Amy), Siân Phillips (Joy), Adam Newington (Pool), Hugh Ross (Dodyk), Victoria Alcock (Marcella), Jennie Goossens (Judge Engin), Annie Jackson (Kronchev), Nichola McAuliffe (Comorant), Carol Starks (Slink), Petra Markham (Annie), Carolyn Pickles (Gutierrez), Dan Starkey (Chaff), Richenda Carey (Triangle), David Sterne (Oblong), Duncan Wisbey (Graves). Other parts played by members of the cast.

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REVIEW – TORCHWOOD ONE: BEFORE THE FALL

What really did go on at Torchwood One before the battle of Canary Wharf? Was Yvonne Hartman a good boss, did Ianto Jones make excellent coffee before his time in Cardiff and how did the staff put up with the peppy, corporate atmosphere of dress down Fridays  buzz words, brainstorming & blue sky thinking? Because “Before the Fall” Torchwood was incredibly corporate – all fake smiles everybody “going for it”, giving “110%” and the one I love to hate “thinking outside the box” – you would be forgiven for thinking that Torchwood One was an investment company or law firm or some-such rather than a top secret morally dubious organisation charged with protecting Queen and Country. And then Rachel Allan (Sophie Winkleman) arrives and we see the whole organisation from her perspective and with new eyes – because Torchwood One – Before The Fall really is the story of Rachel Allan. It is also a very very difficult set to review as events in the first story link in to the final two stories and I want every single listener to experience this set spoiler free, so lets talk about Rachel Allan.

 Rachel Allan is not as I thought an Irish chef, she is the newest recruit to Torchwood One. Sophie Winkleman plays her as a slightly bemused, bothered and bewildered Yorkshire girl who cannot believe her luck in being recruited by Torchwood and getting to work with the legendary Yvonne Hartman (Tracy-Ann Oberman) – Rachel makes mistakes, wears cardigans and is not all polished and corporate like the rest of the set up and wonders why Yvonne recruited her at all  - put it this way, if she was at Hogwarts she would probably be a Hufflepuff :-) But this is just the beginning of Rachel’s story this set  is played out over three stories:

 New Girl by Joseph Lidster

 This is where we meet Rachel and she gets to know the Torchwood team and is assigned to the weapons testing department under the supervision of 1970’s throwback Thomas (Tim Bentinck) – but Rachel learns very quickly how to fit in in Torchwood and makes herself indispensable to the department and to the organisation – and then she discovers a conspiracy, discovers she has been retconned, completely freaks out and nearly causes an interplanetary incident. And then things get worse. Any more would be spoiling but this opening story sets the scene and tone of Torchwood One, think Ally McBeal with aliens – all office politics, relationships and all watched over by the unimaginably brilliant Tracy-Ann Oberman as Yvonne Hartman. Yvonne is fantastic, cold hearted, single minded, ruthless but she remembers her staffs birthdays, has everyone call each other by their first name and knows all about everything that they get up to. She is aided by Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd) as her PA, not quite yet the Ianto we know, a little bit too slick and not yet suffered the heartache of Lisa’s fate, still a work in progress. So all happy, all jolly, all staff nights out and salsa classes and expenses. But not for long.

 Through The Ruins by Jenny T Colgan

 Its all change at Torchwood One and the team are sent on a team bonding day. Can you think of anything worse??? Well you have never been on one like this – all the usual things introducing yourselves and telling a “wacky fact” and then games which involve building things then a war game. With real weapons. Ianto Jones is not having a good day at all. Meanwhile Yvonne Hartman has problems of her own adjusting to her new situation. As I said earlier very difficult to talk about without the obligatory “spoilers” but the excruciating nature of team building days is captured perfectly and what can I say about Tracy-Ann Oberman, she plays Yvonne under pressure perfectly, unflappable, cool, clam, collected, knowing who her friends are and always staying one step ahead.

 Uprising by Matt Fitton

 As I said earlier this really is the story of Rachel Allan (not of Bake fame, sorry couldn’t resist it one last time) and in this story Sophie Winkleman shows us the depth of character that she has given Rachel – in one particular scene where she bares her soul to Ianto gave me chills. As Rachel says she IS Torchwood and this story ends with her always having a place at Torchwood One – but I get ahead of myself – the atmosphere at Canary Wharf has changed somewhat from the “Ally McBeal” vibe I got in episode one, the corporate veneer has slipped and Torchwood has moved on to an alert setting, an invasion is imminent – our alien guests are not happy about their hotel arrangements, no mini bar, charges for extra toast, no tea making facilities this will not do, and Yvonne Hartman agrees, she even supplies a kettle :-) A high stakes end to the set with Torchwood coming together to do what they do best. Win.

 An intriguing story that begins in a certain way and does not go anywhere near the path you expect it to tread, the major players are superb, but also the supporting characters of Dean (Gerard McCarthy), Soren (Robert Daws), Guleraana (Nisha Nayar) & Kieran (Damian Lynch) are so well written and played that they set like real people, I can just imagine them all having lives outside the story and to me that is the mark of excellent characterisation and a cast who really care about the material they are working with.

 Torchwood One – Before the Fall was the story of Rachel Allan, the tale is told and in true corporate fashion it ends with an inventory and a price, and I audit this corporate entity at 8/10 efficiency.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

This title was released in January 2017. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until March 31st 2017, and on general sale after this date.

London, 2005. Yvonne Hartman is the undisputed head of Torchwood One. Above the government, beyond the police, she has excellent people skills; enjoys regular tea with the Queen; and effortlessly defends the British Empire from alien threats.

Yvonne Hartman is excellent at her job, and inspires devotion in everyone who works with her – until, one day, she makes a terrible mistake. We all make mistakes. But only at Torchwood can a single mistake plunge your world into interstellar war.

Yvonne Hartman’s facing the fight of her life. One she’s going to win.

New Girl by Joseph Lidster

“They’ve been coming to us for years. And we’ve been kept in the dark. My name’s Rachel Allan. And I’m Torchwood”

It’s Rachel Allan’s first day at Torchwood. Torchwood only takes the brightest and the best – and Rachel’s wondering if Yvonne Hartman’s made a terrible mistake in picking her.

Plunged into a world of alien invasions and office politics, Rachel’s desperate to fit in. For one thing, she really wants this job. And, for another, she knows what happens at Torchwood if you fail.

Through The Ruins by Jenny T Colgan

“Ianto, please. It’s all… it’s all gone wrong. I don’t know what to think any more.”

Away Days at Torchwood aren’t what you’d expect. Yes, there’s the forced camaraderie, the team-building exercises, and the chance for long-held rivalries to boil over. But Torchwood Away Days also have the potential to get very lethal very quickly.

Yvonne Hartman’s extremely worried by this year’s Away Day. But she’s got other things on her mind – something’s very wrong with Torchwood.

Uprising by Matt Fitton

“Torchwood. It’s taken the best part of a month, but I’ve finally got things running how they should be. How they should have been all along. ”

Torchwood has experienced some radical changes, but things are finally settling down. Everyone has pulled together and is trying to put the past behind them. Well, except for Yvonne Hartman – she’s out to win the future.

There’s one problem. Someone seems to have started an interstellar war. Someone who knows Torchwood from the inside out.

Written By: Joseph Lidster, Jenny T Colgan, Matt Fitton
Directed By: Barnaby Edwards

Cast

Tracy-Ann Oberman (Yvonne Hartman), Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones), Gerard McCarthy (Dean), Sophie Winkleman (Rachel Allan), Robert Daws (Soren), Tim Bentinck (Thomas), Nisha Nayar (Guleraana), Lorelei King (Pippa), Damian Lynch (Kieran), Simon Hickson (Ziggy), Rachid Sabitri (Mehdi), Helen Goldwyn (Receptionist), Philip Childs (Dave). Other Humans, Aliens and Torchwood Agents played by members of the cast.

Produced by James Goss

Script edited by Scott Handcock

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

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REVIEW – THE BEAST OF KRAVENOS

Where do I start with this one? It has all the makings of a bit of a classic. Lets look at the evidence – It has one of my favourite classic era Doctor/Companion combinations in Tom & Lalla, it features those investigators of all things infernal Professor George Litefoot & Henry Gordon Jago AND (and it is a very big AND) if features a victim of an horrific murder who may or may not (lets face it its “may not”) be a Great Grandfather of mine in Theodore Watkinson. Mr Watkinson only appears as a corpse but my imagination was well and truly fired when I heard the name – spitting out of breakfast tea & choking on toast nearly ensued as Mrs W laughed out loud at my nefariously nobbled namesake :-)

 And so after that trip down my fictional family tree, I finally come on to the actual story of The Beast Of Kravenos – and not only does it have the makings of a bit of a classic – it actually is a bit of a classic. The Doctor (tom Baker) has been detecting some strange energy readings at Jago (Christopher Benjamin) New Regency Theatre and has loaned K9 (John Leeson) as an act so that he can stay there in deep cover and trace the source of the energy spikes. On top of this a mysterious thief known only as “The Knave” is committing a series of utterly impossible robberies from locked rooms AND (and yes it is another big AND) a medical man called Dr Theodore Watkinson has been found murdered by an unknown and particularly vicious beast – all in a days work for those investigators of infernal incidents Jago & Litefoot, but add the Doctor, Romana & K9 into the mix and you have the makings of a classic caper. Because thats what this is – a great big jolly caper, a runaround with all protagonists acting at crossed purposes whilst all investigating the same thing with often unintentionally hilarious consequences. The dialogue sparkles with the dry wit of Romana 2 (Lalla Ward) & George Litefoot (Trevor Baxter) & the more silly comedy of The Doctor & Jago, even Inspector Quick (Conrad Asquith) is in on the caper and his scenes with Tom Baker are laugh out loud funny. In fact the whole cast feels like they all contribute to making this one of the very best Fourth Doctor adventures.

 What about the Knave, the villain of the piece? His (or her) identity remains a secret for most of the story, but it wont take a genius to work out who they are and how all the happenings are inked together – in fact it is this tight plotting mixed with the beautiful interplay of the characters that really makes this something special – it doesn’t feel like a Jago & Litefoot adventure with the Doctor as guest of a Doctor Who adventure with JAgo & Litefoot as guests, both ranges contribute to make this story work building on their particular strengths – heck even K9 gets a comedy turn as an act at the new Regency :-)

 And while this story is very funny, it is a “Season 18” story so isn’t as silly as the “Season 17” season of last year – Tom hasn’t hit the morose characterisation that dominated the latter part of his last year and retains a lot of the joy of his Williams era persona (albeit with a burgundy outfit) thanks mainly to messers Jago & Litefoot, the actors all seem to love working together and the sense of fun, camaraderie & mischief that these elder statesmen of the Whoniverse bring to the table. Again the bar has been set very very high with this release, sometimes things just work and The Beast of Kravenos is one of those times – I have no hesitation in awarding a this classic Kravenos caper a congratulatory 10/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

This title was released in January 2017. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until February 28th 2017, and on general sale after this date.

A stunning new star act is wowing the audiences of the New Regency Theatre. The modern mechanical marvel of canny canine charisma – the automated dog that can answer any question – the incomparable – the unbeatable – K9!

The Doctor and Romana have returned to Victorian London and been reunited with their old friends Professor George Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago. However this is not merely a social visit. A terrifying crime spree is sweeping the capital, and the burglaries of ‘The Knave’ defy all logic.

Something impossibly dangerous is taking place amid the fog. Only the time travellers and their friends can stop it… but can they be sure they’re all on the same side?

Written By: Justin Richards
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), John Leeson (K9), Christopher Benjamin (Henry Gordon Jago), Trevor Baxter (Professor George Litefoot), Conrad Asquith (Inspector Quick), Ed Stoppard (Sir Nicholas Asquin)

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

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REVIEW – THE STAR MEN

And so we begin another year of main range releases, what will 2017 bring us? and can it match the very high standard of 2016? To quote Tom Baker “who knows?” Well, Big Finish probably do but for now the future is a secret known only to Mr Briggs and co…..

January 2017 sees the release of the first in a new trilogy of adventures for the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) and his season 19 crew Tegan (Janet Fielding) Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) & Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) and the first of these stories is “The Star Men” and it continues the trend began in last September’s “A Full Life” (review here) of doing something rather wonderful with Adric – it gives Adric time to breathe as it were and have character development that he just didn’t get on TV – yes he is still petulant, yes he is still arrogant but his character is given layers that were either totally absent or just pushed aside in a very crowded TARDIS. and who better to write this new better characterised Adric than the man who wrote his debut story – Andrew Smith.

 Now I have made it sound that this is a very Adric-centric story, and to a degree you would be right but as well as all the characterisation there is a plot. A lot of plot that shoots off in all sorts of unexpected directions and what begins as a disaster movie spins off to a resume mission to an inter-universal invasion to a base under siege and there is even a doomed romance in there too. Kitchen sink, whole kit and caboodle but the plot never seems overloaded and muddled it develops rather nicely and organically, the actions of the characters drive the plot forwards and the events naturally follow omg from each other, so I had better talk about the plot in more detail…

 The Doctor is trying to teach Adric to fly the TARDIS and not having much success in the simulation the is running, he decides to take his crew to visit the astronomy of Gallius Ultima to help Adric with his study of astronomy, unfortunately The Doctor has arrived at the wrong time period and soon a returning explorer class spaceship is on a collision course with the base – but this is only the beginning the ship has been sent back to destroy the base it came from by the mysterious “Star Men” beings of energy from another Universe who have crossed to ours to exploit the energy given out by the creation of stars in Nebula and using this power to slowly enslave our Universe. This is Adric’s story, and his blossoming romance with Autumn Ace (Sophie Wu) has Matthew Waterhouse taking Adric in directions we have not seen previously in the main range (those who have heard A Full Life will know Adric longed to be loved & accepted) but it is these little touches that make Adric a joy to listen to. As for the rest of the guest cast Sue Holderness (of “Marlene” fame) plays base commander and mother of Autumn, Kala Tace in a role that is a complete departure from her comedic alter ego, she is tough as nails and a good person to have on your side in a crisis, I can just imagine her playing the role of Kala on TV in the 1980’s completely against type and knocking it out of the park.

 The story is very “season 19” but season 19 viewed from a 2017 perspective, it is faithful to its era but relies a lot more on character and has more heart than the sometimes sterile Davison era had on TV. A breakneck pace, so much goes on in each episode that you may have to pause and reflect before moving on to the next instalment – there is rather a lot to digest and the tone and direction of the story moves so very quickly but never to the stories disadvantage. In fact it makes the little oasis’ of calm we get as Adric & Autumn get to know each other even more special, because in a story where time is against the protagonists small moments of charm are even more important. A very good start to the main range releases for 2017 that may need multiple listens to fully appreciate 8/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

This title was released in January 2017. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until February 28th 2017, and on general sale after this date.

Astronomical navigation is a tricky business. To help Adric with his studies, the Doctor sets course for Gallius Ultima – a planet on the edge of the Milky Way, housing one of the most impressive observatories ever constructed.

But the TARDIS arrives to find Gallius U in a state of emergency, tracking the return of the Explorer-class ship Johannes Kepler from its mission into the heart of the mysterious Large Magellanic Cloud. A mission that met with disaster…

To find out what overtook the crew of the Johannes Kepler, the Doctor and his companions must journey into the heart of the Cloud… and beyond, into the darkness of another reality altogether. The universe of the Star Men.

Written By: Andrew Smith
Directed By: Barnaby Edwards

Cast

Peter Davison (The Doctor), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Janet Fielding (Tegan), Sue Holderness (Kala Tace), Sophie Wu (Autumn Tace), Peter Guinness (Rovus), Damian Lynch (Fell/Lom), Kris Dyer (Nomar/Vedrin / Surgical Robot/ Pilot), Barnaby Edwards (Computer). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer David Richardson

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

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REVIEW – THE AVENGERS: THE LOST EPISODES (VOLUME 7)

And so it ends. This is the very last box set of “Lost Episodes” as every single one of the missing episodes of Season One of The Avengers have been lovingly recreated by Big Finish, and bring the run an episode was actually found and returned!

But what a venture, recreating an entire season with hardly any reference material, making TV scripts work on audio, and most importantly of all recasting John Steed and getting it completely right. I am talking bullseye, on target and owning the role level of right – Julian Wadham take a bow because you have done the almost impossible you have made the role of Steed your very own, you didn’t take the easy path of “doing a Macnee” and hoping for the best, you took the character and you made it work for you – and now when I listen to these sets I see Steed with your face.

 But The Avengers wouldn’t be The Avengers without a sidekick for Steed, or as with the early episodes Steed was a sidekick for Dr David Keel, played on TV by Ian Hendry and brought to life on audio by Anthony Howell – Keel the medical man who’s life is thrown into despair when his wife is murdered in episode one assists Steed to “Avenge” against the criminal underworld, and this dual top billing saw episodes which both men would take the lead, indeed Steed didn’t appear in a few at all which is inconceivable to those of us who came to The Avengers through the Mrs Peel era – but Hendry was the star of the show in Year One.

 And so we come to the episodes, three in this final set, one Steed only, one Keel only and a final pairing up for a final hurrah:

 Dragonsfield, written by Ian Potter, from a script by Terence Feely

 Steed is sent to an experimental facility developing space suits to supply the American space mission. A murder has taken place and espionage is suspected – but who is the spy and why would they want to sell out to the Russians? A lovely start to the final set, Wadham is firing on all cylinders as Steed all suave, urbane charm on the one hand and hard edged agent on the other as he tries to untangle a web of office politics and office romances to get to the bottom of the mystery. A Steed only (or Keel lite if you like) episode that shows its roots in a television script but is effortlessly transferred to a very visual audio.

 The Far Distant Dead, written by Tom Mallaburn from a script by John Lucarotti

 Flipping the emphasis to Dr Keel in this second story (the “Steed Lite” if you like) Anthony Howell gives an earnest performance as Dr Keel, a genuinely good man and humanitarian who just wants to help heal the world. On holiday in Mexico Keel teams up with Dr Alvarez (Karina Fernandez) to provide medical aid to the victims of a cyclone – but he finds another disaster because food aid given to the victims is not all it seems and is killing those who cook with it. Keel uncovers a conspiracy spanning the Atlantic and discovers just how much suffering the greed of one man can cause. Different in tone to the first episode – Keel is a man on a mission, he sees injustice and fights it, he also cares, sometimes too much. Keel has a real depth of character and Howell really brings out his striving to do the right thing and help everyone as his way of “Avenging” his wife murder. Really cracking stuff.

 The Deadly Air, written by John Dorney from a script by Lester Powell

 And here it is, the very last “Lost” episode – Keel and Steed together for the last time investigating the sabotage of an experimental vaccine facility. Its a tense final episode rich with all the trapping that made the early episodes of The Avengers so memorable – Steed’s charm, Keel’s steadfastness and a serious threat, a threat so serious that Steed makes a grand farewell speech when he believes he has been infected by a killer manufactured infection. Being the last episode this is alluded to in the final scene, which is reminiscent of the Steed/Peel “tag” scenes of the later episodes – its an acknowledgement of all good things coming to an end but a reaffirmation that The Avengers are “needed”.

 And thats it. Big Finish have done a wonderful job of recreating these genuinely lost classics and breathing life into the long lost and sometimes overlooked Year One of The Avengers. Thanks to the hard work put in by all involved Avenger fans have a complete run of the whole series created with authenticity, enthusiasm & dare I say it with love.

A lovely set to end the series Mr Steed & Doctor Keel take a bow, your work is done 9/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

This title was released in January 2017. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until February 28th 2017, and on general sale after this date.

Steed and Dr Keel return to action in these final three recreations of classic lost episodes.

Dragonsfield, written by Ian Potter, from a script by Terence Feely

A man has been murdered in an experimental laboratory, and Steed is sent to investigate. Someone is working for the other side – and Steed will need to untangle a messy web of inter-personal relationships if he’s to stand any chance of identifying who.

The Far Distant Dead, written by Tom Mallaburn from a script by John Lucarotti

En route from Chile back to England, Dr Keel stops off to help the victims of a cyclone. Except not every fatality he encounters was caused by the disaster. It appears he’s stumbled onto an international conspiracy of the most sinister kind… and the perpetrators will be found many miles away…

The Deadly Air, written by John Dorney from a script by Lester Powell

When an experimental vaccine is destroyed Steed calls in Keel to join him on the scene as a medical expert. But it isn’t long before the saboteur becomes a murderer. As the situation escalates, can the Avengers identify their foe before they become his victims?

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

Written By: Adapted by Ian Potter, Tom Mallaburn, John Dorney
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

Anthony Howell (Dr Keel), Julian Wadham (John Steed), Lucy Briggs-Owen (Carol Wilson), Cate Debenham-Taylor (Lisa Strauss), Harriet Kershaw (Susan Summers / Secretary), Ramon Tikaram (Saunders), Richard Dixon (Redington / One-Fifteen), Christopher Taylor (Boris / Landlord), James Joyce (Jack Alford / Peters), Robert Fitch (Technician / Dr Philip Karswood), Karina Fernandez (Dr Ampara Alvarez Sandoval / Maria Alvarez), David Shaw-Parker (Hercule Zeebrugge / Luis Garcia), Andy Secombe (Inspector Gauvreau / Godoy / Jose Alvarez), Alex Blake (Rayner / Caron / Sergeant Delon), Tom Alexander (Mateos / Mario), Dan Starkey (One-Ten), Bettrys Jones (Barbara Anthony / Receptionist), Richard Atlee (Heneager / Herbert Truscott), Ewan Bailey (Dr Hugh Chalk / Armstrong), Glen McReady (Dr Owen Craxton / Professor Kilbride)

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REVIEW – THE DIARY OF RIVER SONG VOLUME 2

Two words to begin this review. Can you guess what they are? What other words are appropriate  to welcome back her of the magnificent hair apart from “Hello Sweetie”:

Right, I got that out of my system, thanks for bearing with me, but River Song – well she is rather special to me, from her debut in the Library through to Twelve taking her to the towers of Darillium I have found her a fascinating, intriguing and engaging character (with magnificent hair) – a tragic heroine for the ages, an impossible woman doomed by her love of but blessed by her love from The Doctor – basically I can never have too many River Song stories and when this set was announced I was suitably intrigued – River with not one but TWO Doctor’s – how would Professor Song get on with Old Sixie (Colin Baker) and Seven (Sylvester McCoy) and how would the very fragile and very very complicated web of her life be maintained? Well dear reader, read on.

This box set is a little bit complicated – it deals with a lot of high concept Sci-Fi elements lots of what the Moffat era has deemed “timey-wimey” while still maintaining  enough heart and soul to make me well up on several occasions and there is a very very funny in joke that I was hoping would get a mention in the fourth story “The Eye of the Storm” – because thats what this set is really its a storm, on a cosmic and a personal scale, certainties are ripped apart by a maelstrom of coincidence, the larger picture then effects ordinary everyday people as the stage is set for a storm to end all storms. One River, Two Doctors – who could possible want more??? And it all begins with a spaceship…

2.1 The Unknown by Guy Adams

On the spaceship Saturnius River Song and the rest of the crew including Maddie Bower (Anna Maxwell Martin), Ellen Byrne (Gemma Saunders) & Robert Murphy (Justin Avoth) are investigating a phenomena that has appeared in Earth’s Solar System and they are stuck, cannot go backwards or forwards just stuck in its thrall – lucky there is a stowaway on board in the shape of the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy). What a way to start it complex, its intriguing and it is very very dreamlike with characters misremembering the most simple things about themselves as the effects of the phenomena accelerate. River and Seven, how does it work, how are they together? Well to quote Miss Song “spoilers” but they definitely have a spark, not as strong or romantic as with 10,11 or 12 more of a respect. The story has the feeling of a sci-fi disaster movie with added paradoxes and is a rip roaring beginning to the set.

2.2 Five Twenty-Nine by John Dorney

Now this is rather special. Very special indeed. After the fast paced beginning the pace is rolled back to what can only be called “sedate” and yet there is a sense of urgency, something in the air, something about to happen, something awful, something heartbreaking and something final and it is going to happen at Five Twenty-Nine.

River arrives alone on an island investigating this phenomenon and is taken in by Emmett Burrows (Robert Pugh), his wife Lisa Burrows (Ann Bell) and their synthetic daughter Rachel (played by real life daughter of Alex Kingston – Salome Heartel) – this is the future, but the only real sci-fi element is Rachel – Emmett & Lisa live a simple life as sheep farmers on an island where they get on with living. And then reports come in of the world losing communication with the USA as a wave of nothingness travels from time zone to time zone on the earth arriving in each at Five Twenty-Nine. This is heartbreaking, its beautiful and it is a wonderful story about the love of an ordinary couple. I was reminded of the writing of Raymond Briggs, ordinary people, awful circumstances and no apparent way out. The highlight of the set.

2.3 World Enough and Time by James Goss

Having met Seven in the opening story it is now time for River to bump in to the force of nature that is Old SIxie. But Old Sixie here is masquerading as Managing Director of Golden Futures and  has a growing number of unanswered emails to cope with, and the he spots a beautiful lady with magnificent hair in his typing pool and his hearts so full of bombast and verbosity melt. Yes indeed Old Sixie is smitten with River & she is VERY keen on him. Old Sixie and River really sizzle together as they investigate the goings on at Golden Futures. Very much a “buddy-movie” style story as Old Sixie and River investigate and discover a conspiracy linked in not only to the first two episodes but to the actual end of the world. And the root of it all in money, greed, profit and an audacious plan to use the Doctor’s potential future as a source of energy AND then there is project Elysium but any more would be #Spoilers so thats all you are getting!

2.4 The Eye of the Storm by Matt Fitton

I do like a good joke and I am so glad what went on in my mind was paid off in the last scene before the credits. Anyhow, no more on that for the moment on to the final instalment. A Storm is coming, the worst storm in Earth’s history, the great storm of 1703 – thing is this storm may herald the end of the world. So far we have had River & 7, River solo & River & Old Sixie – in this finale we have River, 7 & Old Sixie all at once at a temporal nexus point – all apparently working for the same ends from different perspectives and getting their wires crossed. And the eye of the storm are a young couple called Isaac George (Paul Keating) & Sarah Dean (Jessie Buckley) and their love for one another may (or may not) cause history to be fractured forever. It is a very very complicated script, but it is humanised by some exceptional characterisation (and a very funny in joke) River shows herself as more astute than either of the Doctor’s in knowing the only way out of the situation and the price that must be paid for the correct outcome.

A melancholy ending with a smitten Old SIxie, an intrigued Seven, and a loose end from Five Twenty-Nine tied up very nicely indeed.

I didn’t think I could be any more of a fan of River than I already was – but this set adds so much to her character, her romance with Old Sixie, her trying to outsmart Seven, her humanity in trying to do the right thing for the Burrows family even though she knows it is futile – her poetry, her understanding of the power of a love so strong that it transcends time and space. And also the magnificent hair, never forget the magnificent hair :-) I know this was released in 2016, but this box set is my first review of 2017 & has already set the bar exceptionally high and is one heck of a ride. So as I award this 10/10 I will leave the final words to the lady herself as you anticipate listening to the series:

 

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

This title was released digitally only in December 2016. It will be released in January 2017 on CD through Big Finish and then exclusively available to buy from the BF website until March 31st 2017, and on general sale after this date.

Time travelling archaeologist and adventurer River Song returns – and this time she will be stepping into the past life of the Doctor, encountering two of his incarnations at once!

From the space exploration vessel Saturnius – which is heading to a destination that never gets any closer – to a doomed planet Earth and beyond, River’s journey will bring her closer to a new foe… and an encounter with both the Sixth and Seventh Doctors.

2.1 The Unknown by Guy Adams

A planetary anomaly. A scientific impossibility. A mystery to be solved.

Of course, River Song expects to be consulted. She expects her valuable knowledge and experience will help the crew of the Saturnius unlock the strange phenomenon that has appeared in Earth’s solar system.

But what River doesn’t expect is a stowaway. An infuriating little man, calling himself the Doctor.

2.2 Five Twenty-Nine by John Dorney

River has made a terrible discovery.

Billions of lives hang in the balance. But if she can save just a few, then it might just help her solve the conundrum of Earth’s destruction.

But how can she win when survival becomes a race against time itself? A race against Five Twenty-Nine?

2.3 World Enough and Time by James Goss

When it comes to bringing down corrupt and exploitative regimes, there is no-one quite like River.

Until she arrives at Golden Futures and discovers that someone else has already taken on her job. Someone with almost as much style and panache as herself.

The Doctor is about to get the shock of his lives.

2.4 The Eye of the Storm by Matt Fitton

The Great Storm of 1703 approaches. The fate of planet Earth hangs in the balance.

The only person who can save it is the Doctor. Or River Song. Or quite possibly another Doctor. Or maybe this whole situation is their fault in the first place.

Two Doctors. One River. An infinite number of ways to destroy the world. It’s going to be a bumpy ride…

Written By: Guy Adams, John Dorney, James Goss, Matt Fitton
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

Alex Kingston (River Song), Colin Baker (The Doctor), Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Anna Maxwell Martin (Maddie Bower), Gemma Saunders (Ellen Byrne), Justin Avoth (Robert Murphy), Salome Haertel (Rachel), Jessie Buckley (Sarah Dean / Speravore Queen), Ann Bell (Lisa Burrows), Robert Pugh (Emmett Burrows), Dan Starkey (Computer / Announcer), Aaron Neil (Steven Godbold / Computer), Sara Powell (The PA), Sam Alexander (Todd the Pod), Barnaby Edwards (Autocorrect), Paul Keating (Isaac George), Robert Hands (Daniel Defoe / Barkeep), Alan Cox (Robert Harley / Speravore / Warder). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer David Richardson

Script Editor Matt Fitton
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

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REVIEW – THE NEW COUNTER MEASURES SERIES 01

And they are back! After the “pilot” episode earlier this year “Who Killed Toby Kinsella?” (review HERE)  the Counter Measures team are back together for a series of off beat espionage adventures, but this time in glorious 16mm film with  a funky rather than a jazzy soundtrack, because we have arrived in the 1970’s.

 For those of you that have not heard “Who Killed Toby Kinsella?” this review contains significant spoilers so I suggest listening to it first? You can buy it HERE – all caught up? Marvellous. So Sir Toby Kinsella ISN’T dead, in fact he is thriving with his team back together from their apparent deaths in the original Counter Measures – they have a new base in the Post Office Tower, but apart from the change of decade, the change of setting and the change of incidental music it is pretty much business as usual for the Counter Measures team.

 The emphasis in this box set is slightly different from the previous 1960’s based Counter Measures, there is no over arching plot, the episodes are stand alone and this works both for and against the set as we shall see. The series is split in to four stories:

 1.Nothing to See Here by Guy Adams

 Group Captain Gilmore (Simon Williams) goes undercover with a gang of bank robbers who seem to have perfected the power of invisibility, but the device that is being used is far more clever than an invisibility cloak and far more dangerous to the user. The device makes those around not notice that you are there until you interact, it also makes the user forget who they are and lose their sense of self. A tense beginning to the set and an examination of what it means to be the person that you are. Can a decent man like Ian be influenced by a machine to forget who he is to the extent that he does awful things? And if so what of those with weaker wills and weaker senses of self – could this technology be exploited for more than just robberies and be used on the population? Luckily we have Sir Toby (Hugh Ross) Rachel (Pamela Salem) & Alison (Karen Gledhill) on our side.

 2. Troubled Waters by Ian Potter

 This is my favourite episode of the set, its creepy, its claustrophobic, it plays on paranoia of confined spaces and thematically it follows on from the first episode as the sense of self of our heroes is attacked. The team are sent to investigate a crashed Nuclear submarine that recently went off grid. The crew are missing, the whole sub is deserted apart from one lone survivor from an experiment into psychic soldiers. What follows is the team being manipulated to act against their nature – Sir Toby taken back to when he was at public school, Ian as a gunner in the RAF, Rachel being dominated by an over bearing mother, Alison given the chance to be a mother – using these phobias and desires to manipulate the team in to giving up the nuclear secrets of the Submarine, Its tense and its a difficult listen and it really does make use of the stand alone nature of the stories to tell the best story it possibly can in the time it is given. Bravo.

 3. The Phoenix Strain by Christopher Hatherall

 This is a bit of an oddball story, almost tongue in cheek – it an homage in part to Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” and to all those 1970’s films about animals going crazy like “Night of the Lepus” and “Piraña”. London is being plagued by attacks from killer birds and the grieving fiancee of a former pupil of Rachel’s could hold the answer. But what is the answer? Surely the powers that be would not be developing biological warfare to use against their own population? Sir Toby crosses swords with Lord Henry Balfour (David Rintoul) in his quest to expose the truth and stop the killer birds. As I said, an odd story, quite camp and tongue in cheek and tonally very different from the first two of the set – more brutal and graphically violent, yet sillier in an odd sort of way.

 4 A Gamble With Time by John Dorney

 Now THAT Mr Dorney is a cheeky title! A Gamble With Time was the original title of the Doctor Who story that eventually became City of Death. This story does not feature Mona Lisa’s Jagaroth or John Cleese – it features a very clever (actually not so clever) confidence trick played out against the backdrop of Monte Carlo glamour and casinos. Gus Kalworowsky (Tam Williams) has alien tech to sell, he has alien tech that allows him to travel in time and he proves his point to Lady Suzanne Clare (Carolyn Seymour) by apparently travelling in time and taking her casino to the cleaners on the blackjack tables. Lady Clare is an international arms dealer and a nasty piece of work who is au fait with alien tech and wants the time travel device. What follows is a 1970’s style take on Hustle as con follows con and a new enemy in Lady Clare is set up for future sets.

 A mixed bag of stories, from tense claustrophobia, to camp to con tricks – this is a New series in a new decade playing with possibilities and finishing on a hook that I hope will be followed up in Series 2. A funky and flared trouser take on the “Spy-Fi” genre and a very promising start 8/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

This title was released in December 2016. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until January 31st 2017, and on general sale after this date.

1. Nothing to See Here by Guy Adams

A series of violent bank robberies are baffling the Swiss police. It’s time for New Counter-Measures to step into the breach. But as the crime spree escalates and one of the team gets closely involved, are they going in too deep? Can you go undercover even from yourself?

2. Troubled Waters by Ian Potter

When a lost submarine is found, the New Counter-Measures team are sent into the depths to investigate. But why? What unusual scheme was being hatched on board? Who has very special designs on Allison? And what’s happened to the crew?

3. The Phoenix Strain by Christopher Hatherall

After tourists are attacked by the birds circling Parliament Square, Sir Toby Kinsella suspects London is about to turn into an Alfred Hitchcock movie. With feathered foes everywhere, the race is on to find out what’s happening… and whether this biblical plague can even be stopped at all.

A Gamble With Time by John Dorney

In the glamorous casinos of Monte Carlo, a nefarious scheme is being hatched. Fortunately, the New Counter-Measures team are on hand to prevent a disaster. But are they betting with the right hand? When they’re playing against Lady Suzanne Clare, all bets are off.

Written By: Guy Adams, Ian Potter, Christopher Hatherall, John Dorney
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

Simon Williams (Group Captain Gilmore), Pamela Salem (Rachel Jensen), Karen Gledhill (Allison Williams), Hugh Ross (Sir Toby Kinsella), Carolyn Seymour (Lady Suzanne Clare), Tam Williams (Gus Kalwarowksy / Dave and Martin), Joanna Bending (Croupier / Tessa Collins), George Asprey (Balthasar Schrek), Robin Weaver (Edwige Ponzi), Gunnar Cauthery (Franz), Christian Edwards (Alex), Vincent Carmichael (Machado), David Rintoul (Lord Henry Balfour), Claire Calbraith (Starling), Andrew Wincott (Professor Abrams)

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

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