REVIEW – COMPANION CHRONICLES: THE SECOND DOCTOR VOL 1

The Second Doctor really wouldn’t have been the Second Doctor without his stalwart companion James Robert McCrimmon. Lets look at him – he was companion in every single Troughton story apart from The Power of the Daleks – so thats nearly three full seasons – but Jamie and the Doctor had a very special sort of bond, not brotherly, not father/son or teacher/pupil – a real and true respect for one another, and as much as Jamie learned from his travels with The Doctor, the Doctor learned about humanity from Jamie, because Jamie embodied all that was good and brave in human beings, even The Daleks recognised this. What the new series has in spades that the old series sometimes shied away from or overlooked was character progression. This box set from Big Finish even though it is billed as a Second Doctor Box Set is really a Jamie McCrimmon box set – it gives us four very Jamie-centric stories from different points in his travels with The Doctor, from the early days with Ben and Polly to almost the end sometime between The Space Pirates and the War Games and they chart Jamie’s progression from bright yet uneducated fish out of water to very much his own man using all the things he has experienced to save the day. The four stories really emphasise the difference between intelligence and learning and go on to prove that travel really does broaden the mind and expand your horizons.

 The Set is split in to four stories:

 1. The Mouthless Dead by John Pritchard

 Its the early 1920’s and the TARDIS team of the Second Doctor (played magnificently by Frazer Hines, its uncanny) Jamie (again Frazer Hines) Polly (Anneke Wills) & Ben (Elliot Chapman) arrive at a deserted railway station in the dark and in the fog – but there are figures waiting in the darkness, figures of the dead, of memories of long past and recent wars and there is also a signalman manning his signal box, because very soon a very important train is going to pass through. This is a very frightening story, part Dickens’ The Signalman, part Sapphire and Steel and with just a hint of Silent Hill – its a lot more overt horror than the Troughton era ever was on TV, and is a very welcome addition to the canon for trying something a little different with the era. As this is at the very beginning of Jamie’s time on the TARDIS he is portrayed as ignorant. Seen through Ben & Polly’s eyes his lack of knowledge and incredulity at steam trains and a whole world at war are quite parochial, like he is a noble savage that needs to be educated. But Jamie is much much more than this. The story itself is incredibly atmospheric and an interesting take on the Troughton era.

 2 The Story of Extinction by Ian Atkins

 I do like a good framing device – and this story has an excellent one. I also like a story that isn’t really about what the story is about (if you know what I mean) So where this story is dressed up as a typical Season 5 “base under siege” story it is actually a story about Jamie, his bond with Victoria (Deborah Watling) and how she finally gets some closure in their friendship. So the framing device is rather lovely – Victoria, now older and living in contemporary Britain has a break in, all that is taken is a piece of very special paper, and the thief even leaves a box in return……

The piece of paper that is stolen is Victoria’s only memento from her time on the TARDIS, its the piece of paper on which she taught Jamie to read and write. This is a lovely story, genuinely moving and another building block in the story of Jamie McCrimmon.

 3 The Integral by David Bartlett

 Now travelling with Zoe (Wendy Padbury) Jamie is rather adamant that all alien races are evil and out to destroy them, whereas Zoe has a more modern progressive attitude. Jamie is drawing on his (mostly negative) experiences of alien races from his time with The Doctor whereas Zoe comes from a more progressive enlightened era. But can their visit to Aspen Base change Jamie’s mind? The base is indeed “under siege” from its own inhabitants – as Aspen base is a secure hospital for people who have had their minds warped by a computer game – the base is overseen by “The Integral” who have the power to pacify and change the mind. As Hartnell once said “as we learn about each other so we learn about ourselves” and this is exactly what this story is – a journey of discovery and of expanding boundaries for Jamie, and a chance for him to witness life from another perspective.

 4 The Edge by Rob Nisbet

 Or where Jamie emerges from his chrysalis and gets to be the hero. Because this is what happens. The box set has been a loose collection of stories each dealing with Jamie progressing, and here he puts everything he has learned not only in this set but in all his travels with The Doctor in to practice to foil the plans of a drug runner and rescue The Doctor & Zoe.

A fitting end to the box set and proof positive that you really do not need learning to have intelligence or be from an “enlightened” age to have the power of mind.

 Can I just say that Frazer Hines is fantastic – he has completely captured the vocal style of Patrick Troughton, all the throat clearings, pauses and quick jabber that Troughton did so well, he is also effortless as Jamie giving him a dignity in defiance and a pure determination and loyalty. I was expecting a set of stories about the Second Doctor – what I got was a set of stories from the Second Doctor era but about his most faithful friend Jamie and a very fine set of stories they are too. So please indulge me whilst I cry “CRAEG AN TUIRE” and award this set 8/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

A new four-disc release featuring four tales from figures associated with the Second Doctor era, and a second actor.

10.1 The Mouthless Dead by John Pritchard

The TARDIS arrives in 1920s England, the Doctor, Jamie, Ben and Polly finding themselves in a wintry dusk beside a railway line. The station nearby appears deserted, but there are figures watching from the shadows, all of them waiting for a dead man’s train…

10.2 The Story of Extinction by Ian Atkins

Civilisations rise and fall – and few planets have seen this happen more often than Amyrndaa. The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria join a survey team to find out why on the planet where everything is suited to creating life, nothing lives for long…

10.3 The Integral by David Bartlett

When tempers fray in the TARDIS, the Doctor struggles to help Jamie and Zoe resolve their differences. Arriving at Aspen Base proves a welcome distraction; but the isolated facility is under siege. Can Jamie’s belief in right and wrong withstand the perspective changing power of the Integral?

10.4 The Edge by Rob Nisbet

The Edge is the galaxy’s scientific hub of experimentation, theoretical breakthroughs and invention – just the sort of place to interest the Doctor and Zoe. However, a secret lies hidden in The Edge laboratories. Jamie instinctively knows that something is wrong, and it doesn’t take long for him to be proved right….

Written By: John Pritchard, Ian Atkins, David Bartlett, Rob Nisbet
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Frazer Hines (Jamie), Anneke Wills (Polly), Deborah Watling (Victoria), Wendy Padbury (Zoe), Elliot Chapman (Ben), Robert Whitelock (Curtis)

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

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REVIEW – LOST AND FOUND

Only in Doctor Who could a story like “Lost and Found” exist. To begin with it is utterly bonkers and completely off the wall, it is also a very sweet tale of a child searching for a lost toy Bear…

Narrated by Anneke Wills (Polly Wright) she tells the tale of when she Ben and the Second Doctor arrived in 1948 London, a post war wasteland trying to rebuild, buoyed by the British Spirit of Keep Calm & Carry On, Polly reminisces about the time her mother brought her on a day trip to Henrick’s department store and she lost her toy bear. The Doctor on the other hand has become rather obsessed with a tin of baked beans that he has found in the bomb site. In no other show could you have a race of sentient baked beans, no other show would be brave enough to try it, no other show would even consider it – but in the context of Lost and Found, and especially the Second Doctor, it works perfectly, because the Doctor believes in them, no season 17 style lampoon, no Moffat era post modernism, just a truth and realism to a bizarre situation.

In Henricks’ department store the two plot strands come together beautifully as The Doctor tries to aid the Baked Beans, Ben & Polly go looking for Polly’s long lost bear. Anneke Wills is truly heartbreaking as Polly – what could have become a story about the perils of crossing ones own time stream is told as a story about acceptance of loss and giving it context to a child -its sweet and it is rather beautiful.

Another great release in the Short Trips range and further proof that not all stories in the much lauded “infinitely variable format” have been told yet. Bear with me old beans while I give this 9/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

The post-war London of 1948 is rebuilding, the people are recovering, and Ben and Polly have arrived with an old friend with a new face. But they’re not the only visitors. A very different kind of war is being fought, in a department store, and they are in the middle of it…

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

Written By: Penelope Faith
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Anneke Wills (Narrator)

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REVIEW – THE TROUBLE WITH DRAX

Where do I start? Step One: Take a production featuring Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, John Leeson, Ray Brooks & John Challis

Step Two: set said production in the bonkers Season 17

Step Three: sit back, relax and enjoy one of the best Fourth Doctor stories that Big Finish have produced

I could finish my review here, but maybe that would short change the production just a little, so I will ramble on a while.

 Remember the TV episode Time Heist? Well this story is almost completely unlike that one apart from the fact it contains a bank robbery, a robbery carried out by The Doctor under the supervision of his old friend (now in his third regeneration) Drax (Ray Brooks).

 Long time fans will remember Drax from the TV story The Armageddon Factor – hardly the crowning glory of the Williams era, but Drax was a fab character, played on TV by the late Barry Jackson – a mock cockney small time crook, a renegade (with a distinctly small “r”) Time Lord who was a school contemporary of the Doctor. It turns out that Drax installed a recall device in the Doctor’s TARDIS at some point during that story, and now he is in a bit of trouble with villain (or legitimate businessman) Charles Kirkland (Hugh Fraser) and has recalled the Doctor, Romana & K9 to help him out.

 Drax being a crook has come into the possession of a map that leads to the fabled city of Altrazar – a sort of temporal Atlantis, an oubliette in time where the rich and powerful hide away their secrets, he has also got himself involved with the previously mentioned Charles Kirkland and his servant Rosser (John Challis) and has been cajoled in to going to Altrazar to retrieve the secrets of Kirkland’s rival Grunthar (John Banks) and so with Romana under guard on Kirkland’s ship, Drax, Rosser & the Doctor head to Altrazar – and then things get very very complicated…..

 This story is a riot, a romp, a hoot – brilliantly put together and very very funny (but not necessarily in that order) it has twists on twists and crosses on double crosses but unlike a lot of TV Who it makes perfect logical sense. Lets look at the cast – when you are cast in a season 17 story you don’t underplay and all the actors are relishing their roles, from the suave Kirkland, to the gruff Rosser, to the chirpy cockney charmer Drax to the dour Inspector Fleur McCormick (Miranda Raison) each have their entrances and exits, and each in their time play many parts (to misquote Shakespeare) – put it this way, what could be a dull “timey-wimey” story about a bank robbery becomes a thing of joy, beauty and fun due to the wonderful synchronicity of the cast, the writer and the director – everything just works and the final payoff will have you taking your virtual hats off tho not only the writer but the ingenuity of the characters. And thats your lot, any more would be far too spoilery.

 There are some actors that just gel together – Tom, John Challis and Ray Brooks are a fab triple act and I genuinely hope that The Doctor & Romana cross paths with Drax and co again very soon, because you can never have too many apparently inept time lord renegades (small “r”) in a season 17 pastiche. A classic. 10/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

This title was release in June 2016. It will be exclusively available to purchase from the BF website until July 31st 2016, and on general sale after this date.

Altrazar. The temporal Atlantis, a place lost to time. Believed by many to be a myth, it has long been the perfect location for the rich and powerful to hide away their most dangerous secrets.

Until now.

Because the somewhat crooked, not exactly honest, wheeler-dealer cockney Time Lord known as Drax has found a map that leads to its location. And, at the behest of a manipulative businessman, he’s going to use it.

When the TARDIS is dragged out of the space-time vortex, its crew aren’t best pleased to see the Doctor’s old school friend, even less when he pressgangs them into joining a raid on the most secure safe-house in history. However with Romana and K9 held hostage, the Doctor has little choice but to agree. With Drax in tow, he heads for the planet.

Which is where the trouble starts.

Written By: John Dorney
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), John Leeson (K9/Cabot), Ray Brooks (Drax), John Challis (Rosser), Hugh Fraser (Charles Kirkland/Shopkeeper), Jane Slavin (Shopkeeper 2), Miranda Raison (Inspector Fleur McCormick), John Banks (Grunthar/Street-Cleaner)

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REVIEW – THE TWO MASTERS

An idea so simple, I cannot believe it hasn’t been done before. The Doctor can meet his other selves so why not The Master? And this meeting of The Master (Geoffrey Beevers) and The Master (Alex Macqueen) is what this story is all about. Its also incredibly complicated – the sort of complicated that makes Moffat’s “timey-wimey” nonsense seem trivial by comparison, to quote Blackadder “it twists and turns like a twisty turny thing” and to misquote Eric Morecambe, this is a story with all the right words, but not necessarily in the right order. Ok, lets start at the beginning.

 The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) is lured to the ship of the Rocket Men (remember them, slightly rubbish Space Pirates now even more down at heel and a bit of an intergalactic joke) by the Old Master (Geoffrey Beevers) . The Master then goes on to slaughter the whole crew apart from Jemima (Lauren Crace) who becomes the surrogate companion for this story and forces the Doctor to take him aboard the TARDIS – because the Master’s TARDIS has become inoperable due to travelling through an area of Space/Time that just doesn’t exist any more – in fact these null spaces are appearing all over the universe and are getting worse, they are even affecting the Doctor’s memories as he has no recall of the previous two stories in the trilogy (And You Will Obey Me & Vampire of the Mind) – the Master also informs the Doctor that he is locked in battle with an enemy worthy of his attention – a future version of himself, his enemy is none other than The Master (Alex Macqueen) . And this is where it starts to get REALLY complicated.

 This is a story that really demands your attention, it needs to be listened to and digested and mulled over. It is also told out of sequence – after the events of the first two episodes, we segue back to the beginning of the rivalry between Master Beevers & Master Macqueen which is in fact a very clever bit of continuity – long time Whovians will immediately get the reference to the Old Master going to Terserus and being recovered by a certain Time Lord Chancellor….

While both incarnations of the Master and their machinations take centre stage, The Doctor is somewhat sidelined by proceedings which is a shame, as the underlying plot of a renegade Time Lord known as “The Heretic” and the cult following his teachings is a very McCoyesque story right in the “evil since the dawn of time” mould and maybe if this were a stand alone release rather than a culmination of a trilogy with only one Master & Doctor number 7 I would feel more invested in the story rather than having to re-listen to several sections to confirm what I had just heard.

 So dense, complex and really quite confusing. After a stellar opening story in “And You Will Obey Me”, a second part, “Vampire of the Mind” that ticks all the right boxes to get you interested “The Two Masters” seemed to miss a few beats – it tries to do a lot, to tie up the threads from the previous stories whilst being a compelling story in its own right, and it is, it really is in parts. Macqueen & Beevers are both stellar as The Master and I was genuinely intrigued by the Terserus scenes and how they would pan out – but ultimately this feels like one enormous set up that doesn’t quite deliver on its promise. Sorry if I appear like a Heretic, but I award this 6/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

The future is dying. All over the universe, gaps are beginning to appear. From the space lanes terrorised by the rag-tag remnants of the once-mighty Rocket Men, to the empire of the Gorlans, stricken by a terrible civil war. Gaps in space/time, portents of the end of everything.

Only three beings might prevent it. The Doctor, a renegade Time Lord from Gallifrey. The Master, another renegade Time Lord from Gallifrey. And another Master, yet another renegade Time Lord from Gallifrey.

One Doctor. Two Masters. What could possibly go wrong?

Written By: John Dorney
Directed By: Jamie Anderson

Cast

Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Geoffrey Beevers (The Old Master), Alex Macqueen (The New Master), Lauren Crace (Jemima), Russ Bain (Blore/Baron Jarvill), Esther Hall (Tazmeena/Bauza/Mum), James Garnon (Sebastian/Gorlan),Neil Edmond (Sarlon/Gorlan/Time Lord). Other parts portrayed 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 – SURVIVORS: SERIES FOUR

Just when you think a series cannot get any bleaker, darker or nasty, something like this comes along. Yes dear readers we are back in the post apocalyptic world of Survivors for a fourth series – and what a series this is – from the beginnings of the Outbreak and the attempts to form a provisional Government to the “Belief Foundation” and its charismatic leader/Guru Theo (Ramon Tikaram)  this really does go to some incredibly dark places and asks fundamental questions of right and wrong, justice and the rule of law and the nature of how society will function when the old ways have crumbled to dust – can the old rules of Law & Order, Democracy & Freedom still function or does there need to be a fundamental rethink of how society functions?

 This is a very deep box set and very heavy going – but it needs to be, it needs to be brave and brutal and heartbreaking in order to tell the stories that it needs to tell and tell them it does in an uncompromising way – this is a box set that will haunt you long after the final credits have rolled.

 The set is broken down into four interconnected stories:

 4.1 The Old Ways by Ken Bentley

 With the first story we go back to the beginning of the outbreak and experience it through the eyes of Evelyn Piper (Zoe Tapper) a low ranking civil servant and aide to Lewis Bartholomew MP (Jonathan Oliver). Chaos has broken out, the population are ill and dying, the Prime Minister is dead – Bartholomew takes the opportunity to evacuate essential government personnel including the late Prime Minister’s wife Mildred Sanderson (Jane Maud) to a secure bunker called Tartarus where he hopes to set up a regional provisional Government until the plague crisis is over. A great plan. On paper. Sit in a bunker, wait for it all to blow over and then emerge to reassert law and order. It was never going to happen was it? A pressure cooker environment with a scarcity of food, paranoia about the plague was never going to end well. This story serves as an introduction to the character of Evelyn and we get to know the sort of person she is through the episode, her friendship with Mildred, her revulsion at the extremes of paranoia that Bartholomew reaches and her spirit of survival – because the bunker is just the first step in her journey.

 4.2 For the Good of the Cause by Louise Jameson

 Nothing gives me more pleasure than the words “by Louise Jameson” there is nothing she cannot excel at – magnificent actor and director and a writer who has a depth of character and feeling for the people she writes about, their hopes and their fears. Louise as well as writing this episode plays Jackie, and Jackie is the hook for getting us to the main body of the story, that of Theo and the Belief Foundation. Jackie has tracked down her friend Molly (Fiona Sheehan) to the Foundation. But what is this belief foundation? On the surface a model society, guided by Theo, he and his followers are trying to remake society in their image, tearing down the old to make way for the old – destroying what was wrong with the old but learning no lessons from the good. Louise teases out doubt after doubt about the true nature of the Foundation, notes passed to Molly warning her, the almost godlike cult of personality around Theo, the fanaticism of his followers. This is also a story about the relationship between Jackie & Molly. Jackie has maternal feelings towards Molly, maybe out of love, maybe out of guilt but Molly wants to be her own person and not be stifled – Louise as Jackie and as writer perfectly captures the despair & the rejection that unconditional love can sometimes come from a one sided relationship. This is a very personal episode in the Jackie/Molly arc that has been simmering since series two and it needed the skill of a writer and actress of Louise’ calibre to make it work and make it work so well.

 4.3 Collision by Christopher Hatherall

 Fantasy writing is always at its best for me when it has something to say and I read this episode as an allegory for the refugee crisis that has been happening over the last year or so. There is nothing so contradictory as Human Nature. At best we are inclusive, outward looking, progressive, welcoming and willing to embrace differences as an opportunity to share and enrich each other. There has been a worrying shift of opinion lately to that of isolationism, dislike of the unlike, mean spiritedness and downright xenophobia all carefully stage managed by those with a vested interest in these views being held. In Collision the survivors of the Tartarus bunker (or those who would leave) are brought to the foundation and are viewed as outsiders, viewed as valueless interlopers, freeloaders with nothing to contribute in a situation that has been perfectly stage managed. This episode also gives Jenny (Lucy Fleming) centre stage as she goes back to Tartarus to persuade the remaining residents to leave – she is accompanied by Foundation hard man Stan (Enzo Squillino Jnr) and newcomer Michael (Laurence Dobiesz) and what Jenny witnesses at Tartarus is an atrocity born of xenophobia. A cautionary tale told in a fantasy setting but a tale that is being told in the world around us.

 4.4 Forgive and Forget by Matt Fitton

 And so we come to the end. Long buried ghosts from the past are brought to the surface. As Greg (Ian McCulloch) and Theo leave the Foundation to try to salvage something from Tartarus, Jenny is left in charge and she has a terrible decision to make. But is it her decision? is it the communities decision? is it anyones decision?

This episode examines the consequences of living in a world where suddenly the old ways do not apply – things that were done in the early days of the plague finally have retribution. Can I please pause for a moment as I do not want to give any spoilers, as this is all I will say about the actual episode – however I would like to praise two incredible actors – Louise Jameson & Fiona Sheehan, they absolutely own this episode. Louise gives a “pin drop/hairs on arms stand on end” performance as Jackie as she admits her darkest secret to the community and Fiona Sheehan finally becoming who she needs to be and exercising her right over her past tormentor as a heart in mouth moment, I really did not know what she was going to do and because these four episodes make you doubt your own moral compass I don’t know how I feel about what she did do. It will make sense when you hear it.

 A dark and unforgiving run of episodes that gives some sort of closure to some of the characters. Greg’s plan for a united federation of communities is given a boost with the addition of the character of Evelyn and her organisational skills so no matter how bleak things have been maybe there is a glimmer of light at the end of a very very long nighttime for the spirit of humanity.

 Tightly written with immersive sound design and top notch acting this is one to appreciate rather than enjoy – its just too grim to be called enjoyable in the conventional sense but through the characters and the situations they find themselves in we can see a version of ourselves and the people we may have the potential to become, from noble to ignoble, from progressive to isolationist, from pioneer to follower all human life and all possibilities are here. A harrowing and difficult 10/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

It begins with just a few people falling ill. Another flu virus that spreads around the globe. And then the reports begin that people are dying…

When most of the world’s population is wiped out, a handful of survivors are left to pick up the pieces.

Cities become graveyards. Technology becomes largely obsolete. Mankind must start again…

4.1 The Old Ways by Ken Bentley

The Government has plans for a national state of emergency. But when Evelyn Piper and her colleagues shelter in the Tartarus bunker, they discover no amount of planning can prepare for the reality of the Death…

4.2 For the Good of the Cause by Louise Jameson

One old friend calls on Greg and Jenny to look after another. Together, they visit a utopian community where the inspirational Theo seems to have founded the perfect way of life…

4.3 Collision by Christopher Hatherall

When the old world collides with the new, casualties are unavoidable. While Greg and Theo work together for the future, Jenny tries to save lives – with the help of a troubled young man called Michael…

4.4 Forgive and Forget by Matt Fitton

As long-buried crimes surface, resentment and recrimination threaten to destroy the peace of the Foundation. Jenny, Jackie and Molly have their own trials to bear, and Greg confronts the truth of this new world head on. For some, nothing will ever be the same…

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

Written By: Ken Bentley, Louise Jameson, Christopher Hatherall, Matt Fitton
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

Ian McCulloch (Greg), Lucy Fleming (Jenny), Louise Jameson (Jackie), Fiona Sheehan (Molly), Zoë Tapper (Evelyn Piper), Ramon Tikaram (Theo), Jane Maud(Mildred Sanderson/Sarah), Paul Panting (Colonel Stephen Adams), Jonathan Oliver (Lewis Bartholomew MP), Terry Molloy (John Redgrave), Sean Murray (Dr Stewart/Terry Levinson), Alex Lanipekun (Roy), Vinette Robinson (Davina),Laurence Dobiesz (Michael), Enzo Squillino Jnr (Stan). Other parts portrayed by the cast.

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

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REVIEW – TORCHWOOD: MOVING TARGET

Remember the 1980’s? And in this context I don’t just mean the decade I mean the LOOONG 1980’s that lasted until 1997. I would be fooling no-one if I said that Doctor Who was the most popular programme on TV during this era, so I wont even try. By far THE most popular show on TV for nigh on 15 years was Only Fools and Horses. Ok, he has finally lost the plot you may be thinking, this is meant to be a Torchwood review and here he is banging on about Only Fools and Horses – well, yes and it really is relevant so please bear with me. The reason that the antics of Del Boy, Rodney, Grandad (and latterly Uncle Albert) have transcended the mere title of “Sitcom” is that it could wrong foot you – it made you laugh out loud one minute and then you were crying along with the characters, if you have not seen the episode “The Russians are Coming” where Del, Rodney & Grandad build a fallout Shelter then check it out for Grandad’s soliloquy about the futility of war – comedy and drama hand in hand, two sides, one coin.

Which brings me to this months Torchwood release, and its an interesting one because this months  lead character is Suzie Costello (Indira Varma) the original rogue element in the TV series whose demise makes way for Gwen Cooper. Obviously this is set before the events of the TV series and sees Suzie isolated and almost alone – almost the last woman left on Earth, because in this story Suzie Costello has to reluctantly become the hero. You know sometimes you have one of “those” days – well Suzie is having THE worst day, time has been stopped – literally. All life on Earth has been frozen, the rain frozen in its downpour and Suzie is almost the last woman left on Earth who is currently sentient. I say almost as Suzie soon teams up with Alex (Naomi McDonald) – and this story really is all about Alex. She is an ordinary girl who has been selected by an intergalactic corporate hunting cartel as a target – she is the proverbial lamb to the slaughter a hand picked victim. Alex and Suzie have other ideas and they continue to survive and fight back against the hunters this only raises Alex’s desirability as a target and sends more and more hunters to gain the kudos of the kill. This is no free for all though there is a robotic referee (Nicholas Burns) and there are rules to the hunt, Remember that, there are RULES.

What we have this month is another in a series of “Cardiff Buddy Movies” where a member of Torchwood is teamed up with a member of the public. Readers may remember that last month I got a little moany about the format, but this month it couldn’t be done any other way – Suzie is a reluctant hero at best, Alex is not a fighter but as they slaughter the hunters together they get to know each other and grow in to the people they need to be to survive. But how long can they survive? As Alex cache as a target improves with every hunter she sees off more and more queue up to try to get the kill. Remember the rules? There are always the rules.

Now then, I started off this review talking about Only Fools and Horses and how something goes from good to great by turning on a sixpence – and Moving target does just this. for 55 minutes we follow the adventures of Cardiff’s answer to Thelma & Louise done by Quentin Tarantino, we also spend 55 minutes forgetting what we know about Suzie Costello from the TV show. The final two minutes are simply astonishing and made me listen to the whole thing again and listen with new ears and with a full knowledge as to who was the main character in this story – because ultimately Suzie Costello really does play by the rules of the game.

A stunning release just stunning, an exceptional piece of writing, acting and character development and a glimpse into the mind of the most enigmatic member of the Torchwood Team.  I urge you to hunt down a copy of this release listen to and listen well because Suzie Costello is back and she is ready. 10/10

Written By Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

Suzie Costello would never describe herself as a hero. Not even if she were the last woman on Earth. Turns out, she’s the second last woman on Earth, and that’ll just have to do.

With the Earth frozen in time, Suzie becomes locked in a battle to save the planet and the life of Alex, the last woman alive. Hunted by alien warriors, and, with every hour that doesn’t pass, the stakes are only getting higher.

Suzie Costello would never describe herself as a hero. But she would say she’s someone who always makes the right choices. Wouldn’t she? .

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

Written By: Guy Adams
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Cast

Indira Varma (Suzie Costello), Naomi McDonald (Alex), Nicholas Burns (The Referee)

Producer: James Goss

Script Editor: Steve Tribe

Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery, Nicholas Briggs

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REVIEW – THIS SPORTING LIFE

Utterly charming. There I have said it. But those two words sum up this release perfectly. So do the words sweet and heartwarming. Because that is what this release is. But what is this charming heartwarming release, well its this months Short Trips release “This Sporting Life”. When I first heard about this release I (like many other fans I am sure) raised a wry eyebrow as of course this title is the title of a famous film starring none other than William Hartnell. This story is not about the First Doctor going undercover as a rugby scout as the title may suggest, but about the theft of the Jules Rimet trophy in 1966.

 Read by Peter Purves (Steven Taylor) he recalls a time where the oft overlooked TARDIS team of The First Doctor, Steven and Dodo arrived in London 1966 and became involved in the recovery of the stolen original World Cup Trophy. Dripping with period charm this small scale interlude is set in a familiar 1960’s London, a nostalgic London of Bobbies on the beat that probably hadn’t existed since the 1950’s – more Dixon of Dock Green than Swinging London – but utterly in keeping with the nostalgic tone of the story telling. In the short 35 minutes of the story our heroes become embroiled in the theft of the World Cup, discover the reasons behind the theft and The First Doctor – with customary twinkle and wry smile makes sure that history is kept on track.

 If the Ealing films had made a Doctor Who it would be this one – all post war pride, larger than life characters and a happy ending, almost twee, but not quite going that far just, well Utterly Charming. Of course a review referencing the 1966 World Cup Final wouldn’t be complete without me saying they think its all over – and at a heartwarming 9/10 – it is now.

Written By Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

When the Doctor, Steven, and Dodo arrive in London in March 1966, World Cup fever is already underway. But disaster has struck: the trophy has been stolen, and the police are at a loss as to who could have taken it. When someone shoves part of the trophy into Steven’s hands, the travellers become embroiled in the case..

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

Written By: Una McCormack
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Peter Purves (Narrator)

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REVIEW – DRACULA

For a 119 year old story Dracula is still possibly still the most influential Horror Story ever written. You may throw Frankenstein at me, or Jekyll & Hyde or The Turn of the Screw – but I say NO. THE most influential horror story was a tale of a trip to Transylvania by Bram Stoker. Think of it this way, no Dracula then no Hammer, no Buffy, no Twilight, no True Blood, no State of Decay. The character of Count Dracula is a villain for the ages imbued in our psyche as a byword for evil, you don’t need to have read or seen a Dracula film to know who or what Dracula is – so, it was no surprise when Big Finish announced that they were going to dramatise the greatest Horror Story ever told. Not only that but Mark Gatiss was going to play the Count.

 There have been may interpretations of the story, from Cushing & Lee in the Hammer Classic to (for me) the definitive Gary Oldman portrayal from the 1990’s – but what sort of angle were Big Finish going to go for? Well, they have gone back to the source material and produced a very faithful adaptation of the original Bram Stoker text told over three parts each being approximately an hour long.

 Part One deals with Jonathan Harker (Joseph Kloska) visiting Count Dracula (Mark Gatiss) at his home in Transylvania to conduct the legalities on a property that the Count has purchased in London – told from the point of view of Harker writing entries in his diary (exactly as the novel) we follow Jonathan’s ordeal at castle Dracula and the dawning realisation that he is a prisoner and may never get out alive.

 Part Two has the Count in England terrorising Lucy Westenra (Rosanna Miles) and the beginning of the fight back led by Lucy’s fiancee Arthur Holmwood (Alex Jordan) and his friends Dr John Seward (Rupert Young) & Quincy P Morris (David Menkin) – part two also sees the introduction of the legendary Abraham Van Helsing (Nigel Betts)

 Part Three deals with our heroes now accompanied by Jonathan Harker & his wife Mina (Deirdre Mullins) fighting back against Dracula’s evil plan and hounding him back to Transylvania for an epic showdown.

 It is a very well produced adaptation and really does tick all the boxes – Big Finish really have gone back to basics and told the story of the book rather than the legend that the book has become – I just felt that the earlier parts of the production lacked pace, urgency and peril, all the constituent parts were there but the spark of adventure did not seem to have been fully ignited – however after a slow and ponderous first two parts things step up a gear in the final chapter – the method of story telling is more experimental and the sedate pace of the build up gives way to a breakneck race against time.

 Let me talk about the cast – yes there is the much lauded Mark Gatiss who gives a suitably “Arch” performance as the Count – he plays it almost exactly as you expect he will, nothing wrong with the at all – but I will save my praise for two actors in particular – Deirdre Mullins as Mina Harker and Ian Hallard as Renfield. Whilst the quality of acting is as excellent as any of Big Finish releases Mullins & Hallard really do raise the bar – Mina could be a textbook damsel in distress but not here she is strong, determined and unwavering – a woman ahead of her time and every bit as strong as her male comrades. Which brings me to Renfield – how easy would it be to play Renfield as a gibbering raving maniac? It would suit the part and would be perfectly in keeping with Stoker’s character – but Ian Hallard under the direction of Scott Handcock gives an extraordinary performance and all the more frightening for seeming sane 90% of the time – a  very clever take on the character.

 Before I sum up I will hand you over to Hayley for her thoughts:

 I have read Dracula many times and welcome any audio/visual with eager open arms, as I welcome any Big Finish release in the same vein (no pun intended). Dracula, much like Shakespeare, is always open to interpretation. He’s been a subject for comic treatment, Blaxploitation, and various Hammer escapades, so it’s always good when he comes home to Stoker. 

Mark Gatiss seems the obvious and right choice for the Prince of Darkness. A horror fan himself, it seems natural that he’d be cast in the role at some point in his career and he certainly seems to relish this opportunity. Often subtle, always menacing, and finally human he gives a performance as good as any I’ve seen or heard. It has an impressive cast who breathe life into the often recounted tale; Deirdre Mullins in particular stands out as a gutsy Mina Harker – a woman ahead of her time. 

To echo Ed, it’s the final third where it really comes alive. It’s a faithful production but lacks something early on. Perhaps the tension was lacking for me due to my familiarity with book, but it I felt it lacked the impact of Big Finish’s excellent Frankenstein. The denouement was well done though, Mina as brave as any male hero and Gatiss giving a touching human quality to the Vampire. 

 Thrilled again that Big Finish are tackling the classics. It’s made me want to revisit the book one more time, which I certainly will do. 

 A traditional retelling of a classic that somehow in its early stages seems a little too safe and meandering, superb acting and production values and a lengthy running time give the story a chance to breathe and gather pace to a gripping finale. Clever story telling techniques (especially in part three) keep the story fresh – one to it down to on a quiet rainy Sunday afternoon with a glass of something red and let yourself be whisked away to Transylvania again. 7/10.

Written by Ed & Hayley Watkinson

Synopsis

When a young solicitor, Jonathan Harker, visits the heart of Transylvania – ostensibly to meet reclusive nobleman Count Dracula – he cannot begin to imagine what horrors might lie in store for him there… or the chain of events he will set in motion at Castle Dracula.

Soon, Dracula’s bloodlust spreads to England’s shores, and Harker’s fiancée, Mina Murray, becomes embroiled in his affairs. Her best friend, Lucy Westenra, falls victim to the vampire’s thirst, and it is only with the help of an unlikely bunch of allies that the Count might be defeated… but can the undead ever truly perish?

Mark Gatiss stars in this chilling three-hour audio adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic vampire story, dramatised by Jonathan Barnes. This release also includes a bonus CD, featuring interviews with Dracula’s writer and cast, plus a selection of James Dunlop’s soundtrack for the production.

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

Written By: Bram Stoker, Dramatised by Jonathan Barnes
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Cast

Mark Gatiss (Count Dracula), Joseph Kloska (Jonathan Harker), Deirdre Mullins(Mina Murray), Nigel Betts (Abraham Van Helsing), Rupert Young (John Seward),Alex Jordan (Arthur Holmwood), David Menkin (Quincey P. Morris), Rosanna Miles(Lucy Westenra), Elizabeth Morton (Mary Westenra), Ian Hallard (Renfield), Edward Petherbridge (Mr Swales), Katy Manning (Sister Agatha).

Other parts played by members of the cast.

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REVIEW – GALLIFREY VIII: ENEMY LINES

I do love politics. Along with cult TV, my family and Cats its pretty much my favourite thing. I bore the socks off my family at Election time, canvass for my party, go to counts and am even contemplating standing for the County Council again next year – yes indeedy, Politics to me is what football is to many others. Gallifrey has always been a politics heavy series dealing with the great and the good of Gallifrey – of President Romana (present and future), Castellans, Cardinals, Ambassadors and not forgetting Leela and latterly Ace. I love the political intrigue of the series, the manipulation, the puppeteering and counter puppeteering – Gallifrey as a series is like a sci-fi version of House of Cards (well, you might think that, I couldn’t possibly comment) and this month sees the release of the eighth series of plots, counter plots & intrigue in Gallifrey – Enemy Lines.

 Told over six half an hour episodes Enemy Lines carries on where last years Intervention Earth (review here) finished and sees Coordinator Narvin (Sean Carlsen) and Ace (Sophie Aldred) in a bit of a pickle – they are in a dying TARDIS, the air is running out and then, just to make their day worse they are found by Time Lord forces and summarily sentenced to death. We then cut to events a long time previous, you see the series of events that led to the whole Omega situation in Intervention Earth was a timeline that should not really have happened and a figure from Gallifrey’s ancient and mythical past, the mysterious Watchmaker (Eve Karpf) along with a future version of Romana is trying to put things back on track. Enemy Lines has paradoxically (sorry) my favourite and least favourite types of story telling – it has political intrigue a plenty with scheming ambassadors, traitors, plots within plots and universe spanning consequences. It also relies on paradoxes (or messing about with time travel, or cheating as I call it) the sort of thing that has blighted TV Doctor Who on TV for the last six years or so. Now, you may think I am being a bit harsh, and maybe I am – a society of Time Lords who have Ambassadors from other Time Faring societies as Ambassadors all engaging in political intrigue – well they would abuse time travel to spy on each other and lay plots wouldn’t they? OK, they would, but it just leaves me cold. Niggles over, hows about the positives? Its excellently paced, scored and acted and as a listener I was completely drawn in to the intrigue, it really had that “just one more episode” box set feel. Can I also praise the magnificent Louise Jameson – effortlessly wonderful as Leela especially in the final episode where she gets to pour out her scorn and bitterness and tells us of the life she might have led away from Gallifrey, her voice all full of haunted pride at what she has done and the people who’s lives she has touched – it brought a tear to my eye, we are truly privileged to have Louise as an actor, writer and director in so many of Big Finish’s releases.

 Sweeping, epic and with consequences that will reverberate throughout many subsequent Gallifrey releases. Enemy Lines is an odd mixture of Politics and Paradox – on the surface of it not the sort of things that go hand in hand but crafted together here so that it seems odd to have one without the other. An epically built House of Cards that just one paradox may bring crashing down, and I feel that paradox may be on its way. 8/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

Six brand new half-hour episodes across a three-disc set!
In the distant future, President Romanadvoratrelundar will do anything it takes to save her world, even if it means sacrificing her allies and friends…
In the distant past, President Romanadvoratrelundar will also do anything it takes to save her world, even if it means sacrificing her own life in the process…
Unfortunately for Romana, there is no easy option.
With the threat of impending war, and negotiations still ongoing, the Temporal Powers are growing restless. Every day, they find their future slipping away from them. Every decision they make proves critical. And no one can escape the fact that sacrifices have to be made…
Time is running out… and it’s running straight to Gallifrey.

Written By: David Llewellyn
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Cast

Lalla Ward (Romana), Louise Jameson (Leela), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Seán Carlsen (Narvin), Miles Richardson (Braxiatel), Celia Imrie (Livia), Tom Allen(Plutus), George Watkins (Gaal), Hannah Genesius (Trave), Eve Karpf (The Watchmaker), Nigel Fairs (Kalbez), Sean Biggerstaff (Moros). Others parts played by the cast

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REVIEW – CYBERMAN SERIES 1 & 2

Cybermen always frightened me a lot more than Daleks. Well frightened and brought about a great pity. Whereas Daleks just want to conquer and destroy the Cybermen are altogether more chilling, they want us to become them, they want to assimilate us, they want us to belong to them – to surrender our humanity and become part of a collective emotionless whole whose sole purpose is survival.

This special release collects together the original Cyberman series from 2005 and the second series from 2009 and gives it the full “Special Edition” treatment with a couple of making of documentaries added and trailers for all the Doctor Who Cyberman releases.

But what is the Cyberman series? At its heart Cyberman 1 is a political thriller that begs the question just how far would humanity go to win a war? The war in question is the war in Orion against the Androids. Its a war that has been going on a very very long time and humanity is tiring of the constant losses and sacrifices. There is a top secret covert operations unit named “Scorpius” who have been working to end the war swiftly – and their discovery of a crashed Cyber ship on the sea bed just off the Isle of Wight may just change the direction of the War. Its a long game, a very long game that the Cyberman are playing, getting their agents into top positions in the Earth Government, engineering a state of emergency so that Martial Law can be declared and so enabling President of Earth Karen Brett (Sarah Mowatt) to deploy “Special Commando Units” (Cybermen to you and me) in every city to keep order. Civil liberties are being eroded a tiny fraction at a time in the name of keeping the population safe, Special Commando Units reassure the public in their blank monotone that “there is nothing to fear” and we the listener knows that there really is everything to fear because the path that the earth government is following will lead to only one thing, total subjugation to the Cybermen.

 Cyberman 2 carries on where Cyberman 1 left off, Earth is under the control of the Cybermen but doesn’t even know it – but whereas part 1 concentrated on the leaders of society, President Brett, Commander in Chief Liam Barnaby, Head of Scorpius Paul Hunt  - Cyberman 2 has more of a focus on the ordinary people and the resistance to the stealth invasion by the Cybermen. Whilst the main players from Cyberman 1 are still part of the story, we also focus on Hazel Trahn (Jo Castleton) a taxi driver from the Midlands who witnesses the Cybermen clearing out the whole town of Stafford to “protect citizens from terrorism” and becomes a resistance fighter. The emphasis is more on the human effect of the Cybermen and how they view humans as raw materials to continue their race.

 This is a huge box set – the episodes themselves are almost 8 hours in total, adding the special features takes us up to the 9 hour mark, so plenty to get your listening teeth in to.

As large as the scale is this is a very character based drama with box set one dealing with the manipulation of President Brett by Paul Hunt (Barnaby Edwards). Let me talk a bit about Paul Hunt. Barnaby Edwards gives an astonishing performance as Hunt, the once head of Scorpius who is now the mouthpiece and puppet for the Cybermen in the Earth Administration, Hunt carefully stage manages everything, the puppet playing master puppeteer to the media and the public, gaining huge approval ratings for the more and more extreme but “necessary” curbs on civil liberties brought in – his discrediting of Commander in Chief Liam Barnaby (Mark McDonnell) friend and comrade of the President is worthy of Francis Urquhart of House of Cards infamy. We also get monologue from the main players regarding their thoughts and feelings about events as they occur which further add to the depth of character.

 It is an incredibly bleak set full of paranoia and misplaced patriotism based on hatred of the enemy Androids who really are just a mirror of humanity and the shocking cost that some humans are willing to pay for victory. There are no happy endings, no quick fixes, no real heroes or punch the air moments just a feeling of inevitability and frightening parallels with the times that we live in. Well paced over its 8 hours and compellingly acted – a cold brutal cautionary tale 8/10.

Written By Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

THIS EXCLUSIVE RELEASE IS ONLY AVAILABLE FROM THE BIG FINISH WEBSITE

“There Is Nothing To Fear…”

Mankind is fighting a long and costly war with its android creations in the Orion System. The deadlock must be broken at all costs. The President of Earth is offered an unthinkable strategy that cannot be refused.

Deep below the ocean, an ancient spaceship has been discovered. One that contains the remains of the great civilisation we could have been if we’d taken another path. A purer path…

Now the Scorpius strategy is in full operation. Silver legions stand impassive in every city; mankind has sacrificed its freedoms and a web of lies and deceit draws ever tighter. Only one choice remains – resist or surrender…

Written By: Nicholas Briggs & James Swallow
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast

Mark McDonnell (Liam Barnaby/Nash), Hannah Smith (Samantha Thorn/Computer),Barnaby Edwards (Paul Hunt/Comms), Sarah Mowatt (Karen Brett/Supervisor/Welsh Citizen), Ian Brooker (Yan/Hendry/Helliton/Glaust/Protestor/Karen’s Father/Commander/Security/Goran), Ian Hallard (Chessman), Toby Longworth(Levinson/Prime Riordan/Pilot/Public Address/Soldier/Captain/PA Voice/Policeman/Government Official/Studio Manager), Lizzie Hopley(Brinna/Secretary/Comp), Samantha Sanns (SSC Control/Comp/Helm/Operations Officer/Android/Nav Comp/Liam’s Comp/Refugee), Jo Castleton (Hazel Trahn),Andrew Dickens (Milo Taggart), Toby Hadoke (Louis Richter), Martin Trent(Merced), Cal Jaggers (Becca Trahn), Jess Robinson (Janice Webb), Stuart Crossman (The News) and Nicholas Briggs (The Cybermen/CyberPlanner/CyberLeader)

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REVIEW – THE TENTH DOCTOR ADVENTURES VOLUME 1

2008 was a very good year for Doctor Who – the highest viewing figures in the revived show, the number one rated show of the week for Journey’s End, in 2008 Doctor Who was THE show to watch, everyone watched it, but like all good things the team of Tennant & Tate who had been instrumental in this high water mark was soon at an end. Donna Noble’s story came to a tragic end, she suffered a fate ostensibly worse than death, she was robbed of all knowledge of her time with The Doctor and became the vacuous person she was before he had enlightened her, and in a heartbreaking end to the season, The Doctor is left on his own again. And that was that, a few more specials and the greatest and most successful era of Doctor Who was at an end, David Tennant bowed out on new years day 2010 and something special vanished from the world of Doctor Who, something it has never quite achieved again. The Doctor had lost his best friend in Donna Noble, and the audience had lost its best Doctor in David Tennant, and those glory days were gone forever. Not if Big Finish had anything to do with it they weren’t.

 Lets fast forward to 2015 – on an unassuming Monday in October 2015, this was announced and fandom has been holding its collective breath ever since. Would Ten & Donna work as audio, would David & Catherine recapture the magic of 2008, would the scripts do them justice? Read on dear listener because all these and many more questions will be answered (or rambled on about at great length)

The thing that makes the 2008 season  so special is the camaraderie between 10 & Donna, no romance, no sexual tension just friendship – a deep caring friendship which makes Donna’s fate all the more tragic – she genuinely loved her time with The Doctor, she learnt from being with him and grew as a person, she wanted to stay with him forever. Tennant & Tate had such chemistry that they have been cast together in Much Ado About Nothing as Benedic & Beatrice and as recently as April 2016 have presented “Shakespeare Live” together for the BBC – some actors just work well together and bring joy to the screen – Tennant & Tate are the personification of this. So, after eight years away from playing The Doctor and Donna how do they work on audio? Fire up your iPod (or CD player), put in disc one, close your eyes and immediately you are back in 2008 – yes indeed dear readers, its like season 4 never ended, the golden age is back, David Tennant is the Doctor travelling with Donna Noble and all is well with the world. This very special release is split into three stories.

 1.1 Technophobia by Matt Fitton

 The Doctor takes Donna a couple of years in to her future to visit London’s Technology Museum but something is wrong. Jill Meadows (Rachel Stirling) cannot use her tech, technology is attacking the populace, society is beginning to unravel as humans lose the ability to use technology – is it mass hysteria or is it all part of an alien plan? Reminiscent of the RTD era present day earth stories with rolling news, familiar settings and a threat that plays on our reliance on tech – this is a whizz-bang season opener and from their very first appearance The Doctor & Donna are back – utterly. Its like they have never been away. Donna is funny, sharp, witty and clever, whereas David is well, how do you describe 10? sublime? definitive? much missed? all of the above? It contains all the hallmarks of the Ten era, fast talking  wise cracking and a sense of joy that has been sorely lacking in modern Who since, well since 01 January 2010 really. Welcome back David, you have been missed.

 1.2 Time Reaver by Jenny T Colgan

 When the fluid links burn out in the TARDIS, the Doctor takes Donna to Calibris to see his old friend Soren (Alex Lowe) to get them replaced or repaired. Calibris is a spaceport, a stopping off point where crime is rife and everything has a price. Donna (in full “wench” outfit) is not impressed, she would much rather the Doctor had taken her to the “Planet of the boys” (not that such a place exists according to Ten) But all is not well on Calibris – as the alien Vacintians try to impose some sort of law & order to Calibri, the gangster Gully has come in to the possession of the most disturbing and horrific weapon in all creation – a Time Reaver, a weapon that can prolong the agony of death almost to an eternity. A very “noir” feeling episode, full of the usual 10 & Donna humour, but also with a darker undertone, there is a scene where I went cold as a phrase from season 4 is mentioned and the soliloquy by Ten in the last few seconds is heartbreaking, more so because we know his fate. Supporting cast are Who luminaries Terry Molloy and Dan Starkey who sound like they are having a ball, and why not the material and the rest of the cast demand that they do – a great mix of the tragic and the comic – never melancholy but tinged with the feeling of inevitability.

 1.3 Death and the Queen by James Goss

 Donna has met her Prince Charming. Literally. She has been swept off her feet by Prince Rudolph (Blake Ritson) Crown Prince and she is off home to his Castle to marry him. Problem is The Doctor has never ever heard of the country that he is Crown Prince of, and decides to follow Donna there……

What follow is  bit of a base-under-siege/romp of a story with Donna’s wedding being interrupted by an invasion from Death itself and an army of living Skeletons and dawning realisation of what Donna’s part in proceedings really is. Another wedding disaster for Donna ensues as The Doctor tries to work out the significance of an inscription on the flag and work out the actual price of 500 years of peace and harmony. Full of zingy dialogue and Donna-tastic one liners, Catherine Tate steals the show in this episode, it really is a vehicle for Donna to show what she is made of – and we are not left wanting.

 Three stories really are not enough, I could have listened to seven or eight more – and whilst I am overjoyed that the stories are being made it makes me all misty eyed and nostalgic for the glory days of 2008 and to extend that all too brief era even more through more releases from Big Finish. A very special release that perfectly captures the spirit, ethos and ambiance of 2008 – not a tribute or a nostalgia piece, a continuation of that era, the episode could quite easily have slotted in to the season – and coming from an RTD fan that is praise indeed. Undoubtedly a Ten (and Donna) out of Ten.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

THIS EXCLUSIVE, LIMITED EDITION RELEASE IS ONLY AVAILABLE FROM THE BIG FINISH WEBSITE

1.1 Technophobia by Matt Fitton

When the Doctor and Donna visit London’s Technology Museum for a glimpse into the future, things don’t go to plan.

The most brilliant IT brain in the country can’t use her computer. More worrying, the exhibits are attacking the visitors, while outside, people seem to be losing control of the technology that runs their lives.

Is it all down to simple human stupidity, or is something more sinister going on?

Beneath the streets, the Koggnossenti are waiting. For all of London to fall prey to technophobia…

1.2 Time Reaver by Jenny T Colgan

Calibris. The spaceport planet where anything goes. Where anyone who doesn’t want to be found can be lost, and where everything has its price. Where betentacled gangster Gully holds sway at the smugglers’ tavern, Vagabond’s Reach.

The alien Vacintians are trying to impose some order on the chaos. Soon the Doctor and Donna discover why. An illegal weapon is loose on the streets. A weapon that destroys lives… Slowly and agonisingly.

The Time Reaver.

1.3 Death and the Queen by James Goss

Donna Noble has never been lucky in love.

So when, one day, her Prince does come, she is thrilled to have the wedding of all weddings to look forward to. Though the Doctor isn’t holding his breath for an invitation. And her future mother-in-law is certainly not amused.

But on the big day itself, Donna finds her castle under siege from the darkest of forces, marching at the head of a skeleton army.

When it looks like even the Doctor can’t save the day, what will Queen Donna do to save her people from Death itself?

Limited to just 5,000 copies and available exclusively from bigfinish.com, this lavish book-sized box set includes exclusive artwork, photography, articles, a one-hour documentary featuring interviews with the stars and production team – alongside a bonus documentary examining the worlds of Doctor Who at Big Finish.

Written By: Matt Fitton, Jenny T Colgan, James Goss
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast

David Tennant (The Doctor), Catherine Tate (Donna Noble)

Technophobia

Niky Wardley (Bex), Rachael Stirling (Jill Meadows), Chook Sibtain (Brian), Rory Keenan (Kevin), Jot Davies (Lukas)

Time Reaver

Alex Lowe (Soren), Sabrina Bartlett (Cora), Terry Molloy (Rone), John Banks(Gully), Dan Starkey (Dorn)

Death and the Queen

Blake Ritson (Rudolph), Alice Krige (Queen Mum), Beth Chalmers (Hortense), Alan Cox (Death)

Other roles played by the cast

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REVIEW – VAMPIRE OF THE MIND

The second part of a trilogy is always difficult. The ground work has been laid in part one – we know we are building to an epic conclusion in part three. But Part two is difficult. It has to tell a story in its own right whilst sowing seeds for HUGE payoffs in the finale, have enough of a link to parts one and three and yet be its own entity.

 This is the dilemma that Vampire of the Mind faces and attacks it in a very different way. In fact it completely ignores the set up from “And You Will Obey Me” (review here) and hits the ground running as very much its own story. In fact if it were not advertised as part of the “Two Masters” trilogy it would be a very good standalone story and that is the way I will look at it for this review.

 “Techno-Thriller” is the phrase that comes to mind when listening to part one (available free here) and well worth a listen, it is also reminiscent of The Invasion – in fact the majority of the story has a very familiar very nostalgic feel but with a 2016 edge. Intrigued? then read on.

 The story begins with Old Sixie going to visit his old friend Professor Threadstone (John Standing) but finding out from his daughter Heather (Kate Kennedy) that he is missing having taken it upon himself to find several other eminent Scientists who have gone missing. The Doctor and Heather decide to investigate and all roads lead to the mysterious “Dominus Institute” which immediately set alarm bells ringing for The Doctor as Dominus is a latin word for “Master”. Getting themselves a place on the Dominus Institute sponsorship programme they head to the remote island castle that is the headquarters, a place that The Doctor thinks he has been to before….

 What elevates this story from a retread of the old glories of the Pertwee era is the performances of the main cast – Colin Baker & Kate Kennedy immediately spark as a Doctor/Companion pairing and then we have HIM – Alex Macqueen as The Master, the most spiteful, manipulative, embodiment of chaos – utterly cruel simply because he can be and seemingly at the very beginning of his regeneration so he really does not know who he is yet or what this incarnation is capable of – the suave calm of Delgado has been replaced by a supercilious sneer and an arrogant contempt. This man is dangerous, really dangerous and his plan requires The Doctor, or more specifically The Doctor’s mind.

 What starts as a techno thriller in part one progresses to a claustrophobic mystery in parts two and three and to a shocking ending in part four where, well, I will just have to let you listen for your selves – suffice to say, there is a link to the forthcoming finale to this trilogy – it will not make much sense at the moment, but I am hoping for an almighty payoff next month.

 This is a strong story, but maybe a little too familiar for my liking – taking many tropes of the UNIT era and transposing them to a modern day setting the nods to the past come thick and fast but are played in different ways than seasoned Whovians may expect keeping surprises, well, surprising – its a grim old tale, very dark and takes Old Sixie to one of the darkest places I have witnessed the character – his actions at the end of part four made me question whether he was bluffing or not – it was a very uncomfortable listen.

 Echoing the past with its plotting yet innovative with its characterisation. A dominating performance by Alex Macqueen and Colin Baker giving us even more layers to Old SIxie – I cannot wait to see how this pans out next month – 8/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

This title was released in May 2016. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until June 30th 2016, and on general sale after this date.

Somewhere off the South Coast of England, there’s a lonely island. On that island stands a solitary castle, long since abandoned – haunted, they say. But the truth is, that castle houses something far worse than mere ghosts.

The castle is what lies at the end of a trail followed by the Doctor in search of several missing scientists – all of them connected to the top secret Dominus Institute and its elusive CEO, Sir Andrew Gobernar…

But the Doctor will soon discover that he’s the one being haunted, by a ghost from his past… or perhaps, his future.

Written By: Justin Richards
Directed By: Jamie Anderson

Cast

Colin Baker (The Doctor), Alex Macqueen (The Master), John Standing (Professor Threadstone), Kate Kennedy (Heather Threadstone), Neil Edmond(Boatman/Guard/Blank), Catriona Knox (Landlady/Blank), Elliot Levey(Gobernar/Blank). Other parts portrayed by members of the cast.

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

BUY YOUR COPY HERE

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REVIEW – GALLERY OF GHOULS

Waxworks are odd things – I really don’t see the attraction. Facsimiles of the great and the good (and sometimes the feral and the foul) cast in wax and placed in an exhibition for the paying public to look at and take photographs with, it just seems a bit bizarre to me. But as actual objects, Waxworks are an excellent Horror Story device – the too shiny skin, the too perfect hair & teeth, the slightly too piercing eyes – there is something wrong about them. Like a really excellent cover version of a song you enjoy, its not quite right and slightly unnerving. Look at the use of Waxworks in Pertwee’s debut Spearhead from Space or the numerous Horror films of the 1950’s and 1960’s like House of Wax and its ilk. Creepy, unnerving, WRONG.

 Which brings me on to this months 4th Doctor release, and in case you were wondering it does feature a Waxworks. In fact it features two.

The Fourth Doctor (more by luck than judgement) has brought Romana II to Brighton in 1833 – its only 18 years until the Pavilion opens so he decides to wait. On a deckchair. On the beach. For 18 Years – yes indeed dear readers, we are in gloriously silly Season 17 territory – and whilst the Doctor works out how to put up a deckchair for his 18 year wait, Romana decides on a grand tour of Europe visiting the great and the good of the era. That is until on her way from the beach she discovers Madame Tissot’s Waxworks Exposition and persuades the Doctor to accompany her to visit it.

 Madam Tissot (Celia Imrie) owns Brighton’s premiere Waxworks Exposition – she is expecting a Royal Visit from  the King’s sister tomorrow. Surely nothing can go wrong. Surely the arrival of the Fourth Doctor and Romana will not hail mayhem and disaster and a bizarre series of events????

 What follows is a series of bizarre events involving mayhem, disaster, the theft of the head of Waxwork Marie Antoinette, the introduction of rival Waxworks owner Mr Goole (Nickolas Grace) the delightfully named “Goole’s Gallery” and the revelation that The Doctor has a diploma in firefighting awarded to him by “Pugh, Pugh, Barney, McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grub” – (surely worth the entry fee in its own right?)

 Tom is on fire delivering some of the best “silly Tom” lines – marvel at his lecture from the diorama of the death of Nelson at Madam Tissot’s Exposition, Thrill to his prepared final speech where he leaves his stamp collection to Romana and marvel at how he messes with the air conditioning in the TARDIS at a very important moment. All pure Tom gold.

Lalla Ward has the haughty Romana 2 off to a tee – she does not suffer fools at all, let alone gladly, which makes you wonder why she is with the zany Fourth Doctor at all!

 This story is very much a pastiche of the waxworks horror sub genre of horror – but unlike the Hinchcliffe era stories that took (and take) themselves very seriously, this one is delightfully silly and played for its comedy while still containing a very exciting plot. This, like the Season 17 that inspired it is more about larger than life characters and actors “giving a turn” and being allowed to chew the scenery – and long may it continue.

 Full of fruity acting, wonderful dialogue and a plot that whilst taking a back seat to the performances it inspires is edge of seat stuff this is the best 4th Doctor release so far this year and can proudly sit alongside The Horns of Nimon & The Creature From the Pit in Season 17. A fun and fruity  9/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

This title was released in May 2016. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until June 30th 2016, and on general sale after this date.

When the TARDIS lands in Brighton the Doctor and Romana have the chance to spend some time at the seaside. But with it being too early for the opening of the Pavilion, they have to look elsewhere for their entertainment – perhaps Madame Tissot’s travelling waxworks, recently arrived in town?

But they’re not the only ones interested in her Exposition. When an unusual thief commits an unusual theft, the time travellers are on the case.

What exactly is the sinister secret of Goole’s Gallery? Is Tissot’s heading for a meltdown? And what does it all have to do with the head of Marie Antoinette?

Written By: Alan Barnes
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), Celia Imrie (Madame Tissot),Nickolas Grace (Goole), Stephen Critchlow (Noni)

BUY YOUR COPY HERE

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REVIEW – TORCHWOOD: GHOST MISSION

How are you selected to join Torchwood? Gwen Cooper seemed to just get in via sheer tenacity (and the death of Suzie Costello, remember that name…..) but it didn’t seem to be a job that you applied for, more a job you were selected for, it seemed to need the right sort of person. One of the supporting cast in Torchwood was the ever lovable PC Andy Davidson (Tom Price), he was Gwen’s colleague when she was a Police Officer and her contact in the Police when she joined Torchwood, he crept up from time to time and kept Gwen grounded – he was a lovely audience identification figure and PC Andy, or Sergeant Andy as he is now is the subject of this months Torchwood release – because today is Andy Davidson’s assessment day – the 21st Century is where everything changes and Sgt Andy Davidson has to be ready.

 Ever grounded, ever loyal and a genuine nice guy. Going about his duty to the people and city of Cardiff, stoic, sensible and utterly decent – just the sort of person Torchwood need. Surely…..

We encounter Andy having a cuppa at his favourite cafe and he is about to pluck up the courage to talk to a girl he sees there every day when his world completely changes and he encounters the delightfully camp and wonderfully urbane Norton Folgate (Samuel Barnett) a Torchwood assessor sent forward in time from the 1950’s to assess Andy’s suitability for joining the “new Torchwood”. Andy’s mission is to investigate a spill of an alien chemical agent all the while being assessed and commented on by the intangible Norton. This is a story where the audience almost know more than the characters, that is IF you have been following the series from the beginning. References to “the Committee” will be lost on listeners who have not followed the whole range but will bring out the requisite “oohs and ahhs” from long time listeners and get the old grey cells working overtime to try and get one step ahead of Andy & Norton, to work out what is REALLY going on and what Norton Folgate’s role in all this really is. If you are listening as a stand alone this is a great “buddy movie” of the type that is becoming the house style of Cardiff based stories in the Torchwood range – Andy the fish out of water paired with an urbane ghost is a genuine odd couple and throughout the events of the story they really do surprise each other. This is a story that whilst working as a stand alone works better as an ongoing mystery – who are the Committee, what do they want with Torchwood, why are they in Cardiff – all left hanging at the end of the story. The ending actually is very sweet and very low key and warmed the heart of this old romantic.

 As interesting as the story is, the “Cardiff Buddy movie” formula is becoming a little too familiar, maybe Andy’s next outing will see him more involved with the whole Committee Conspiracy as this release does fell like we are building to something. The story is full of Welsh humour and being typically Welsh Andy is not fazed or particularly impressed with the aliens or the “ruling Torchwood Committee” that he meets, treating them all like he treats drunken valley boys & girls early on a Sunday morning initially to Norton’s amazement, latterly impressing him with the technique.

 As a reintroduction of Sgt Andy its a great character piece – his personality is endearing and he really does get the listener rooting for him on his assessment which he CENSORED FOR SPOILERS.

My only slight niggle is that a “house style” seems to have developed, its a very good house style and is a great way to get two disparate characters together in a way that they HAVE to interact to get a job done. Its the 21st century and Sgt Andy is ready – I am not qualified to assess him on his Torchwood application, I will leave that to Norton Folgate, but I assess their adventure as 8/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

Sergeant Andy Davidson has always wanted to join Torchwood. And now he finally gets his chance.

Under the strict observation of his Torchwood Assessor, Andy sets out to prove he’s got what it takes. When a chemical spill turns out to have serious consequences, when monsters roam the Bay, and when an ancient entity awakes, Andy decides he could do with a helping hand. The problem is his Torchwood Assessor doesn’t have any hands. Norton Folgate is a ghost.

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

Written By: James Goss
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Cast

Tom Price (Sergeant Andy Davidson), Samuel Barnett (Norton Folgate), David Warner (OAP), Lisa Bowerman (Quite Anxious Shopper), Laura Doddington andAaron Neil (The Graces)

Producer: James Goss

Script Editor: Steve Tribe

Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery, Nicholas Briggs

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REVIEW – JAGO & LITEFOOT SERIES 11

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

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

 1. Jago and Son by Nigel Fairs

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

 2. Maurice by Matthew Sweet

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

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

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

 4. Masterpiece by Justin Richards

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

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

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

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

1. Jago and Son by Nigel Fairs

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

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

2. Maurice by Matthew Sweet

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

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

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

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

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

4. Masterpiece by Justin Richards

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

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

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

Cast

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

Producer David Richardson

Script Editor Justin Richards

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

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PEARL MACKIE ANNOUNCED AS THE NEW COMPANION

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

Pearl Mackie said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Capaldi said:

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

Showrunner Steven Moffat adds:

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

Charlotte Moore, Acting Director of Television, said:

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

Pearl Mackie

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

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REVIEW – THE CURSE OF THE FUGUE

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

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

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

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

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

Written By: Alice Cavander
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Sheridan Smith (Narrator)

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NEW COMPANION TEASER TRAILER

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REVIEW – NIGHTSHADE

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

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

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

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

Written by Ed Watkinson

SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

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

CAST:

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

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

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

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REVIEW – AND YOU WILL OBEY ME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Ed Watkinson

SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

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

Apparently.

CAST:

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

Written By: Alan Barnes
Directed By: Jamie Anderson

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

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