REVIEW – THE HAUNTING OF MALKIN PLACE

Question: what looks like 1980 but feels like 1975?
Answer: The Haunting of Malkin Place.
Put simply – the cover tells us this is a 1980 story – Burgundy coat for Tom, star field round his face, Romana the second by his side, but absolutely EVERYTHING else screams HINCHCLIFFE. The setting, the sound design, the plotting. There isn’t a Bidmeadian innovation apparent, not charged vacuum emboitmments, no creeping entropy, no chronic hysteresis, just a darned good spooky yarn.

We catch up with the Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana (Lalla Ward) relaxing at the Doctor’s house on Baker Street and an ensuing discussion regarding the novel The Turn of the Screw coupled with a noise in the attic which the Doctor has been warned NOT to investigate at any cost leads them to try and track down the author M R James and discuss his character motivation in The Turn of the Screw. “Another celebrity historical” was my first thought, but The Haunting of Malkin Place is nothing of the sort, The Doctor and Romana don’t get to meet M R James at all but are drawn in to a real life haunting.

Set in 1922 with Britain still in shock from the human tragedy that was World War One Maurice (Gunnar Cauthery) and his sister Beatrice (Fiona Sheehan) have inherited Malkin Place from their recently departed father and are suffering hauntings – children cry doors slam, crockery breaks and on top of all of this Maurice is riddled with survivors guilt from his time in the trenches of France in the war. The Doctor and Romana meet with Spiritualist Talbot (Simon Jones) and his young ward Tom (Rikki Lawton) who has been called in by Beatrice to try to exorcise the ghosts of Malkin Place and decide that that is a much more interesting prospect than meeting M R James and decide to accompany them.

What follows is text book ghost story – seances, unexplained noises, people disappearing, flying objects and a secret that is revealed to be the key to the goings on in Malkin Place.
Lalla Ward as Romana is deliciously offhand and haughty at the mere prospect of the though of ghosts being real whilst Simon Jones as Talbot is genuine in his calling as a spiritualist, but it is the scenes between The Doctor and Maurice that really steal the show adding an emotional depth and maturity to the story, giving the setting the respect and gravitas it deserves whilst simultaneously adding to and resolving the plot. If this story is about anything then it is about letting go and grief and being allowed to grieve – a deep story dressed up as a ghost story with all the actors taking their roles seriously and nobody (not even Tom) “giving a turn” (although having said that the fourth Doctor with a moustache would be a sight to behold :-) )

It is fitting in many ways that the main resolution of the story reflects the story itself – something not quite of its time but something rather special, an excellent addition to the Fourth Doctor range and a well deserved 9/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

Whilst on the way to visit the birthplace of MR James, a chance encounter with a spiritualist on a train sends the Doctor and Romana on the trail of a ghost. It’s the most convincing case of haunting he’s ever heard of, he tells them. And so, on their arrival, does it appear to be.

Things go bump in the night at Malkin Place. The voice of a crying child. Birds bursting into flight. Strange movements in a seance.

The Doctor is determined there must be a rational explanation. But is science always the answer to everything?

Written By: Phil Mulryne
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), Simon Jones (Talbot), Denise Black (Mrs Mountford), Gunnar Cauthery(Maurice), Fiona Sheehan (Beatrice), Rikki Lawton (Tom), Phil Mulryne (Jack).

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

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REVIEW – VORTEX ICE/CORTEX FIRE

OK, so you have the “double bills” trilogy, one double bill featuring Doctor’s Five, Six and Seven respectively. You begin the trilogy with a Fifth Doctor pairing an old fashioned very trad story and a more experimental story. How then do you approach Old Sixie? How do you do something new and exciting and take him into new frontiers with this new format? Big Finish have not taken the easy route and here they have gone very “cinematic” if that is the correct word, two relatively short stories with huge imagination, huge ambition and huge scope, by that I mean these are stories have impact on the Doctor (Colin Baker) and Flip (Lisa Greenwood).

Everything oozes class and polish, the sound design is perfect, the sense of urgency and the impact that the characters have on the events is has an importance brought to the fore that is sometimes lacking and unlike last months releases these two stories do not have an obvious link but share certain thematic similarities regarding fatalism and time. Yes our old friend time. Regular readers of my ramblings will know I am not a fan at all of the “timey-wimey” style of storytelling, if there is one thing I don’t like it is a “cheat” ending. The first of these stories “Vortex Ice” is a time travel based story, but not an obvious one and not an obvious story to blow me away. But it did….

Vortex Ice by Jonathan Morris

What starts and ends in a cave in Mexico? Short answer is Vortex Ice does. The route it takes to get there however is a very very long one involving lots of death, explosions, A cybernetic octopus and a rather fatalistic and real approach to the hazards of time travel. If I say too much I will spoil the story but suffice to say that Vortex Ice requires multiple listens to appreciate the complexities of the story telling – not in the “look how clever I am “ style the TV series sometimes has but a to notice how all the pieces of this aural jigsaw fit together so perfectly. The nearest big screen comparison I can think of is the film “Memento” ( if you have not seen it it is well worth a few hours of your time) as it has the same puzzle mentality with layers being peeled away as the listener (in the case of Vortex Ice) gets drawn deeper in to the proceedings. It is (On first listen) a very confusing story, things seem to happen for no apparent reason (they don’t there is a reason) and when you get to that critical mass of information point and penny drops as to what you have just been listening to you will feel rewarded. The star of this story is undoubtedly Lisa Greenwood as Flip Jackson who has really come in to her own as Old Sixie’s companion and the only little hint I will give you is “follow Flip”. This is a wonderful way to spend an hour of your time, the story falls fully formed and does not need to be longer than two parts it just works as it is. It needs active listening and demands a lot from the listener but is an immensely rewarding listen.

Cortex Fire by Ian Potter

Thematically if not literally following Vortex Ice is the second of the double bill – Cortex Fire. On the surface a far more traditional Doctor Who story. Under the surface it is nothing of the sort. Arriving on the planet Festin the Doctor has brought Flip to see the Opera and a cosmic light show that will put the Aurora Borealis to shame but are soon caught up in a race to save every man woman and child on Festin from a collective “Urge” to die facilitated by the all powerful computer The Cortex. Fatalism again counterpointed by the enthusiasm and urge to live that the Doctor and Flip bring to the party. So dressed up as a traditional Who story we are shown a Blade Runner-esque world (complete with corresponding Vangelis-like soundtrack) in which the populace are living in fear of terrorists known as “nihilists” who are being blamed for the wave of spontaneous combustion. But the truth is far more terrible and the culture of the planet has a lot to answer for….
It ought to be a very depressing listen but it really isn’t and this is down to the way that the story is presented – a society who’s culture and heritage leads the population to unconsciously want to die is a huge concept and is handled very well in the short running time of the story – and then there is the way that The Doctor (inevitably) saves the day and the sacrifice that he makes – the final scene between Old Sixie and Flip as they discuss how long he has really been away is genuinely moving.

An excellent double bill that will have something for everyone and a lot more if you want to delve a bit deeper under the skin of the story. I like a story that makes me think and these two have given me ample food for thought and a lot of enjoyment. I think these are stories I will be revisiting again in the near future and I think I will hear something fresh and new on my relisten. Fatalism, Frost & Fire all add up to a well deserved 10/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

Vortex Ice by Jonathan Morris

In search of ‘exotic particles’, the Doctor and Flip arrive 700 feet underground, in a mine in Northern Mexico – only to run into a scientific expedition. Among their number, an exobiologist. They’re all on the hunt for alien life! Deep underground, the team finally uncovers a cave of vast crystals – like ice, despite the heat. And inside the crystal: something frozen. Something trapped in time. If only it were something simple, like a monster. But it’s far, far worse than that.

Cortex Fire by Ian Potter

The Doctor brings Flip to the futuristic city of Festin, the best vantage point to witness a unique astronomical light show. In a city governed by the all-powerful network known as the Cortex, they’re soon identified as outsiders – nihilists, perhaps, responsible for a wave of terror that’s been sweeping the city… But the truth is different. The people of Festin are burning up. Spontaneously combusting. And no-one knows why.

Written By: Jonathan Morris, Ian Potter
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

Colin Baker (The Doctor), Lisa Greenwood (Flip), Shobu Kapoor (Sai Chopra), Orlando Seale (Dylan Argent), Monty D’Inverno (Jannik Woolf), Rebecca Todd (Khoralla), Simon Dylan-Kane (Halus), Eve Webster (Bav/ Cortex/ Enforcer). Other parts played by members of the cast.

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

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REVIEW – THE NINTH DOCTOR CHRONICLES

How do you tell do you tell a Ninth Doctor story without the man that brought the Ninth Doctor to life? There are two possible answers to this question. the firs is “you don’t” the second is you get Nick Briggs to narrate the part, because Mr Briggs gives good Eccleston. Not an impersonation as such but a capturing of the essence of the character all his sadness his flashes of joy at the smallest things because this was a Doctor looking for a reason to carry on, for a meaning to make everything matter again – and he found it in one Rose Tyler.

2005 were heady times, Doctor Who was back, the same show we had always loved but a little bit more emotionally mature, with better characterisation and with the man himself Christopher Eccleston. It cannot be understated how much of a factor in the success of “Nu-Who” Eccleston was – he took the character of the Doctor, stripped away all the extraneous nonsense – the scarves, the question marks, the celery etc and played The Doctor, and what a tour de force performance. For thirteen short weeks he was the man, and this box set revisits those days of Nine and Rose and Jackie and Adam and celebrity historicals and Mickey and (well you get the drift).

So no Mr Eccleston reprising the role (boo!) but a “Fantastic” Mr Briggs capturing his very soul in the performance he gives (yay) and these four stories really do capture the spirit of 2005. Not conventional full cast pieces, more in the style of Companion Chronicles where Nick Briggs narrates with one other guest actor playing the part of a principal character in the proceedings each of them touch on a specific theme from the all too brief Ninth Doctor era, loss and regret for the Time War, Celebrity Historical, the Rose/Doctor relationship and contemporary earth on the Powell estate, so lets begin with the first story:

1. The Bleeding Heart by Cavan Scott

A reoccurring theme for the Ninth Doctor era was his quest for inner peace after the atrocities of the Time War and where better to begin his quest than Galen, the renowned “planet of peace”. This is a story set prior to the events of Rose with a battle scarred Doctor becoming involved in a peace initiative between two warring races, but unfortunately death is the Doctor’s constant companion and the delegates to the conference begin to be picked off, murdered horribly – Can the Doctor ever escape the horrors of the Time War and the weapons that were forged in that terrible conflict. We see a Doctor desperate to be good again, he even has a one off companion in the guise of journalist Adriana Jardsel (Claire Wyatt) who sees him for the man he is. Its a bleak beginning, or perhaps it is an ending and the gateway to a new future for Number Nine.

2. The Window on the Moor by Una McCormack

And now we are in the Eccleston era proper with an celebrity historical – the celebrity in this case is Emily Bronte (Laura Riseborough) who has viewed the “window on the moor” of the title since she was a child and helps those that pass through to find other windows. Set on two worlds on the other side of portals opened by a mad usurper – The Doctor and Rose become embroiled in a civil war set in a world of glass prisons  - the armies are using the windows as a short cut between different parts of the reality but could the story of a usurped leader and his fiancee be the inspiration for Emily Bronte’s Withering Heights? Rose has heard the song but not read the book – The Doctor is appalled :-)
Very “2005” in its sensibilities, the story is fast paced and has an emotional heart and has the “love conquers all” vibe that the new series was proud to wear as a badge of honour.

3. The Other Side by Scott Handcock

Adam is Davros! screamed the chatrooms and forums of 2005 (also Norman Lovett was playing Davros – he wasnt and he didn’t) But Adam Mitchell (Bruno Langley of Todd Grimshaw fame) was a second companion for a very short time of the Ninth Doctor and this story takes place right after “Dalek”. The Doctor is trying to get Adam home but ends up in an abandoned cinema. In Birmingham. A cinema that is host to a phenomenon that is slowly eating the cinema – a temporal tsunami is happening and with the Doctor trapped in late Victorian times and Rose Tyler trapped in the 1920’s it is up to Adam Mitchell to prove his worth as part of team TARDIS 2005! Fast paced, urgent and having all the things that the Eccleston era is remembered for – the bond between Nine and Rose, time war guilt, a contemporary setting – this story hits the ground running and doesn’t give up. There is a truly “cold shivers” moment when Nine & Rose finally meet up again in the 1920’s after a temporal phone call and Bruno Langley shows us what Adam might have been capable of if he had been allowed more screen time. Highlight of the set? I think so.

4. Retail Therapy by James Goss

How can you have a Ninth Doctor set without the unmissable Jackie Tyler. Short answer is “you can’t” even better when the wonderful Camille Coduri reprises her role in a tale of a pyramid scheme that is literally draining the life away from the residents of the Powell estate and other similar housing projects. You see Jackie Tyler has made a success of herself, she is one of the top seller of “Glubby Glubs” the latest craze (and a steal at only £19.99) pick one up and stroke it and all your troubles sort of fade away, they give you good nights sleep and are even making Jackie look younger. The Doctor isn’t impressed, he thinks Jackie has inadvertently launched an alien invasion from her living room, but Jackie is only interested in her profit and buying a villa in Spain….
Peel away the almost camp exterior and this is quite a nasty little thriller, a parable of capitalism draining the life from consumers, who then want to buy more which then drains them some more and so on and so on. You have to LOVE Camille Coduri who slips back in to the role of Jackie as if it was still 2005.

A lovely box set that makes me feel all nostalgic (cant believe the noughties arena nostalgia) and lovingly recreates and expands on the beginnings of the rebirth of a TV legend. Cant praise Nick Briggs enough both for his narrations and his extraordinary Eccleston and I really hope we get some more either in box sets like this or as Short Trips.
Not perfect, some of the stories are rather long, but a great listen and whilst not quite a Nine, a very good 8/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

Four new stories from the Ninth Doctor’s era, performed by Nicholas Briggs. Featuring Bruno Langley as Adam Mitchell and Camille Coduri as Jackie Tyler.

1. The Bleeding Heart by Cavan Scott

Galen is a place where people come to heal. The renowned ‘planet of peace’ seems the ideal venue for talks between two warring races. But when death disrupts the diplomacy, Cosmic Nine news reporter Adriana Jarsdel uncovers a different story. Luckily, someone is there to help. A battle-weary veteran from another war. The Doctor has come to Galen – but is he looking for peace, or something else entirely?

2. The Window on the Moor by Una McCormack

Emily and her sisters once told each other fables of warring kingdoms: wicked princes, noble dukes, and their battling armies. Now she wanders the moors of her childhood alone, remembering those tales. The TARDIS arrives amid a strange civil war, with prisons made of glass and cities stalked by terrifying beasts. As windows open between worlds, stories and storyteller meet, and Rose comes face to face with Emily Brontë.

3. The Other Side by Scott Handcock

Rose has invited a new friend on board the TARDIS, against the Doctor’s better judgement. But when the Time Lord tries to take his unwelcome guest home, a temporal tsunami cuts the journey short. The travellers find the source of the disturbance inside an abandoned cinema. Will Adam Mitchell help or hinder when the Doctor and Rose discover what is lurking on the other side of the screen?

4. Retail Therapy by James Goss

Jackie Tyler is a success. Every home should have a Glubby Glub, and Jackie is star saleswoman on the Powell Estate. At last, she’s found her calling and it’s only a matter of time before she can give Rose the life she deserves. But the Doctor isn’t impressed. Jackie Tyler isn’t just filling peoples’ houses with useless clutter. He believes she’s launching an alien invasion…

Written By: Cavan Scott, Una McCormack, Scott Handcock and James Goss
Directed By: Helen Goldwyn

Cast

Nicholas Briggs (Narrator),  Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Bruno Langley (Adam Mitchell), Claire Wyatt (Adriana Jarsdel), Laura Riseborough (Emily Brontë). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producers: David Richardson & Scott Handcock
Script Editor Matt Fitton
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

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REVIEW – DARK SHADOWS: DREAMS OF LONG AGO

Dark Shadows has, as I have stated on several occasions an Autumnal feel about it. something of the loss of innocence, the world becoming just that little colder and darker. Something that makes you want to get to the safety of your own home and to be with your loved ones and hold them just that little bit closer and the title of the latest Dark Shadows anthology “Dreams of Long Ago” does nothing to dispel that feeling, it enhances it and creates an anticipation of lost loves, missed opportunities and lives wasted. And if that is what you are expecting then you will not be disappointed.

This release is a slow burner, very character based and very intimate as we get insights into the lives of four protagonists – Sabrina Jennings, Quentin Collins, Barnabas Collins and Sebastian Shaw. All the stories are stand alone, they take place in different places at different times but the ambiance of each individual story knit together very well making this feel like a cohesive set of tales that really do belong together.

The Reflected Man by Alan Ronald

Sabrina Jennings has lost everything, she works as a waitress in New York and exists from day to day mourning the loss of her husband Chris. And then she catches a reflection in a train windows and sees something in her mirror. But is this all just wishful thinking or is it the closure she has been denied? This being Dark Shadow it really could be either. Lisa Richards paints a picture in words of a cold grey New York and a desperate woman in Sabrina Jennings – the story really is a study in grief and much more powerful for being a personal account and not a full cast drama. A strong beginning.

Old Acquaintance by Matthew Waterhouse

Yes it is THAT Matthew Waterhouse (of Adric fame if you don’t already know) who has penned this one, a Quentin Collins story set on a cold New Years Eve in Collinsport where the Collins family decide to go for a quiet drink at the Blue Whale. Surely that isn’t much to ask? In the world of Dark Shadows it seems it is as Quentin is haunted by the memories of a New Years Eve he spent in Wales during World War 1, where he was introduced to the myth of the Mari Lwyd (the “Grey Mare”), because legends and traditions don’t get forgotten, they get lost until they are needed again, and on the cusp of 1972 The Mari Lwyd has come back for Quentin…..
Almost a story within a story as just as the Mari Lwyd appears in Collinsport we are transported back in Quentin’s memory to Wales. As a child in school I learned of the myth of Mari Lwyd so its lovely to have Welsh myths and legends mined for Dark Shadows and done to such creepy effect by the writing of Matthew Waterhouse and the performance of David Selby.

Devil’s Rock by Kate Webster

Possibly, no actually, the most straightforward tale in the set, this has a definite beginning middle and end and tells of Barnabas Collins and his servant Willie Loomis on a voyage to Jaipur to meet up with Dr Julia Hoffman – but things don’t always go to plan and Willie’s streak of decency in wanting to bury a corpse they come across on the Devil’s Rock leads to disaster. Andrew Collins reads this story about a fishing village with a secret. The story is quite predictable but is very pacy. Perhaps a little too straightforward and lacking the depth of the other stories in the collection this still has a melancholic feeling, it feels like this is the end of Willie Loomis devotion to Barnabas and that the actual story is just a backdrop for this.

Cobwebs by Aaron Lamont

This is a very very different story, even by Dark Shadows standards – its almost like listening to a waking nightmare. Sebastian Shaw is an inmate at Windcliff Sanitarium. But he is alone, no Doctors, no Nurses just his own room and a Spider spinning away in the corner. Is he awake or is he asleep, is he dreaming of this hell or is it really happening to him? And is there a way out? There is nothing more frightening than having your grasp on reality challenged, and that is what Sebastian is suffering in Windcliff – but he really isn’t sure what form that his reality takes, so maybe he just better listen to the Spider on his wall who will make everything alright. What harm can it do? An ambiguous, challenging and tough listen and a very good piece of acting and sound design end this set on a gruesome high.

A mood piece if ever there was one, Dreams of Long Ago gets under the skin (especially Cobwebs) and paints pictures of longing and loss and myth and murder. Another great Dark Shadows release and a well deserved 8/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

Four tales of horror, romance and intrigue…

The Reflected Man by Alan Ronald

Sabrina Jennings is broken. Her husband is dead and her life means nothing. Alone in the city of New York she believes that her life can’t get any worse. But she is about to discover that there’s always something darker… hiding in the darkness…

Old Acquaintance by Matthew Waterhouse

New Years Eve, 1971 and Quentin Collins is celebrating in the Blue Whale. But something is coming for him… Something he first met in a Welsh village in 1914. Will the people of Collinsport survive to see 1972?

Devil’s Rock by Kate Webster

Barnabas Collins and Willie Loomis are beginning a journey. A journey that they hope will lead them to their old friend, Julia Hoffman. But, on this night, they are about to discover that Collinsport isn’t the only town in Maine to have a dark, terrible secret.

Cobwebs by Aaron Lamont

Something is very wrong at Windcliff Sanitarium. Sebastian Shaw wakes from a nightmare, alone. There are no doctors… no nurses… just a tiny little spider weaving its web on his wall. And outside, in the hospital corridors, the Burned Man is calling for him again.

Written By: Matthew Waterhouse, Kate Webster, Alan Ronald, Aaron Lamont
Directed By: David Darlington, Jim Pierson

Cast

Lisa Richards, David Selby, Andrew Collins, Christopher Pennock and Brendan O’Rourke

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REVIEW – TORCHWOOD: CORPSE DAY

In life there are some things that you enjoy and some things that you appreciate. Corpse Day falls in to the latter category – as a work of dramatic fiction it is well written, has believable characters in an apalling situation and it has some sort of redemption, some gleam, a small glimmer that life is better than “this”. As a story Corpse Day takes the listener to the darkest, most depraved, most dangerous place Torchwood has ever been – it takes us to a house in Cardiff. An ordinary every day house inhabited by a man who is anything but ordinary and every day. Owen Harper (Burn Gorman) and PC Andy Davidson (Tom Price) are about to enter the world of Glynn Lewis and no one will ever be the same again. Not Owen, not Andy, not the listener and not Glynn’s “Family”. No One.

 Intriguing isnt it, and a strange title in “Corpse Day” too, I could quite work out what the story was going to be about and the synopsis gave very little away so I will try to maintain the veil of secrecy whilst giving you a little flavour of the proceedings. Corpse Day is a day in which a regular Police Officer gets to liaise with Torchwood on cold cases and the case Andy has in mind is one of young girls going missing. Andy is enthusiastic really up for working with Torchwood, Owen is bored, cynical and ready to quit from the outset and blame everything on the Rift. And then they get a lead and this lead is the seemingly odd shopping habits of one Glynn Lewis, and this seemingly innocuous fact will change them forever.

 When Mrs W and I watch The Walking Dead together we always say the Zombies cant help being Zombies, its what they do – its the human cruelty that we find difficult to stomach – and it is fair to say that Corpse Day falls in to that category. With all the horrors that the rift brings to Cardiff, the most awful thing that Torchwood have faced has been in Cardiff all his life. There is nothing more frightening than human beings – because as fantastical as Torchwood is, the events in this story could almost conceivable happen – and they probably have and THAT is the most awful thing, that a human being could do to others what Glynn visits upon his “family”. And that is all I am going to say about that.

 As I said at the beginning there are some things you enjoy and some things you appreciate – in Corpse Day that has never been truer. James Goss gets the dynamic between Owen & Andy perfect and over the course of the drama they have their souls laid bare making terrible decisions that no one should ever have to make and what began as a jaunty “Cardiff Buddy Movie” ends in something altogether more than the sum of its parts. The seeds planted in act one are not the crop harvested in the final act, they are so far away from the seeds as to be another species altogether. It is a tightly written, claustrophobic piece that is totally unpredictable, the subject matter is difficult and challenging and the amount of character development we see from the leads is startling. I didn’t “enjoy” it – Corpse Day isn’t a piece to be enjoyed, but as a challenging drama then boy did I appreciate it. 9/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

Glynn Lewis is just putting up a spice rack when there’s a knock at the door. A knock that will bring a brutal end to his perfect family.

PC Andy is very excited. It’s Corpse Day – the day when the local constabulary get help on dead cases from Torchwood. This year, he’s volunteered to act as liaison, and he knows he’s going to have a brilliant time.

For Dr Owen Harper, today’s just like any other. There’ll be bloodshed, screaming and murder. At the end of it all, he doesn’t care. After all, life’s just for the living, and he’s long dead.

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

Written By: James Goss
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Cast

Burn Gorman (Owen Harper), Tom Price (Andy Davidson), Hannah Maddox (Angela), Alex Tregear (Jan), Nigel Betts (Glynn), Oliver Mason (Sonny), Rhian Blundell (Marta), Aly Cruickshank (Desk Sergeant), Charlotte O’Leary (Waitress)

Producer James Goss

Script Editor Steve Tribe

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

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REVIEW – PATHFINDER LEGENDS – CURSE OF THE CRIMSON THRONE – 3.4 A HISTORY OF ASHES

And so the story continues as our heroes Valeros (Stewart Alexander), Ezren (Trevor Littledale), Harsk (Ian Brooker) and Merisiel (Kerry Skinner) vow to overthrow the evil Queen of Korvosa – and she really is a bad lot is old Queen Illeosa, not only engineering the murder of her husband, but instigating a plague in the city and then declaring a quarantine all the while building up her support, declaring martial law and putting her fanatical followers the Grey Maidens in charge of the army. A thoroughly reprehensible human being.

 But as our heroes found out in last months episode “Escape From Old Korvosa” the Queen isn’t quite the woman she was and is using artefacts from a long dead Dragon to make her invincible and in this months instalment “A History of Ashes” out heroes venture out into the Cinderlands to seek a tribe who can help them in their quest to defat Illeosa before it is too late.

 Last months story seemed claustrophobic and meandering, it lacked the pace of the first two instalments and really dragged in places, this months is different – freed from the city based setting this is a race against time with not only the respect of the Cinderlands tribesmen to earn, but a pack of assassins sent by the tyrant Queen to avoid and as such the story zips along from encounter to encounter. As with previous instalments I can just imagine tensely playing out the encounters in my long past table-top role playing days, rolling dice and hoping for a good outcome, hatching plots to stealthily take out assassins and coming up with an insane plan to ingratiate myself with the tribesmen of the Cinderlands. But NO plan I could come up with is as insane as the one hatched in the story. It involves a giant Wyrm, getting eaten by it and fighting a way out. That is crazy, utterly mad – but in the context of the story it works and it works well.

 The whole episode has a cohesive narrative and everything that happens furthers the plot and there is a great ending where clues are given as to how the Queen can be defeated and the location of the mythical weapons needed to do this.

 Pure old fashioned “boys own” adventure from beginning to end with  liberal doses of peril and bravado mixed with some quiet mysticism and plot exposition – its not Shakespeare, but does it need to be? This is a highly entertaining way to spend a couple of hours in a world of pure adventure and is played with by the whole cast that it is difficult not to fall in to the world of Pathfinders and get lost for a while. An adventure on a grand scale deserves a rather grand score – it may not be a Queen, but it is definitely a Duchess and deserves 8/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

The path to save Korvosa leads Ezren, Valeros, Harsk and Merisiel far beyond the ravaged city’s walls. In the burning plains of the Cinderlands the tenacious tribes of the Shoanti barbarians protect an ancient secret that might be the only way to save the Jewel of Varisia from ruin, but Korvosa has been their enemy too long for the proud natives to give up their knowledge freely. Only by learning the ways of the Shoanti and facing their sacred trials can the Queen’s champions hope to save Korvosa.

Written By: David Bryher, based on a story by Michael Kortes
Directed By: John Ainsworth

Cast

Stewart Alexander (Valeros), Trevor Littledale (Ezren), Ian Brooker (Harsk), Kerry Skinner (Merisiel), Louise Faulkner (Trinia Sabor / Zellara), Amy Newton (Cinnabar), Marcus Churchill (Scout), John Green (Trader / Gren), Steven Elder (Krojun), Toby Longworth (Thousand Bones)

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

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REVIEW – THE OMEGA FACTOR SERIES TWO

Forgive my seeming ramble, but it will make sense. Probably. As followers of my twitter feed will know (or be bored to tears with) I moved house recently, and for one whole week had no TV. No terrestrial, no Sky, no cable, no Freeview. Zilch. The only thing we had was a Blu ray player and a large collection of DVD’s. Now a very good friend of mine purchased a DVD for me which he insisted I watch called “The Living and the Dead” so over the course of that first week in Colwyn Bay (for that is where I am :-) ) Mrs W & I watched the series and loved it, and it ended on a cliffhanger and there was going to be a second series, but there isn’t now. A wasted opportunity. And this got me thinking about The Omega Factor because even though they are a century or so apart in time thematically they have a lot in common, even down to being cut short after one season. Thing is The Omega Factor was completely off my radar, I had LOVED series one (review HERE) but hadn’t thought that much about it – but watching The Living and the Dead had whetted my appetite for more.

The Omega Factor is often described as a template for The X-Files, but it is a lot more than this, it has a sort of sadness and despair that the films of the late 1970’s had – its not perpetually bleak but it feels born out of a world that was once all fun and games but has suddenly become dangerous – the hangover from the late 1960’s and early 1970’s is in full force and the world is a lot more dangerous for it. But that was the late 1970’s when the TV series aired – Big Finish did something rather daring with their continuation, instead of going for a period piece they set it now and as foil to Dr Anne Reynolds (Louise Jameson) they cast John Dorney as Adam Dean, son of Tom Crane (the late James Hazeldine) – the first series from Big Finish was a resounding success, even being shortlisted for a BBC audio drama award, but could the second series keep up the momentum. The short answer is yes, the long answer is carry on reading my rambles…..

It is very difficult to do The Omega Factor justice by mere words and reflection on what I have listened to, this is a series more than any other that has to be experienced, all the episodes are intensely personal and the listener almost feels like an intruder eavesdropping on private conversations or being privy to information that they really shouldn’t know – scripts are one thing, but bringing those scripts to life is another, so we as listeners are privileged to have an astounding leading duo in Louise Jameson and John Dorney, they make everything so real, they are utterly believable characters not genre tropes, both flaws, both imperfect, but with a bond that in some ways is stronger than family.

So The Omega Factor Series 2 – we return to Department 7 for four more tales of the paranormal, the strange and the downright disturbing, but this time there is a linking theme, an arc going all the way back to the original series.

2.1 Somnum Sempiternum by Phil Mulryne

Horror is an easy table to give a release – The Omega Factor is not horror, more “Creeping Dread” and nowhere more so than this opening story. Anne & Adam are called in by their boss Doyle (Alan Cox) to investigate a series of impossible suicides of high up members of the establishment including a prominent MP. This is a cruel world, cold and uncaring, a world where a young girl can be tortured, mind controlled and used as a weapon for a cause, a world where the life of someone that can be used is cheap to certain individuals who have a lot to gain. Its all about character, thats what sells this so completely, Anne & Adam are just so believable and fallible – and this is where i disagree with the X-Files comparison, that show just didn’t have character like this. And what a bleak way to start a series, but what an intriguing way to suck the listener into the world of Department 7.
2.2 The Changeling by Roy Gill

You think part one left us in a dark place? No, that was just the beginning, just testing the water. Part two is altogether more sinister and more dangerous. We start with Adam being locked up in the maximum security Tollmire Prison where his cellmate is one Alasdair Reiver (Alan Francis) serving life without parole for the premeditated murder of his teenage best friend Nicholas Link, he doesn’t deny it, but he has his reasons for doing it, reasons that will put Adam in mortal danger. Tense, thrilling and nail biting – like a downward spiral of despair as Anne uncovers the truth behind the death of Nicholas Link and the forces that are behind it and the reason Reiver committed murder all those years ago, sometimes the past is best left well alone…..
2.3 Let the Angel Tell Thee by Louise Jameson

You can tell a Louise Jameson script, even though the subject matter is horrific the construction is poetic and lyrical and has a sort of macabre beauty. Anne has taken on another psychic prodigy in Edward Milton MP (Gunnar Cauthery), he has similar abilities to Adam. Anne also finds time for a brief romance with his Uncle, Anthony Archer (Hugh Fraser) – but is he all he seems, and is Adam’s apparently deteriorating mental health a symptom of a greater conspiracy? This episode sees the return of Morag (Natasha Gerson) who appears to Adam in fever dreams or nightmares or psychic projections warning him of danger of “1984 or 1985 or 1986 or 1987” the Morag scenes are worthy of my favourite director David Lynch, powerful, surreal imagery emblazoned across the mind of the listener – it is the most visual of episodes, and the most upsetting but also the most beautiful.

2.4 Awakening by Matt Fitton

The conspiracy will stop at nothing to get it sway, even injuring Adam’s estranged partner and daughter in an accident & taking them to an exclusive private clinic – and taking Morag there at the same time in to the bargain. This really does expose the conspiracy as petty and vindictive, wanting power for powers sake and willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to get it. An action packed finale to an excellent box set.

And pause for breath – its that sort of set – the stakes keep getting raised higher and higher as our heroes are washed further in to the spiral of despair and on top of that there is a hook for a possible third series.
Big Finish have hit the proverbial home run with this set, it has everything and stayed with me – in fact I still cant stop thinking about it. Fantastic scripting, superb sound design and two incredible leads in Louise Jameson and John Dorney make it a resounding success and a 10/10 from me. (now if someone at Big Finish could get on to the BBC about a continuation of The Living & the Dead…..)

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

Over thirty years have passed since Tom Crane left Department 7, a top secret organisation that investigates the paranormal.

Anne Reynolds now runs the operation, and for three decades their enigmatic nemesis Omega has been silent.

But that peace is about to be shattered. When Crane’s son Adam is drawn into Department 7, the past quickly catches up with Anne and her team…

2.1 Somnum Sempiternum by Phil Mulryne

When a series of impossible suicides affect the establishment, Doyle calls in Department 7 to investigate. From the scene of a grisly death, Adam and Anne discover a trail that eventually leads to someone they’ve met before, once again running dangerous psychic experiments.

Dr Jane Wyatt is back, with an even more lethal agenda. But someone else is pulling her strings…

2.2 The Changeling by Roy Gill

Adam takes on a risky assignment, going undercover inside Tollmire Prison as a murderer’s cellmate. But when the lights go out in these corridors, something else lurks in the darkness. Something that kills.

As Anne tries to unlock decades-old secrets, she discovers that some who believe in the folklore of faeries and changelings will take their faith to terrible extremes.

2.3 Let the Angel Tell Thee by Louise Jameson

Life has rarely been so kind to Anne Reynolds. Her work has gained new impetus as she investigates a psychic prodigy. And she has gained an admirer in the shape of a charming and debonair London official. But Adam is plagued, first by wasps, and then by warnings of disaster from a familiar voice.

Who is the ghost that’s really haunting both their lives?

2.4 Awakening by Matt Fitton

An intricate scheme, forty years in the planning, is reaching completion. When a devastating event affects the staff of Department 7, the final pieces fall into place.

Can Anne convince Doyle that the threat from Omega is real? Where is Morag? And can anyone reach Adam in time to save him from the powers that defeated his father?

Written By: Phil Mulryne, Roy Gill, Louise Jameson, Matt Fitton
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

Louise Jameson (Dr Anne Reynolds), John Dorney (Adam Dean), Natasha Gerson (Morag), Camilla Power (Dr Jane Wyatt), Alex Tregear (Kate), Alan Cox (James Doyle), Richenda Carey (Sarah Maitland), Gunnar Cauthery (Edward Milton), Hugh Fraser (Anthony Archer), Alan Francis (Alasdair Reiver), Ben Fox (Graham Stocker). Other roles performed by the cast.

Producer David Richardson
Script Editor Matt Fitton

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

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REVIEW – JAGO & LITEFOOT SERIES 13

Can it really be 40 years? I mean really and truly? Well yes as a matter of fact it appears it can. Just over 40 years ago the Fourth Doctor and Leela arrived in Victorian London for one of their greatest adventures, met up with a Giant Rat, a Homicidal Homunculus and a time displaced terror from the future and also made some lifetime friend in Professor George Litefoot & Mr Henry Gordon Jago – who would have thought that those six episode of TV gold would spawn 13 series plus many specials of audio gold? Yes indeed this is the bi-annual bean-feast of bluff & bravado, the six monthly slice of silliness & spectacle – this is Jago & Litefoot Series 13.

I must admit I was a little bit worried at the ending of series 12 – there was no traditional tag scene or cliffhanger leading us on to the next box set, nothing – I thought it might be twelve and out for our investigators of all things infernal. How wrong I was, and really how could series 13 be trailered anyhow, it is a very different series, still full of the usual theatricality and charm this entry into the J & L canon harks back to their earliest encounter whilst being completely different to anything that has appeared before. Now being Whovians you all probably know The Talons of Weng Chiang back to front (and if not – why not???) but I suggest that you give it another airing before listening to this set as one name hangs heavy over the proceedings, and that name is Magnus Greel…..
That got your interest didn’t it? and so it should if not for The Doctor & Leela and Magnus Greel Jago & Litefoot would probably not have encountered each other at all. Imagine that.

The set comprises of four interlinked stories:

13.1: The Stuff of Nightmares by Paul Morris

It all begins with very real and very vivid dreams Jago, Litefoot & Ellie are all suffering. Litefoot consults his old Psychiatrist friend Dr Hilary Standish (Carolyn Pickles) for assistance whilst Jago employs one Harry Hypno (Tony Turner) to try to get to the bottom of the waking nightmare worlds they seem to fins themselves in. And then there is Agent Cara (Abi Hayes) a Time Agent sent back to apprehend one Magnus Greel, she is utterly cold, ruthless & single minded and her trail leads her inevitably to Jago & Litefoot.
This opener drops the listener right into the thick of it – beginning with Litefoot’s nightmare of being dead on a slab whilst Jago performs his autopsy – the listener is caught completely off guard, this feels a lot more dangerous and bleak than Jago & Litefoot has been before. Add to that the cold nature of Agent Cara and you have one of the most  intriguing but also most visceral episodes that the series has produced – 13 series in and it is still fresh.

13.2: Chapel of Night by Jonathan Barnes

Carrying directly on from the previous episode our heroes find themselves back home in London – good old smog filled Victorian London, and it is. Unfortunately it is not their smog filled Victorian London, but something slightly different. We are in new territory for J & L, they are in a parallel universe. A universe in which they never met. Litefoot works it out pretty quickly – Ellie doesn’t know them, Inspector Quick only has a professional relationship with Litefoot & does not know Jago at all, but infernal investigator they are whichever universe they are in and they soon become embroiled in a mystery regarding the “Chapel of the Night” and its owner Mrs Bartholomew (Teresa Banham) – why is she taking in suicidal men, what is she doing with them and why? It seem perhaps Jago & Litefoot are not the only visitors to this Universe.
Parallel universes are a sci-fi staple and usually involve a big difference like The Roman Empire not having fallen or Charles I winning the English Civil War, but this is far more subtle – the failure of a certain Time Lord to turn up changed the lives of the Jago & Litefoot of this universe as we shall see in the next story….

13.3: How The Other Half Lives by Matthew Sweet

Victorian times were awful if you think about it – disease, poverty, squalor, drugs, filth, cruel working conditions, debtors prisons. So what are two gentlemen from a parallel universe with no means of support to do in these hard times? Well they survive as best they can, renting a room in a squalid tenement block. But what of the Jago & Litefoot of this universe – well this is the episode where we meet them and see the sort of people they would be had the events of Talons not really impacted on them. Litefoot is more remote than the man we know, more dry and bookish and tinged with a sort of melancholy. Jago is, well, Jago – no longer a theatre owner (He lost his job at the Palace) but a married man, married to Xiu Xiu (Lucy Sheen) and scraping a living by scouring the sewers of London for lost items of value to sell – but Jago has a plan to put himself back on top, ever the showman Jago & wife have a plan to hunt, shoot, kill and stuff the giant rat that still roams the sewers – and a chance meeting with one Professor George Litefoot (from our universe) steps their plans up a gear. So did you all rewatch Talons? Matthew Sweet obviously has and has lovingly picked apart the story & reconstructed the outcome had there been no Doctor to save the day and to bring Jago & Litefoot together – but someone had to defeat Greel, and destroy Mr Sin didn’t they? IF Jago & Litefoot didn’t exist then someone had to step up to the plate and become them – make way for Aubrey & Betterman, Investigators of all things infernal.

13.4: Too Much Reality by Justin Richards

Aubrey (Jamie Newall) & Dr Betterman (David Warner) two characters who have appeared previously in Jago & Litefoot and in this Universe it was they (without the help of the Doctor) who defeated Greel and have since investigated infernal incidents and in this final story Jago & Jago & Litefoot & Litefoot & Aubrey & Betterman have a Demon to investigate, corpses that fade in and out of reality and a final encounter with a recent enemy. AND our Jago and Litefoot still have to try to get home. A lot to wrap up  and a lot going on but wrapped up beautifully and completely logically and for me a “punch the air” moment – there was a cliffhanger to the next series…..

Another wonderful collection filled with nostalgia, adventure and a new way of looking at our leading men and the men they almost were. I also need to thank David Richardson who is bowing out as producer of the range after 13 blockbuster series, I have made no secret that Jago & Litefoot is my favourite Big Finish series and this is in no small part down to David’s production skills. It was lovely to hear Trevor Baxter & Christopher Benjamin get to play slightly different versions of themselves and their skill in bringing these subtle differences to life was a joy to hear. What will the future hold? The new producer has huge shoes to fill – but has been gifted with a legacy of quality stories, class acting and exceptional sound design as a starting point, and I cannot wait for the new dawn that is series 14. A sideways trip that does not pause for breath and a Talon’s tribute-tastic 10/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

Someone from the future has arrived in Victorian London on the trail of a renegade… but that trail leads them to Henry Gordon Jago and Professor LItefoot.

So begins an adventure that will propel the Infernal Investigators into unknown territory, and an encounter with two people they should avoid at all costs.

Themselves.

Four more cases for the Infernal Investigators:

13.1: The Stuff of Nightmares by Paul Morris

Litefoot and Jago are both suffering from strange waking nightmares. They resort to hypnotherapy to try to diagnose the problem. But meanwhile a Time Agent is looking for them – as a way of tracking down the notorious criminal Magnus Greel. Before they know what is happening, our heroes find themselves trapped in a dystopian future where nothing makes sense any more…

13.2: Chapel of Night by Jonathan Barnes

Trapped in a parallel world, Jago and Litefoot are enlisted to help Inspector Quick investigate the mysterious Chapel of Night run by Mrs Bartholomew. Needless to say, there is more to the chapel – and Mrs Bartholomew – than there initially seems. Soon our heroes are caught up in another horrifying and dangerous adventure. But more to the point, can they ever get back to their own world again?

13.3: How The Other Half Lives by Matthew Sweet

Perhaps inevitably, Jago and Litefoot meet their counterparts in the world where they now find themselves.  The Litefoot in this world still owns Greel’s time cabinet, while Jago is also married to Xiu Xiu, a bar maid.  But Greel’s cabinet is not the only thing to survive from his time in this world – there is also a giant rat on the loose in the sewers beneath London…

13.4: Too Much Reality by Justin Richards

Jago and Litefoot meet their equivalent infernal investigators in this world – Aubrey and Betterman. Together they investigate sightings of a strange ‘demon’ and bodies that mysteriously fade away… Before long they discover a crashed spaceship, and find out the truth behind Mrs Bartholomew and the Chapel of Night.  But even with this mystery solved, will they be able to get home again?

Written By: Paul Morris, Jonathan Barnes, Matthew Sweet, Justin Richards
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Christopher Benjamin (Henry Gordon Jago), Trevor Baxter (Professor George Litefoot), Lisa Bowerman (Ellie Higson), Conrad Asquith (Inspector Quick), Abi Hayes (Agent Cara), Carolyn Pickles (Dr Hilary Standish), Tony Turner (Harry Hypno/ Sergeant Delaney/ Dr Logan), Teresa Banham(Mrs Bartholomew/ Angelica), Oliver Lansley (Jack Ridpath), Jeff Rawle (Toby Brokesmith), Lucy Sheen (Xiu Xiu), Phoebe Thomas (Hannah Price), Oliver Jackson (Dicky Twist), David Warner (Dr Luke Betterman), Jamie Newall (Aubrey). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer David Richardson

Script Editor Justin Richards

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

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REVIEW – SPARE PARTS (LIMITED EDITION VINYL)

There has never been a Doctor Who story quite like this, not before, not since. And it is very easy to see why it is a firm fan favourite and by extension a candidate for a very special Vinyl release – this story is unique. It could quite easily have been a derivative of “Genesis of the Daleks” and I am sure it would have been very exciting – but Spare Parts is  different and over the course of the six episodes (recut from four episode of the original release) the listener experiences the death throes of a doomed civilisation and the birth of something terrible – not through the eyes of the great and the good but through the eyes of an ordinary family – The Hartleys’.

Spare Parts takes us to Mondas at the point of the evolutionary dead end that would eventually give us the Cybermen becomes a necessity, the planet is dying, the population are weak and ill, and to survive the “Committee” with the aid of chief surgeon Doctorman Allan (Sally Knyvette) has devised the only logical way to ensure the survival of the people of Mondas, they are to become Cybermen….
This is no grand evil plan for universal domination, this is desperation pure and simple and that is the tragedy of Spare Parts, the road that has led the Mondasians’ to this cul-de-sac is the ONLY logical way to survive.

This story is about as bleak and as grim as a Doctor Who story can possible get – The Doctor (Peter Davison) & Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) arrive on Mondas, it is like a bleak version of the 1950’s a sort of Orwellian dystopia – if you have ever seen the Terry Gilliam film “Brazil” you will get the idea – TV announcements are all done in the frightfully posh received pronunciation and there is a rather fake blitz spirit of everyone pulling together while really the world falls apart, food is rationed, power is low, a curfew is in force and the Police who enforce it are “augmented” halfway points between human & Cyberman. We go back to the original premise of the Cybermen – Spare Parts surgery gone mad. Replacing limbs & organs is the norm on Mondas, the people who do it are not evil, they just want to survive, which brings me to the Hartley family – as ordinary a family as you could imagine Dad (Paul Copley), Frank (Jim Hartley) and Yvonne (Kathryn Guck) all making the best of things as the world crumbles around them. Poor Yvonne – it is her character more than any that represents the tragedy of the Cybermen, no spoilers but you will know the scene – genuinely moving, utterly abhorrent and tinged with tragedy – all of Mondas and its troubles personified in a frightened young girl. Chilling.

In a world populated by those who have no choice but to replace their bodies with steel, chrome and plastic the Cybermen seem inevitable – The Doctor cannot stop it, the Cybermen are part of established history, but can he get a small victory, can he change them at all?

The whole production has a feeling of claustrophobia and fighting against the inevitable. Never before has Doctor Who had such a sense of futility. As for the Cybermen themselves Nick Briggs absolutely nails the Mondasian voices giving distinct character to the different Cybermen, especially Commander Zheng (remember Cybermen had names in their Mondasian form) and his portrayal of ****DELETED FOR SPOILERS**** would bring a tear to the eye of even the most stiff upper lipped fan. We also have Derren Nesbitt as Black Market Organ trader Thomas Dodd – as slippery and morally ambiguous as they come still trying to make a fast profit as the world crumbles around him.

If you have the asking price then I urge you to buy this classic, it really is a thing of beauty. If you don’t then the standard version is just £2.99 – and it is a story that ALL Doctor Who fans have to hear. If this were a TV story it would be up there with Talons of Weng Chiang, City of Death & Blink in fan polls. It is a very human story about people voluntarily surrendering their humanity, it stayed with me on its original release and it is haunting me now on listening to the reissue. Mondas must survive. At all costs. A distorted reflection of our own world and a magnificent 10/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

STRICTLY LIMITED TO 500 COPIES – THIS RELEASE IS EXCLUSIVE TO THE BIG FINISH WEBSITE

The story of the genesis of the Cybermen. One of our listeners’ favourite releases. Dark, moving and terrifying…

On a dark frozen planet where no planet should be, in a doomed city with a sky of stone, the last denizens of Earth’s long-lost twin will pay any price to survive, even if the laser scalpels cost them their love and hate and humanity.

And in the mat-infested streets, around tea-time, the Doctor and Nyssa unearth a black market in second-hand body parts and run the gauntlet of augmented police and their augmented horses.

And just between the tramstop and the picturehouse, their worst suspicions are confirmed: the Cybermen have only just begun, and the Doctor will be, just as he always has been, their saviour…

Please Note: This item will be sent by courier delivery

Written By: Marc Platt
Directed By: Gary Russell

Cast

Peter Davison (The Doctor), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Sally Knyvette (Doctorman Allan), Pamela Binns (Sisterman Constant), Derren Nesbitt (Thomas Dodd), Paul Copley (Dad), Kathryn Guck (Yvonne Hartley), Jim Hartley (Frank Hartley), Ann Jenkins (Mrs Ginsberg), Nicholas Briggs (Zheng/ Cyber Voices/ Radio Announcer/ Citizen/ Nurse), Alistair Lock (Minister/ TV Commentator), Gary Russell (Philpott/ Nurse)
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REVIEW – DETHRAS

After 42 years of being a fan of Doctor Who I can still be caught unawares by a story, and this months Fourth Doctor story  ”Dethras” is proof positive of that. On the surface of it Dethras is not a very Season 18 story – in fact it sounds completely bonkers – a World War 2 submarine, a crew who suddenly fall unconscious and wake up with only three crew members remaining and (wait for it) a Chimpanzee has mysteriously appeared on board. If you are getting a Season 17 vibe from this description then you are not alone. But the execution is pure season 18.

Whereas this situation could have been dealt with with flippancy and one liners we see the mighty Tom Baker here in full no nonsense mode, taking the material seriously, treating it like a serious situation rather than lampooning it and surprisingly it works. It works very well. And I am at a loss at what else to say about the rest of the story as anything else would be absolutely a huge spoiler and ruin the enjoyment that this little gem brings because this is a story that rewards those who know very little about it. So what can I talk about????

The atmosphere, thats what I will go on – it is pure Season 18 – morose, doom laden with a very quick tempered Fourth Doctor who is a complete contrast to how he was in last months release – the concepts are also very science fiction rather than science fantasy as has been the norm with the Fourth Doctor releases, the listener really is drawn in to Bidmead’s vision of Doctor Who in this release. This is a high concept story dealing with evolution and ethics, has a very small cast and a very satisfying conclusion, and I haven’t even touched on who or what Dethras is – because I really can’t.

What isn’t there to love about a story involving a chimpanzee in a submarine? This may be one of the shortest reviews I have ever written, but that is in no way a reflection on the stories quality – Dethras makes you sit up and take notice and challenges, it requires active listening rather than passive enjoyment and stands out as a very mature story, no monkeying around here, Dethras has a well deserved 9/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

In the control room of a World War 2 submarine something strange has started to happen. As the ship runs out of control, its crew begin to fall unconscious…

Finding the submarine in the last place they’d have expected, the Doctor and Romana are confronted by a mystery. Once fully populated, there are now only three men on board. And there’s now also a chimpanzee.

What has happened to the rest of the crew? What are the strange noises they can hear outside the hull?

And most importantly, who, or what, is Dethras?

Written By: Adrian Poynton
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), Alistair Petrie (John), Shelia Ruskin (Flague), Josh Bolt (Philip), Brian Vernel (Robert), John Banks (Franklin), Jane Slavin (Xankari/ Teacher).

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

BUY YOUR COPY HERE

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REVIEW – TORCHWOOD: THE DOLLHOUSE

Question: Can I write this review without mentioning 1970’s camp cop show Charlie’s Angels? Answer: seeing as I just have the answer is a great big NO :-)
Because The Dollhouse wears its influences not only on its sleeve, but has printed t-shirts and matching mug & coaster sets – this is Torchwood Los Angeles in the 1970’s, this is Torchwood going Disco and its a brave move too as no cast members that we know appear, this is Torchwood in the last outpost of the British Empire (in L.A of all places) fighting the future in platform heels and Farrah flicks.

So back to the influences – we are introduced Charlie’s Angels style to our heroes Marlow Sweet (Lalla Pyne), Charley Du Bujeau (Kelly-Anne Lyons) and Gabi Martinez (Ajjaz Awad) and their disembodied voice of a boss Mr Beamish (Guy Adams) and we get a very disco iteration of the opening titles – so far, so camp, close your eyes and you really can visualise this as a prime time TV show in the 1970’s with bad stunt doubles, worse editing and a groovy soundtrack – and that would be the easy route, Dollhouse doesn’t take the easy route, and having been lulled in to a false sense of what the world we are about to enter is like it suddenly changes and becomes more real, darker, dangerous and sleazy.

Young aspiring actresses are going missing and there trail leads the ladies of Torchwood to one Don Donohue (Stuart Milligan) theatrical agent and all round flesh crawlingly creepy slime-ball, as Marlow Sweet gods undercover as an office temp, Gabi & then Charley use all their feminine wiles to find out if he is the link and to find out exactly what “The Dollhouse” is.

Camp would have been the easy way, but this pulls no punches and is a much more realistic depiction of L.A in the 1970’s, the racism, the sexism, the male dominated corruption is all laid out – women are (literally) seen as a commodity by Donohue and his allies – the world these characters inhabit is glitzy on the surface but delve a little beneath and it is cold, cruel, charmless and dangerous.

The story moves along at quite a pace, has some great voice acting and incidental music and leaves the door open for further escapades for Torchwood L.A, because these ladies are needed to protect L.A not only from alien threats but from the worst of humanity that see alien threats as an opportunity.

The Dollhouse is a hard edged, hard boiled tale dressed up in spangly disco gear – if Big Finish were pitching a new series then this is a more than worthy pilot – an angelic 8/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

1970s Los Angeles – the city of angels and broken dreams. Three remarkable women keep the West Coast safe from alien attacks – they are Torchwood Los Angeles.

So many young girls come to this city hoping for something better. For some, luck is just around the corner. For others that golden ticket never arrives and they just fade away.

But it’s not that simple. Everyone has a value to someone, and Torchwood are about to discover Hollywood’s darkest secret.

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

Written By: Juno Dawson
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Laila Pyne (Marlow Sweet), Kelly-Anne Lyons (Charley Du Bujeau), Ajjaz Awad (Gabi Martinez), Stuart Milligan (Don Donohue), Eve Webster (Valerie Fox), David Menkin (Brad), Guy Adams (Mr Beamish).  Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer James Goss

Script Editor Steve Tribe

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

BUY YOUR COPY HERE

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REVIEW – ALIEN HEART/DALEK SOUL

This is release number 224 in the main range. Let that sink in. a whole 224 stories released since 1999 – more than the entire run of the “classic” series plus all of the New series up to The Doctor The Widow and the Wardrobe. What took the TV series 48 years Big Finish have achieved in 18, surely cause for a celebration? Well if not a celebration then maybe a shake up, a change of direction, a reinvention, a re-emphasising? Anyone? Well like it or not thats what Big Finish have done at least for three releases & we will have to see how successful these releases are – Big Finish have decide to go for a “double bill”, two stories per release rather than one, linked but different and what better monster to put in this mini reboot but the Daleks?.

So two stories with complementary titles (rather like series 9 of the TV series remember The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived etc) we start of with Alien Heart/Dalek Soul and they are about as tonally different as it is possible to get, but strangely they really do compliment each other. Whereas Alien Heart is pure pulp sci-fi in the 1960’s mould – it really could pass muster as a Hartnell story, Dalek Soul is as grim and as bleak as it is possible for a Doctor Who story to get.

Alien Heart by Stephen Cole

The Doctor (Peter Davison) and Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) discover that ten planets have been utterly obliterated and are concerned that the planet Traxana is next in line for the same treatment, what follows is a boys own adventure featuring giant green space spiders, human colonists on a base, thrills and spills aplenty and a bit of a sucker-punch ending (well it was for me) Halving the episode count makes the plot go faster, every line seems to matter and we lose the capture/escape/run up and down corridors padding that can sometimes (but not always) take the urgency out of proceedings, because things on Traxana are urgent and the threat level is ramped up and up as the pieces start to fall in to place as to what is really going on. This is a plot based old school story and should really appeal to the more “trad” Who fans.

Dalek Soul by Guy Adams

Now this is different, but you will be happy to hear different in a good way because the Daleks have won, they are occupying the planet Mojox and developing a virus to wipe out the “rebels” (read freedom fighters), but they are not developing this virus alone, they have an ally in their Chief Virologist – one Nyssa of Traken and they also have a chief quisling and propagandist a really nasty piece of work called “The Doctor”. Nyssa experiments on live test subjects and has a lot of blood on her hands, encouraged to work hard by The Doctor to aid their Dalek allies in wiping out the indigenous population. Is it a nightmare, is it a parallel universe, are they playing along? To quote the Prisoner “That Would be telling”, but this release pulls no punches and is genuinely nasty in its portrayal of a totalitarian regime. Special praise to Sarah Sutton as Nyssa as she plays a different type of Nyssa, or maybe someone Nyssa could have been in different circumstances. Cold, cruel and disturbing and played just right – superbly crafted, paced and acted.

Big Finish experimented like this before with the three parts and one part stories that emerged around 90-ish in the range, so time will tell if these double bills work or not. I found that the even though there was a tonal difference there was enough for these stories to work as a double bill – not quite a four parter but two different but linked parts of a fractured whole. A Brave move that might just work. 8/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

Alien Heart by Stephen Cole

In the TARDIS, the Doctor and Nyssa stumble across a trail of ten destroyed worlds, all of them obliterated by means of some utterly monstrous but utterly unknown device. The planet Traxana would seem to be next in line to suffer the same fate. But when the TARDIS lands on an outpost on Traxana’s moon, Nyssa is carried away by a tide of giant green arachnoids, leaving the Doctor behind…

And the coming menace is closer than he thinks.

Dalek Soul by Guy Adams

On the Dalek-occupied world of Mojox, a group of rebels is engaged in a futile fightback against the invaders – but at last they’ve found an ally, in the form of the mysterious Doctor. Elsewhere, however, the Daleks’ Chief Virologist is seeking to perfect a biological weapon to wipe out the Mojoxalli, once and for all.

Her name… is Nyssa.

Written By: Stephen Cole, Guy Adams
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

Peter Davison (The Doctor), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Eve Webster (Sonderal), Geoffrey Newland (Elthar), Alex Tregear (Theebe), Vineeta Rishi (Falex), and Nicholas Briggs (The Daleks)

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

Dalek Imagery from This Planet Earth.

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REVIEW – THE HELM OF AWE

Tom Baker did and still does dominate Doctor Who, his seven year tenure casting a long shadow both forwards and backwards in time, Tom is the yardstick by which all other Doctor’s past or future seem to be judged and the “not we” always seem to ask where our scarves are when we mention we are Who fans – and amongst a large section of fans the three years in which his stories were produced by Philip Hinchcliffe are the pinnacle of the show, the sacred cow that can not be criticised and with this weight of history and expectation the “Philip Hinchcliffe Presents” range has a huge expectation to stand up to.

 Written by Hinchcliffe himself and then adapted for audio by Marc Platt the pedigree is obvious, add in Tom Baker & Louise Jameson and how can it fail?

 The TARDIS is drawn off course to the remote Shetland Isle of Bothness at the time of the “Up Helly Aa” festival, however the island should be deserted, there is no record of anyone living there and the locals are anything but friendly (think The Wicker Man but without the animal masks) and do not welcome “off Islanders”. The Doctor and Leela befriend Joanna (Joanna Vanderham) daughter of the local Laird Professor Angus Renwick (David Rintoul) and Leela is recruited to the traditional long boat race of the festival whilst The Doctor searches for the lost artefact that has drawn the TARDIS to Bothness.

Being a Hinchcliffe story this borrows liberally from established Horror classics, in this case there is a LOT of similarity to The Wicker Man in the early parts, being a Hinchcliffe story it also has an alien threat buried underneath the island – but very unlike the Hinchcliffe era there is a very modern “timey-wimey” (there must be a better word for it) sub plot involving the island in the past and the influence that the alien menace has exerted on the Renwick family.

 There are some wonderful character pieces, and a genuinely and sensitive performance from Louise Jameson as she explains her Grandfathers fate in a way that keeps his myth as a war hero alive and some excellent imagery – the island feels remote and cold and exposed and very real and the threat from the denizens of the island is visceral and very believable.

 The Helm of Awe really does feel like a 1970′s missing story. It has all the ingredients – Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Philip Hinchcliffe, the space/time telegraph, mentions of UNIT, plot with parts appropriated from a classic British Horror film etc etc, but something isn’t quite right, despite all the right ingredients this release just didn’t quite work for me, it never seemed to get out of second gear and meandered all over the place, it didn’t feel like it had a real sense of purpose which is a shame as listening to the making of documentary everyone really seemed to enjoy making it. I think what it lacked for me was a sense of humour, Tom was incredibly serious in this release with very few of his trademark twinkles and silly one liners – I wasnt expecting a Williams era “Tom Baker Show” but he seemed just a little too restrained – but maybe thats just me. I am sure fans of Hinchcliffe will love the authenticity of the piece but for me I only award a 6/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

Philip Hinchcliffe, acclaimed producer of Doctor Who (1975-77) returns to tell new stories for the Fourth Doctor and Leela.

The TARDIS arrives on the remote Shetland isle of Bothness and the Doctor and Leela find themselves threatened by Vikings! Only all is not as it seems. The locals are celebrating the old Norse fire festival of Up Helly Aa, so there’s nothing to be worried about. Or is there?

For, unknown to the islanders, the TARDIS crew are on the trail of an ancient artefact invested with mysterious powers that has recently been stolen and brought to this remote location.

Somewhere on this island lurks something ancient, and evil, and alien. The Doctor and Leela will have to stop it. Only on this occasion time might not be on their side.

Written By: Philip Hinchcliffe, adapted by Marc Platt
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Louise Jameson (Leela), Joanna Vanderham (Joanna Renwick), David Rintoul (Professor Angus Renwick), Jane Slavin (Peggy), Ewan Bailey (Davy McTavit), Kieran Bew (Murdo Jamieson), Chris Porter (Nardos), Fleur Hinchcliffe (Young Angus Renwick)

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

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REVIEW – THE JAGO & LITEFOOT REVIVAL ACT TWO

Ladies and Gentlemen, the interval is nearly over – please finish your Port and Cake and any other refreshment you have decided to partake in, our esteemed speakers Professor George Litefoot & Mr Henry Gordon Jago are about to retake the stage for act two of “The Jago and Litefoot Revival” – and should you only have joined us at the interval, act one is available HERE with a review HERE.

Well that was a short wait for act two, and here it is in all its glory, so hold no to your hats because this one hits the ground running. Literally as we rejoin Professor Litefoot on the island of Minos running away at breakneck speed with Doctor Number 10 from the “Gunslingers” he inadvertently summoned in act one. Meanwhile in London Henry and his Juggler friend are also high tailing it away from the creature in the basement of Henry’s theatre on a madcap chase through the streets of London (but not the Ralph McTell ones) – but how, if at all, are the events connected? Through the dual story telling talents of Litefoot (Trevor Baxter) & Jago (Christopher Benjamin) the events taking place on Mines & in London sort of dovetail together quite nicely into a rip roaring (but very New Who) ending, proving that if you have strong characters they can thrive in any format.

As I said at the beginning of my review, this story takes place at breakneck speed and it does – but there are a few quiet character moments and like last months release it is Trevor Baxter as Litefoot as he recalls his time with the Tenth Doctor that steals the show, there is obviously a great affection there from both sides and the reason that Ten has picked this time in his life to visit George Litefoot is moving, poignant and cements the place in his hearts that the Doctor has for London’s Premier Pathologist & theatre-lands erudite impresario. With mentions of The Scorchies and The Shadow Proclamation this release nicely bridges the gap and brings together “Classic” Who, “New” Who & Big Finish universes and they go together beautifully – however, one slight query, if a Doctor later than 7 meets Ellie Higson (Lisa Bowerman) would they comment that she might be a distant relation of Bernice Summerfield???

A hoot, a riot, a laugh out loud caper ending with a pint at the Red Tavern with a new friend. Everything a release featuring Jago & Litefoot should be, a great jumping on point for those not acquainted with their world, a bonus treat before season thirteen (yes THIRTEEN) of Victorian London’s Investigators of the Infernal – a knockout, a hit, encore, encore I say, and by the way, a genre jumping 10/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

Release #28 is a Tenth Doctor and Jago & Litefoot story.

Fresh from another superlative season on the boards at the New Regency, we are this evening elated to welcome that master of melodrama, that sultan of story, that king of the cliffhanger Mr Henry Gordon Jago. Tonight, in his usual matchless and majestic manner, he will continue and conclude our captivating chronicle of fortune, change and revivification, with the indispensable assistance of that peerless pathologist, Professor George Litefoot.

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

Written By: Jonathan Barnes
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Trevor Baxter (Narrator), Christopher Benjamin (Narrator)

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REVIEW – PATHFINDER LEGENDS – CURSE OF THE CRIMSON THRONE – ESCAPE FROM OLD KORVOSA

After the events of last months instalment, the disease that was rampaging through Korvosa and the revelation that it was the Queen that was behind it all, you would think that our heroes Valeros (Stewart Alexander), Ezren (Trevor Littledale), Harsk (Ian Brooker) & Merisiel (Kerry Skinner) would be enjoying a hard earned rest. And you of course would be wrong because as an adventurer there never seems to be any down time and this months tale leads our heroes in to the heart of the forsaken & cut off city of Old Korvosa – cut off by the Queen to enforce a quarantine, all bidges to the island destroyed, all boats burned the denizens have been left to fend for themselves leaving a dangerous power vaccum that has been filled by a self declared “Emperor of Old Korvosa” a crime boss that holds the city in a grip of iron. And it is in to this dangerous and deadly pit of vipers that our heroes have been summoned to meet an old friend with some information about the ongoing situation with the Queen. Unfortunately things dont go too smoothly……

 As with the previous two releases this one wears its RPG roots on its sleeve, it feels like a quest, it feels like information is being teased out by a Games Master and that the team are being led from place to place where they meet up with NPC’s (thats non player characters to the uninititated in the ways of RPG) who further the plot and tease out information to get the characters to the next set piece until a final battle takes place and this part of the campaign ends. So far so formulaic, but there are a few twists and a few very interesting characters with a little more depth than the usual RPG tropes – first is the Forlorn Elf Laori Vaus (Ashleigh Loeb), played completely against type, squeaky voiced and on the surface bright and breezy but her upbringing as a Forlorn (an Elf who has been brought up as an orphan amongst humans) has made her see death and suffering as a thing of beauty, she has learned to love grief and has become a worshipper of the Zon-Kuthon god of pain which unnerves our heroes and brings out an innate prejudice in them. The other very interesting character is artist Sebastian Scream (Cliff Chapman) an artist who depicts death and suffering and who Laori Vaus is looking for – I really hope we hear more of these two as the series progresses.

 The heroes lurch from one crisis tot he next and there are some earth shattering revelations that will change the nature of the rest of the series but this story just seems a tad too long and repetetive and doesn’t have the momentum of the first two parts, its not a bad release by any means and ticks all the RPG boxes, but like the labyrinth that our heroes find themselves in towards the end of the story, the whole thing is a little meandering 6/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

Anarchy, plague, and the mandates of a pitiless queen have thrown the island community of Old Korvosa into chaos. Forsaken by the government and cut off from the rest of the city, hundreds of unfortunates stand helpless against the rising criminal warlords, each eager to carve out a slice of Korvosa as his own.

Yet, amid the turmoil of warring gangs and sinister power mongers hides the only man who might be able to restore sanity to the beleaguered city. But why has he remained silent for so long? What secret of the new queen does he hide? And what fiendish power grows in the shadows, ready to sink its claws into the heart of Old Korvosa?

Written By: David Bryher, based on a story by Richard Pett
Directed By: John Ainsworth

Cast

Stewart Alexander (Valeros), Trevor Littledale (Ezren), Ian Brooker (Harsk), Kerry Skinner (Merisiel), Evie Dawnay (Kyra), Ashleigh Loeb (Laori Vaus), Cliff Chapman (Sebastian Scream), Aaron Neil (Bahor Arkona), Nisha Nayar (Vimanda Arkona / Sivit), Wraith Johnson (The Emperor/Neolandus Kalepopolis), Sean Connolly (Vencarlo Orsini/Amin Jalento)

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

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REVIEW – CHARLOTTE POLLARD SERIES TWO

Its been a bit of a long old wait between Series One and Series Two and getting a resolution to the cliffhanger. And we do and if you were expecting a few more “jolly hockey sticks”  middle class adventures then I am sorry but you will be sorely disappointed as series two (for the most part) is a very un-Charlotte Pollard-esque experience, completely nothing at all like I was expecting. Series two is for want of a better description a contemporary urban thriller (for the most part) feeling more like a UNIT story and unlike the first Charlotte Pollard series this is one big story.

 For the uninitiated Charlotte (or Charley) Pollard (played by TV’s voce of Master Chef India Fisher) is a self styled Edwardian Adventuress, she was rescued from the airship the R101 by the 8th Doctor and travelled with him on many of his greatest adventures before finally leaving him and being rescued by the 6th Doctor before resolving the paradox and going on to work for the Viyrans – an alien race dedicated to wiping out all disease. Charley is now accompanied by her companion Robert Buchan (James Joyce) who she may or may not be having a relationship with (its complicated, it was near death) and now they are trapped on contemporary Earth and things are not going well. Not well at all. We are talking Russel T Davies series finale level of threat and that is only the first episode.

 Its as urban and as contemporary as it gets, and is very unnerving due to the familiarity for us if not for Charley & Robert, they are completely out of their time and out of their depth, and it all begins on Embankment Station….

 Part 1: Embankment Station

 So you are crashing, you are about to die and suddenly you appear in Embankment Station not knowing where or when you are, your arrival is noticed by a hacker called Rab (Ashely Kumar) and the strange non-explosion is investigated by TV journalist Naomi Davies (Deirdre Mullins) – can the day get any stranger? For Charley & Robert the answer is yes and this is only the beginning of the conspiracy….

 Part 2: Ruffling

 So if part one wasnt strange enough throw in a rogue Viyran whom Charley names Bertram (Dan Starkey of “hello Girl” fame) two identical assassins who’s touch is lethal and a spate of seemingly random deaths  -  there is something happening, the Government don’t know what it is , but it has to do with Embankment Station….

 Part 3: Seed of Chaos

 The situation deteriorates, the chaos seeded at Embankment station leads to a major state of emergency as a series of seemingly unconnected events leads to the breakdown of social order.

 Part 4: The Destructive Quality of Life

 An odd departure, a series of events and a lifetime of captivity, and a dawning realisation that everything may just be futile. That is all. It ends here.

 Three episodes of dark, depressing political conspiracy thriller and then a final left-field off the wall free for all – Nick Briggs knows how to keep his audience waiting and wanting more and this box set most certainly does that, the ending is for want of a better word ambiguous and the fate of several of the major players is left unresolved – it is a brave move and a brave change of emphasis and pace in the final episode, I really could not fathom where the story was going thinking I had got a handle on proceedings in the first three instalments, it went from Torchwood to David Cronenberg in a heartbeat – the joins are obvious, but the intrigue so piques the curiosity that the listener is compelled to go along with this new style that Mr Briggs has freewheeled our way. And it works, it hangs together with no small thanks to the Briggsmeister himself directing and the exemplary performances of the whole cast. Charlotte Pollard has come a long way from the R101, and I think that she has a long way to go yet – an intriguing and disturbing 8/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

Charlotte Pollard. Space-time traveller. Former emissary of the mysterious and terrifying Viyrans.

Now she’s cast adrift and finds herself and unlikely adventurer Robert Buchan brought right down to Earth — but an Earth which is changing rapidly.

Why and how have they crash-landed in the London Underground? Who are the Identical Men? And why is human behaviour starting to change in startling and unexpected ways?

Charley, Robert and their friend the Rogue Viyran must find out if they are the solution or the cause.

Deep underground, something is stirring. Fragments of an alien design are coalescing…

Part 1: Embankment Station - A bumpy arrival, journalism, politics and a security crisis.

Part 2: Ruffling - Hiding in a bank, on the run, trapped underground.

Part 3: Seed of Chaos - Tube train trouble, the chaos begins, the Prime Minister arrives.

Part 4: The Destructive Quality of Life - Marooned on an alien world, a ‘concentration camp’ in Slough, messaging through space and time.

This release also includes a bonus hour of content featuring interviews with cast and crew.

Written By: Nicholas Briggs
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast

India Fisher (Charlotte Pollard), James Joyce (Robert Buchan), Dan Starkey (Rogue Viyran), Deirdre Mullins (Naomi Davies), Kieran Hodgson (Woking), Ashley Kumar (Rab), Rachel Atkins (Minister), Helen Goldwyn (Lysette Allegro), Pippa Haywood (Prime Minister), Colin McFarlane (The Identical Men), Karen Henson (Madeline), Gary Turner (Captain Warwick), Ben Crowe (Sergeant Hunter), Glen McCready (David Shillingford/Gelrasian/Guard/Proto-Viyran/Donald Predko/Soldiers).  Other parts played by members of the cast.

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

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REVIEW – THE JAGO & LITEFOOT REVIVAL ACT ONE

As the old saying goes “you can never have too much of a good thing” and Big Finish seem to understand that because when the “good thing” in question are the adventures of Mr Henry Gordon Jago & Professor George Litefoot you can never ever have enough and this very special release in this new format for J & L is every bit as marvellous as I expected it to be.

 Having starred in a Companion Chronicle, guest starred with the Fourth Doctor and headlined 12 (soon to be 13) series of their own this is the first time they have appeared in a Short Trips – and its a first for the format, two leads narrating a story and told in two parts with a cliffhanger in the middle. Trevor Baxter as Litefoot & Christopher Benjamin as Jago are immediately engaging as they indulge in a bit of banter about what the story should be called. Ah the story – told as a lecture to the Club for Curious Scientific Men originally to be delivered by Professor Litefoot, the proceedings are soon gatecrashed by the verbidextrous vaudevillian volte-force Mr Henry Gordon Jago who decides to inject some colour to the proceedings as they tell a tale of how, in a bit of a slump and in need of reinvigoration Litefoot takes up an offer to go to the Greek Island of Minos where he finds a very strange harmonica and meets up with a tall young man with a cultured cockney accent and a long brown coat (guess WHO) whilst Jago left alone in London has problems of his own – his theatre is infested by spiders and constantly draped with cobwebs, so whilst auditioning new acts he engages a strange new pest exterminator on the scene known only as “Exterminating Johnny”…….

 This is only part one of the story and there is much set up that will be resolved in next months release, but there is so much to love about part one – the banter and camaraderie between Jago & Litefoot is the stuff of legend and with them being the only speaking parts they are given free reign to shine, in particular Professor Litefoot giving a speech when the penny drops as to who the tall brown coated man is really is a thing of beauty, one of those moments that make you go cold. Thats not to say Jago is overshadowed, how could he be, he is as verbose, pompous and buffoonish as he ever was and a joy to listen to.

 The lecture ends on a cliffhanger and in true sophisticated style Professor Litefoot calls for an interval where fruit cake and port are served as we eagerly await the daring denouement of hellenic happenings & arachnid aversion. A joy from beginning to end imbued with a warmth and a depth of character, wonderfully performed with exceptional sound design. A triumphant new addition to the Short Trips range, April cannot come quickly enough. 10/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

Release #27 is a Tenth Doctor and Jago & Litefoot story.

Tonight’s lecture to the Club For Curious Scientific Men will be given by Professor George Litefoot, pathologist – assisted by his esteemed colleague Mr Henry Gordon Jago, theatrical impressario – who will recount a sequence of outlandish events in London and Greece, ruminate upon the nature of good fortune (or rather its absence), and provide a surprising account of a mercurial old friend. The lecture starts at 7:30 and will include an interval.

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

Written By: Jonathan Barnes
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Christopher Benjamin (Narrator), Trevor Baxter (Narrator)

BUY YOUR COPY HERE

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REVIEW – ZALTYS

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

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

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

Written By: Matthew J Elliott
Directed By: Barnaby Edwards

Cast

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

Producer David Richardson

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

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REVIEW – THE SILENT SCREAM

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

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

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

It’s time for his close-up.

Written By: James Goss
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast

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

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

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REVIEW – TORCHWOOD: VISITING HOURS

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

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

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

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

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

Written By: David Llewellyn
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Cast

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

Producer James Goss

Script Editor Steve Tribe

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

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