REVIEW – THE AVENGERS: THE LOST EPISODES VOLUME 6

I am sure it has been said before, but I will say it again – some stories just fit in a particular era. And whereas the Emma Peel & Tara King episodes could not have been made at any other time than the late 1960’s, the Doctor Keel episodes seem steeped in the ambiance of the early 1960’s or the long 1950’s that ended with The Beatles. All shot haircuts, smart suits, received pronunciation. Where you knew a villain was a villain because of his accent (working class, slimy or foreign) and where the heroes spoke properly and were thoroughly decent chaps. It really is a crying shame that only 2 and a bit episodes of the first series of The Avengers exists – but those that do showcase a completely different beast to what most people think of as The Avengers – studio bound, stagey, split in to “acts” almost like theatre for TV. And this level of authenticity for the era simply oozes from this latest Big Finish box set. From the dapper Steed (Julian Wadham) to the practical Keel (Anthony Howell) and all the supporting characters – they are what they are and they are most definitely of the era.

 In this penultimate box set of Lost Episodes there are three stories, one is a rare thing, an adaptation of an existing episode “The Frighteners” and this is where the set begins:

 6.1 The Frighteners by Berkeley Mather, adapted by Rae Leaver

 Steed and Keel become involved in an intimidation ring – a gang of “Frighteners” led by the rather nasty Deacon (Michael Lumsden) – they have been employed to scare off  upper class twit, confidence trickster and all round cad Jeremy De-Willoughby from rich young debutante Marilyn Weller (Eve Webster), you see her father Sir Thomas Weller (Hugh Ross) isn’t too fond of Jeremy (with good reason) so has gone to some rather extreme methods to get rid of him….

A story very of its time, with the class structure being completely upheld (and satirised) – its ok if someone is a cad and a layabout, but working class origins – good lord no!!! And is a very faithful adaptation of the TV original – it feels claustrophobic, studio bound, violent and seedy – a very noir beginning to the set.

 6.2 Death on the Slipway by Ian Potter, from a storyline by James Mitchell

 If you were asked to come up with a cold war thriller set in a shipyard I don’t think you would be far off what we have here. Intrigue, blackmail, stiff upper lips, dodgy “foreign types” and Steed having his suit ruined by oil. Again feeling just like early 1960’s TV – Steed investigates the murder of one of his colleagues under cover at a shipyard that is developing a special Submarine – but one of the staff there is being blackmailed into helping an enemy agent.

Very “of its time” very “Cold War”, you can tell who the villain is because he has an eastern european accent. This aside the hold he has over his victim for blackmail is rather tragic and he manipulates a man who is genuinely decent but has made an awful mistake. Very “Keel Lite” leaving Julian Wadham as Steed to carry the episode which he does with swagger, vigour and charm – he simply IS Steed – oh and Steed’s mysterious boss One-Ten makes an appearance played by the fabulous Dan Starkey of “hello girl” fame, love his and Steed’s interplay. Very good indeed.

 6.3 Tunnel of Fear by John Dorney, from a storyline by Terrence Feeley

 The Avengers was always off the wall, and for an early epode this is pretty left field. A Ghost Train at a Southend seaside is the venue for the latest attempt to smuggle information over the Iron Curtain – and while Dr Keel teams up with ex con Harry Black (Pete Collis) Steed makes himself at home as boss of the belly dancing attraction, and seems very taken with the dancers and the role he has taken on. This is very “Avengers-ish” if that is a word. Espionage and villains hiding in the world of vaudeville and surrealism – its not the full Peel or King, but it certainly has one foot in the wry and odd with fortune tellers, dancers, fairground rides and hypnotism all playing their parts.

 So another triumph of a set, acted in the style of the era, produced and directed in the style & with a soundtrack that fits right in with the era – I am so glad that these episodes are being recreated, but a double edged sword is that there is just one more set to go and the whole run has been recreated. For now though I will savour the fine vintage that is Volume 6 and in honour of Steed’s boss One-Ten I award it Nine-Ten.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

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

6.1 The Frighteners by Berkeley Mather, adapted by Rae Leaver

If you need someone scared off, you speak to the Deacon.

Steed and Keel are on the trail of an intimidation expert whose services have recently been acquired by a wealthy businessman. But as they head deeper and deeper into this seedy world, who do they really have to stop. And who do they have to save?

6.2 Death on the Slipway by Ian Potter, from a storyline by James Mitchell

When a fellow agent is killed, Steed is sent undercover at a government dockyard to find the killer. Can he sort the truth from the lies and track down the enemy infiltrator hunting for top secret plans before it’s all too late?

6.3 Tunnel of Fear by John Dorney, from a storyline by Terrence Feeley

Southend. A perfect spot for a family holiday – or for a traitor to hide.

Somewhere in the town lurks a spy ring that is smuggling out classified information. When his old mole is attacked, and with innocent lives at risk, Steed takes Keel to the seaside for a far from sunny time.

Written By: Adapted by John Dorney, Rae Leaver, Ian Potter
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

Anthony Howell (Dr Keel), Julian Wadham (John Steed), Lucy Briggs-Owen (Carol Wilson), Hugh Ross (Sir Thomas Weller), Eve Webster (Marilyn Weller), Michael Lumsden (The Deacon), Laurence Spellman (Moxon), Chris Pavlo (Nature Boy),Ferdy Roberts (Kolchek), Jon Culshaw (Sir William Bonner), Niky Wardley (Liz Wells), Barnaby Edwards (Sam Pearson), Dan Starkey (One-Ten), Pete Collis(Harry Black), Charlotte Strevens (Mrs Black), Amy Embank (Claire), Tony Turner(Wickram), Charles Davies (Maxie Lardner)

Other roles played by the cast

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REVIEW – A LIFE OF CRIME

It started with a funeral. It ended with an economy class seat and in-between was a bit of a classic would be the short form of this review. Long time readers will know that I don’t do short, I tend to ramble on and on and on with flights of fancy – so I won’t disappoint here.

 But it does start with a funeral (you can hear part 1 for free here) – its the funeral of one “Lefty Lonnegan”, half human half cyborg crime boss, retired to the “costa del crime” planet of Ricosta, Lonnegan is also the erstwhile partner of one Sabalom Glitz who is also the erstwhile business partner of one Melanie Jane Bush. Yes, this is the story where Mel (Bonnie Langford) comes back. I know she has never really been away as she has been a star with Big Finish since almost the beginning – and they have made her a much more rounded and likeable character than she was on TV. But this is the story set after her final appearance in Dragonfire and where we find out about the intervening time with Glitz. But its not just about Mel, oh no, its a lot more complicated than that – this is a story of two halves, what starts as a long con turns into an invasion story. It also has a non linear story structure with Mel’s thread and The Ace/Doctor threads happening at different times and then dovetailing quite nicely at the end of part two.

 So the plot – there really is not a lot I can say without giving away spoilers, there are criminals, a bank job, a rather vile species of alien banker called the Speravores who delight in absorbing the potential futures of their victims. Unlike the TV series the non linear narrative works to the stories benefit and fit together perfectly, logically and as a listener I felt rewarded and enlightened rather than frustrated and cheated.

 But this is Mel’s story really – and there is a knockout scene between her and The Doctor where they discuss how each other have changed in the intervening time, Mel expresses her disappointment at the machiavellian path that Seven has taken whilst the Doctor is appalled at how Glitz has apparently been a bad influence on Mel. But sometimes in a friendship you have to dig beneath the surface to fins out real motivations as the Doctor & Mel both find out. And as this is Mel’s story, I have to give praise to Bonnie Langford as Mel, a more worldly wise, wily and less perky Mel, a more mature Mel. She has changed, we all change, but she has changed whereas Ace is very much the same calling Mel “Doughnut” much to Mel’s annoyance.

 This is a fab story, one that really does keep you on your toes as the tone changes so very quickly – it also sets up a potential new villain for the upcoming trilogy and a mystery as to why they have caught up with Mel at all…

 What begins great caper of a story reintroducing and updating a classic companion and giving her some very believable character development ends as an exercise in cause and effect and a ride in economy class – but this story is most definitely business class 9/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

Come to Ricosta! Tropical climate, untouched beaches, fabulous cuisine… and no extradition treaties. The perfect retirement planet for a certain type of ‘business person’ – such as Ms Melanie Bush, formerly the co-owner of the Iceworld emporium, now on the run from her former criminal associate’s criminal associates…

Some other former associates of Ms Bush are abroad in this space Costa del Crime, however. Not long ago, the time and space traveller known as the Doctor arrived here, alongside his sometimes-criminal associate, the reformed juvenile offender Ace. But now the Doctor’s gone missing – and Melanie Bush is about to learn that on the planet Ricosta, the wages of sin… are death.

Written By: Matt Fitton
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Bonnie Langford (Mel), Sophie Aldred (Ace),Ginny Holder (Gloria/Secretary), Des McAleer (Lefty Lonnigan), Stephen Hagan(Nathan Later), Harry Myers (Atomon/Sperovore Banker/Steward), John Banks(Mayor/Sperovore Auditor/Sperovore Financer). Other parts portrayed by the cast.

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REVIEW – THE PURSUIT OF HISTORY

When I was listening to last months release – The Trouble With Drax there was a throwaway line that intrigued me, and then I completely forgot about it. I was reminded of it straight away with this release. Memo to self, pay attention and remember what you are paying attention to because it may well be important. In this case it seems to have been an important plot point involving a Parrot. And The Pursuit of History begins (well not quite but the first TARDIS scene) begins with Romana and K9 in pursuit of said overlooked Parrot. Its a Parrot that the Doctor seems to want to ignore, and it seems to be reciting phrases from The Doctor (albeit in the style of Terry Jones as a Pepper-pot in Monty Python) so at this point I am both intrigued and amused.

 Ladies and gentlemen we are in season finale mode – the little hints and tidbits for the more discerning (or more attentive) listener are all coming together and an old enemy is making a reappearance. The old enemy in this case is Cuthbert (David Warner) head of the Conglomerate, last seen in an alliance of sorts with the Daleks and Cuthbert has a plan to increase the Conglomerates profits involving robbing a train in 1850’s Yorkshire and selling the proceeds of the robbery to the finance minister of Earth’s Oceanic zone 200 years later – so far so Scaroth. But there is something else bubbling in the background a plan that Cuthbert’s machiavellian capitalism may only be a small part of.

 Right from the off you get the feeling that you are listening to something rather epic, the tone whilst still very much of Season 17 is more City of Death than Horns of Nimon and you really do get the feeling of an age old plan coming to fruition and that the Doctor and Romana are completely out of their depth only seeing part of the bigger picture.

 David Warner never ceases to amaze in any parts he plays for Big Finish – he is another of those actors who bring out the best in Tom Baker – their verbal sparring just sparkles and Lalla Ward is at her haughty best when confronting Mr Dorrick (Toby Hadoke) again and explaining that she is the same Romana he has encountered before.

 Nick Briggs has crafted an excellent opening story for the finale, it really does feel like “all bets are off” for the final story because the stakes keep getting higher and higher and then there is the cliffhanger to episode two. Not saying any more apart from the fact that I was driving at the time of listening, actually heading in to Conwy, waiting in a queue of traffic and I got a very odd look from a Dog walker as I was sitting there shouting “NOOOO”. Its one of those sort of cliffhanger.

 So, Parrots, train robberies, economic chicanery and a threat level ramped up to 11 – can’t be bad for an opening gambit and a well deserved 9/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

On a brisk winter’s morning in 1850s Yorkshire, Cuthbert, head of the intergalactic business known as ‘The Conglomerate’ prepares to hijack a very special train.

In the far future, his assistant, Mr Dorrick is awoken by howling alarms. There is a problem with the Quantum Gateway.

In the TARDIS, the Doctor, Romana and K9 detect strange distortions in the Vortex, an energy stream coming from a strange creature called a Laan.

The threads of a plan centuries in the making are coming together. But who is behind this plan? And can anyone possibly escape when history is against them?

Note: The adventure continues in Doctor Who: Casualties of Time

Written By: Nicholas Briggs
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), John Leeson (K9),  David Warner(Cuthbert), Toby Hadoke (Mr Dorrick), David Troughton (Mr Edge), John Dorney(David Goddard/Oceanic Airforce Commander), Lisa Bowerman (Conglom-Net Computer/Oceanic Airforce Pilot) Jez Fielder (Neville Sanders/Drudger/Ecidien Cerebus Bird/Albert Chatterton/The White Guardian/Salonu Prime), Jane Slavin (The Laan/Salonu). Other parts played by members of the cast.

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REVIEW – THE NEW COUNTER MEASURES: WHO KILLED TOBY KINSELLA?

There is a film, its one of my all time favourite called “Lost Highway” directed by David Lynch. The first line is “Dick Laurent is dead” and then it goes to some very very strange places. This months very special Counter Measures release could possibly start with the line “Sir Toby Kinsella is dead” – its not a spoiler, the story is called “Who Killed Toby Kinsella”, so we know he is dead. But not quite at the beginning he isn’t – he is assassinated by a mystery gunman about 20 minutes in to episode one, and this in turn starts off a chain of events that lead to the “New Counter Measures” which will be with us in December. But lets look at this story, in fact lets look at Counter Measures.

 Counter Measures are a spin off from the Doctor Who TV story “Remembrance of the Daleks” featuring Captain Gilmore (Simon Williams), Rachel Jensen (Pamela Salem) & Allison Williams (Karen Gledhill) all reprising their roles. Its a very 1960’s ITC style of adventure – it feels like a TV film series of the era – added to the mix for the audio spin off was the character of Sir Toby Kinsella (Hugh Ross) – the man in charge of Counter Measures, a civil servant, a slimy, amoral, but strangely very likeable character – he led Counter Measures through four box sets set around the early 1960’s and made some very questionable decisions for the greater good and the security of the world.

 This special release takes place at Christmas 1973 – Counter Measures have long since been disbanded – Ian, Rachel & Allison are all in hiding under assumed names, all presumed dead – this i the Britain of power cuts, economic uncertainty and the three day week and a Prince form the Middle East Hassan Al-Nadyr (Raad Rawi) is in the UK on a trade mission but Toby Kinsella thinks his life is in danger and is killed when trying to protect him at the Opera. The death of Toby Kinsella brings the Counter Measures team out of hiding to track down the killer of their old boss and uncover a conspiracy stretching back to Toby’s time in University….

 This story has a very 1970’s feeling, the theme tune has been updated and the news of strained relations with the Middle East and an oil crises ground this in the early 1970’s – it has the feeling of a Sunday night drama that should be on at 21:00 on the BBC rather than an ITC film series – more “Tinker Tailor” than “Man In A Suitcase”  - this feels like a real world only slightly removed from our own where the characters have real concerns and the past is a very very dangerous place that is now reaping revenge.

The Counter Measures team fit perfectly into this conspiracy thriller – but they are on the outside looking in and themselves rogue elements rather than at the centre of things.

 Although he is dead, Sir Toby’s spectre haunts the proceedings – every move made is haunted by his memory and the events that unfold come from seeds that he planted in his University days.

 As a conspiracy thriller this is top notch, layers within layers within layers of plot are presented to the listener and there are many “lightbulb moments” as well as heart pounding action sequences.

But its not just a conspiracy thriller, its a pilot for “The New Counter Measures” and it certainly sets the scene and whets the appetite for more adventures of the reunited team plus a few new additions. Marching forward with confidence into the 1970’s – Toby Kinsella is dead, but the New Counter Measures live on. 9/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

A special feature-length release, forging a new era for Counter-Measures!

It’s Christmas 1973. Nearly ten years have elapsed since the Counter-Measures group vanished. Only one of the remaining members is officially alive. But that is about to change.

When Sir Toby is killed by an enigmatic assailant, his friends fly in from around the globe to attend the funeral where they discover that the truth of their colleague’s murder lies hidden in his past.

A dangerous killer is out for revenge. A terrible assassination is planned. When ghosts walk the street, there’s only one team you need.

1. Who Killed Toby Kinsella? by John Dorney

2. The Dead Don’t Rise by Ken Bentley

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

Cast

Simon Williams (Group Captain Gilmore), Pamela Salem (Rachel Jenson), Karen Gledhill (Allison Williams), Hugh Ross (Sir Toby Kinsella), Raad Rawi (Prince Hassan Al-Nadyr), Justin Avoth (Mikhail), Belinda Stewart-Wilson (Overton), Ian Lindsay (Routledge), Jot Davies (Avery), Alan Cox (Fanshawe). Other parts portrayed by the cast.

Producer David Richardson

Script Editor John Dorney

Story by Ken Bentley

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

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REVIEW – TORCHWOOD: BROKEN

With the bar set so high by last months release “Moving Target” this one had to be something rather special. And it is. And it is as different from “Moving Target” as it is possible to be. This is a study in grief. Not teenage angst or self indulgence but pure unadulterated human grief. And the man suffering is none other than Ianto Jones (Gareth David Lloyd).

 This story is set within the first televised series of Torchwood from the time of “Cyberwoman” to “They Keep Killing Suzie” and follows Ianto as he pours his heart out to barmaid Mandy Albiston (Melanie Walters).

 Ianto is broken – truly broken and lost and alone. His girlfriend Lisa is dead, he has no friends, he is estranged from his family and he loathes his boss Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) because he is the one that killed Lisa. His only friend in the world is Mandy, Mandy understands, Mandy is there for him when no one else is with a piece of sage advice, or a pint, she is Ianto’s only friend, she is the one person Ianto turns to.

 Ianto paints a picture of a cold uncaring Jack Harkness – someone who just keeps on keeping on with no time for the emotional problems of his staff – mission after mission after mission, horrific encounters, death does not seem to have an effect on Jack – but Ianto on the other hand is emotionally destroyed – and he only has Mandy to turn to and Mandy is always there with a friendly word and a pint….

 A very very different take on a Torchwood tale. We have become used to the frantic pace of the “Cardiff Buddy Movie” format, this is an altogether more pensive release, slow and brooding which suits the downbeat confessional nature of the story and this story lets Ianto bear his soul. And just when you think things really cannot get any bleaker, redemption may just arrive in a bitter sweet phone call.

Another excellent release and a completely different take on the Torchwood format, and whilst the story and the content are a difficult listen, the release is very rewarding and adds another building block to the Jack/Ianto relationship that ran through the series – the denouement really does seem earned by all the players, the reward may not be what they were looking for but it is most definitely what they need.

 What we have here is an emotional car crash of a story, a study in what can happen if we let grief consume us and see our friends as enemies, and a warning that redemption may not always be at the bottom of a pint glass. Broken but with a cure maybe in the distance 9/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

Whenever Ianto Jones has a tough day at work, he has somewhere he can hide. And, for Ianto Jones, it’s always a tough day at work.

His girlfriend is dead, his colleagues don’t trust him, and his boss… his boss is something else. With no friends in the world, and his life in danger every day, is it any wonder that at night, Ianto Jones goes to the pub?

Ianto’s local becomes somewhere where he feels safe. Safe from his demons, safe from his life, safe from Torchwood. Until one evening, Captain Jack Harkness walks into a bar….

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

Written By: Joseph Lidster
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Cast

John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones),Melanie Walters (Mandy Aibiston), Eiry Thomas (Glenda), Ross Ford (The Saviour)

Produced by James Goss

Script edited by Steve Tribe

Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

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REVIEW – DARK SHADOWS: ECHOES OF THE PAST

Like a bus, you wait ages for a Dark Shadows special release and then two come along at at the same time – but there the similarity ends, there Blood and Fire was a lavish bodice ripping period piece this release takes a much quieter approach – hardly any incidental music, minimal sound effects – Echoes of the past goes the “unplugged” route of just an actor, a script and a recording booth. Four stories about four integral characters to the Dark Shadows saga, Reverend Trask, Quentin Collins, Maggie Evans & Angelique Bouchard with each of their stories read by the actor that played them in the TV Series – Jerry Lacey, David Selby, Kathryn Leigh Scott & Lara Parker – the Trask story is actually written by Jerry Lacy.

 The stories are all stand alone and centre on the character telling the story, but there is a thematic unity flowing throughout, themes of loss, regret and ambition. The stories are:

 Trask The Exorcist by Jerry Lacy

 A penniless and desperate Trask sees an opportunity when he is invited to perform an exorcism on the daughter of a local farmer – but during the exorcism he makes a bargain with the forces he has sworn to oppose to further his own ends. Track is a thoroughly despicable character, pious, cruel, small minded and a hypocrite of the highest order – everything he does in “Gods name” is for the greater glory of Trask and having the actor who played him on TV write and perform this story ensures it is in safe hands – Jerry Lacy does not pull any punches in painting a picture of the sort of man Trask is and the depths he will stoop to to further his own greedy, selfish ends.

 The Missing Reel by Ian Farrington

 Quentin Collins sits in a bar in Los Angeles in 1958 and is met by Eddie a film journalist and collector of old films. There is one film in particular he has become obsessed with, a classic of the silent era, a film about a Werewolf which has eight minutes missing and Eddie has traded the movie down, because the last remaining print with the missing 8 minutes still intact has just been purchased at auction by Quentin Collins. One man, David Selby as Quentin and a cracking script – I was transported back to a smoky bar in 1958, I could see the haze of smoke, the swirling ceiling fans, the sweat on Eddie’s brow, I could almost smell the cigarettes and whiskey. This is a cautionary tale and as Eddie finds out, its sometimes better NOT to know…..

 Lunar Tides by Philip Meeks

 Wistful and melancholy with a definite autumnal feel – Maggie Evans is looking forward to watching The Lunar Tides – a time where the moon is so strong that it takes the sea out a mile from Collinsport bay – but a visitor to Maggie’s hotel brings with her a mysterious mist and a plague and has a secret past linked to the earliest visitors to the new world. Kathryn Leigh Scott gives a very human reading of this story, her obvious love of the character of Maggie shines through.

 Confession by Paul Phipps

 The leading lady of Dark Shadows Angelique Bouchard rounds off this set of stories. Lara Parker gives a dramatic reading completely in character as she gives her confession. She tells story of her love of Barnabas and the extremes she has gone to protect him even when he didn’t know she was there. Angelique has an obsession with Barnabas that goes beyond love into the realms of mania, possessiveness and self destructiveness, because as much as she loves him, he doesn’t love her back.

 Small scale, character based stories with a great deal of depth, interludes in the lives of our protagonists, but in a strange way defining for them. An Echo of the past, but an echo that will cause ripples for the future 8/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

Four tales of horror, romance and intrigue…

Trask The Exorcist by Jerry Lacy

A tired and hungry Reverend Trask is summoned to perform an exorcism. But when he meets Penelope Bascomb he will face the Devil’s greatest weapon… temptation.

The Missing Reel by Ian Farrington

Los Angeles, 1958. The world is changing – but then again, it always does. Only people with short lives assume things stay the same. When you’re immortal like Quentin Collins, you realize that it all moves at a lightning pace…

Lunar Tides by Philip Meeks

Maggie Evans knows everything. She knows what Barnabas has done and has banished him from the town. But who will help her when a mysterious mist descends on the town and the people of Collinsport start falling ill?

Confession by Paul Phipps

The witch Angelique sits alone in her cottage, writing a confession. But what is she confessing to? And why can’t she stop writing?

Written By: Jerry Lacy, Ian Farrington, Philip Meeks & Paul Phipps
Directed By: Ursula Burton

Cast

Jerry Lacy, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker & David Selby

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REVIEW – DARK SHADOWS: BLOOD AND FIRE

50th Anniversaries – we love them don’t we? The grand daddy of them all was obviously our beloved Doctor Who’s 50th bash, but this year sees the 50th Anniversary of an altogether more obscure offering, that of Dark Shadows.

 For those unfamiliar, a potted history – Dark Shadows was a daily Gothic soap opera that followed the story of the Collins family from the town of Collinsport Maine. It ran for 5 years between June 1966 and April 1971. This was a soap with a difference, it had a brooding gothic feel akin to Daphne Du Maurier’s “Rebecca”, permanently autumnal and brooding – it also featured Vampires, Werewolves, Ghosts, Phoenix, Time Travel, Parallel Universes. Think Dynasty meets the Addams Family, meets Buffy meets Jane Austen and you wont be far from the mark.

 With the series ending in 1971 after 1225 episodes (all of which are available on DVD), a 1990’s revival killed by poor scheduling and a played for laughs Tim Burton big screen version it fell to the ever reliable Big Finish to keep the flame alive. And boy have they done that.

 Before reviewing the 50th Anniversary story “Blood and Fire” I think its worth taking a look at the Dark Shadows range and picking out a few choice stories to reel in the uninitiated.

 There are three distinct strands to the Dark Shadows releases – full cast, dramatic readings and Bloodlust. The bulk of the releases are the dramatic readings, for long time Big Finish fans who have not dipped their toes into Dark Shadows these are akin to the Doctor Who Companion Chronicles releases, one actor from the show interacting with another character, they are deep, character based stories and here are five of the best:

 The Wicked and the Dead by Eric Wallace

 The evil Reverend Trask wakes in a room in the house of Collinwood, he has been bricked up and left with a revolver as his only means of ending things – the ghost of Carl Collins appears to give him a chance at redemption.

 London’s Burning by Joseph Lister

 Quentin Collins meets up with his old friend Rosie Faye (Louise Jameson) during the Blitz in 1941, trapped in an underground station they reminisce about the time that they both investigated cases of spontaneous human combustion.

 The House by The Sea by James Goss

Colin Baker plays Gerald Conway, a new resident of Collinsport. He has had visions of a house by the sea for months and now he has found it. Genuinely creepy, played as a set of audio diaries – don’t listen alone. Really. Don’t.

 Beyond the Grave by Aaron Lamont

Possibly THE most frightening thing I have experienced – like an audio version of Ghost Watch, this one pulls no punches, its utterly terrifying.

 Panic by Roy Gill

A Quentin Collins story again and a rather sweet one in a funny sort of way – a dark fairy tale in a Pan’s Labyrinth meets Narnia sort of way – has to be heard to be appreciated.

 I can also highly recommend Bloodlust  a 13 part mini-series done in the style of a soap opera – its rather epic and centres on a series of murders – episode one is free here  and really sets the scene – the story is a classic murder mystery in the style of Broadchurch or Twin Peaks with a very Collinsport twist.

 Anyhow, thats the past, and a very rich past it is too – but this review is meant to be about the future – but this future is actually set in the past. Am I making sense? I will be (hopefully) if you read on.

 From the introduction of Barnabas Collins in the second year of Dark Shadows, the series moved up a gear, you see Barnabas was a Vampire, and he had a story. Cursed by his spurned lover the witch Angelique Bouchard (Lara Parker) their story set the tone for all gothic vampire romances to follow – Angelique hated Barnabas as much as she loved him and in this 50th anniversary story Angelique is given the opportunity to destroy the Collins family forever.

 Angelique is sent back in time by her master The Dark Lord (the Devil to you and me) to the year 1767 – Collinsport is a small fishing town, Collinwood House is still in the process of being built and a young widow Laura Murdoch Stockbridge (Joanna Going) is about to marry in to the Collins family. This has a period drama feeling, albeit a period drama with Zombies, Witchcraft, magic and time travel – I can imagine it as a lavish HBO production shown on Sky Atlantic and being billed as event TV. It has a HUGE cast of Dark Shadows alumni but the leading ladies steal the show, the Blood & the Fire of Angelique Bouchard & Laura Stockbridge. – two very powerful ladies who will in time shape the future of the Collins family – this is the very beginning, as early in the Collins’ story as we have gone and Angelique’s mission for her Dark Lord is hampered not only by history yet to come, but also by her love for Barnabas who if she succeeds will never be born – can her love be stronger than her hate?

 There is a lot here to adore for fans of Dark Shadows – its not quite a “Rabbit Hole” story to suck you in to the world of Barnabas, Angelique & Quentin – there is an awful lot of Collins family continuity tied up in the two and a half hour running time and long time fans will ohh and ahh there way through each actor who suddenly appears as one of their own ancestor whilst knowing the fate of poor tragic Laura has to happen.

 What really comes through in the writing is the great love that Roy Gill has for Dark Shadows and the care and attention to detail he lavishes on to the production – every thing is utterly faithful and beautifully constructed, Roy obviously cares a great deal about the show and its legacy, and I am happy to say that the future of Dark Shadows is safe in his and Big Finish hands. It also has a brilliant Elvira joke.

 Gothic, romantic and thrilling a period piece that goes back to the beginning whilst setting the tone for a new beginning, the blood pumps and the Phoenix rises and I award this sumptuous celebration 9/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

A two-hour adventure celebrating 50 years of Dark Shadows!

“Some are born with magic, some acquire magic, and others have magic thrust upon them…”

The year is 1767. Young widow Laura Murdoch Stockbridge is to marry Joshua Collins, heir to the Collins fortune. Meanwhile, Joshua’s sister Abigail is in love with disreputable sailor Abraham Harkaway.

But the course of true love never did run smooth… especially when the witch Angélique Bouchard is around.

For Angélique has been sent back in time. And she has one mission…

To destroy the Collins family forever.

Featuring cast from the original television series, Blood and Fire is a special audio drama to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Dark Shadows.

Written By: Roy Gill
Directed By: Ursula Burton & Joseph Lidster

Cast

Lara Parker (Angélique Bouchard), Kathryn Leigh Scott (Patience Collins), Mitchell Ryan (Caleb Collins), Joanna Going (Laura Murdoch Stockbridge), Andrew Collins(Joshua Collins), Daisy Tormé (Abigail Collins), James Storm (Abraham Harkaway),Lisa Richards (Euphemia Spencer Stockbridge), Christopher Pennock (Uriah Spencer Stockbridge), Marie Wallace (Dorothea Summers), Nancy Barrett (Isobel Collins), David Selby (Theodore Collins), Matthew Waterhouse (Reverend Samuel Cunningham) and Jerry Lacy (Malachi Sands) with John Karlen (Alfred Loomis),Ursula Burton (Peggy Griffin), Alexandra Donnachie (Sarah Filmore), Scott Haran(Lamech Gifford), Walles Hamonde (Roderick Haskell), Daniel Collard (Robert Hanley), Michael Shon (Wolf) and Natalie Britton (Storm Elemental).

Produced by David Darlington, Joseph Lidster

Line Producer: David Richardson

Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery, Nicholas Briggs

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REVIEW – UNIT: SHUTDOWN

So you have done the world spanning invasion epic in UNIT – Extinction, introduced a new UNIT team to battle alongside Kate & Osgood in the guise of Sam Bishop ( Warren Brown) and Josh Carter (James Joyce), where do you go next? Do you make the stakes even higher or do you do something a little different? Wisely Big Finish have done both – but whereas events were very public in Extinction, in Shutdown we are presented with a much more covert set of stories – yes they are world spanning and the threat level is huge but this is a story kept to the shadows and away from the gazer of the public – it is a lot more “black ops” than the last set.

 It begins with a pub quiz and ends with a hologram and in-between takes in Geneva, an epic battle at the Tower of London and a final confrontation in the Antarctic – its a heck of a journey and not everything is as it seems to begin with. Big Finish have come up with a fascinating new alien race – the Kamishi and their Ninja Assassin servants the Tengobushi. They are an alien race obviously based on Japanes culture and another ancient race who have been around from when the Universe was your, they have god-like powers and technology that is almost indistinguishable from magic – and its this technology that drives the story, you see a piece of this technology has fallen in to the hands of Felicity Lyme (Alice Krige) CEO of Lyme Industries and they are determined to exploit it for maximum profit – problem is The Kamishi are not keen on their tech being used and they want it back – and the whole world is about to get caught in the crossfire.

 The box set is split into four episodes:

 1 Power Cell by Matt Fitton

 A thriller, thats what this one is, an old fashioned hardboiled thriller. For Doctor Who fans, think of the first few episodes of The Invasion and you wont be far off the mark. This has it all – mysterious disappearances, a huge multi national with an arrogant yet charming leader – Felicity Lyme (Alice Krige), alien ninja assassins and before I forget Kate, Osgood, Josh & Sam. This is a very personal story for Osgood, she meets up with an old University friend Jay (Asif Khan) who is given the option of joining the UNIT team – problem is everyone who knows anything at all about the alien artefact that Lyme Industries have procured is going missing, because the alien Kamishi REALLY want their property back. From a slow start, this really builds in to something rather special with twists and turns you really wont expect and a far more gritty tone than I was expecting.

 2 Death in Geneva by Andrew Smith

 With no-one in the Government she can trust, Kate goes to Geneva to enlist the aid of General Grant Avary (Harry Ditson) but the Tengobushi with their leader Dokan (Dan Li) are already there and they have their eyes on Osgood. We go from hard boiled thriller to Hollywood action movie with incredible set pieces that wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond film, lots of explosions, deaths and a conspiracy that goes deeper than we first expected, and an astounding cliffhanger

 3 The Battle of the Tower by Andrew Smith

 The stakes just get higher and higher – with the Kamishi & their Tengobushi foot soldiers gunning for Kate and co, Kate decides to put the Tower of London on lockdown – but the Kamishi are determined to get their property back even if it means a pitched battle in London – and that is exactly what they get, because this is not an enigmatic story title, it really does what it says on the tin and presents the Battle of the Tower of London. Its incredibly visual, the sound design and acting really do immerse you in the happenings, we are talking a Rourke’s Drift level of being outnumbered and outgunned by a hugely superior force, and UNIT as always rise to the occasion. Epic.

 4 Ice Station Alpha by Matt Fitton

 Rounding off the set is a jaunt to the Antarctic – Lyme Industries make their last stand against UNIT, and time is running out as the Kamishi mothership is on the way to destroy the earth. High stakes but low key, a covert invasion where who the “bad guys” are is a very very grey area. What really comes across in this episode is the commitment that the UNIT team have not only to each other but to the safety of the planet – with some willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect the population.

 Akin to a James Bond film from the classic era, Shutdown is very much the “difficult second album” not as immediate or as epic as Extinction but a deeper more satisfying experience, a sort of Meat is Murder after The Smiths debut if you will. Kate & Osgood are already classic fan favourite characters & this set allows them to flex their character development muscles more than they ever could in a 45 minute TV episode, we even get to see what Osgood does when she isn’t doing “Sciency stuff”. With the awkward second album out of the way its full steam ahead to November and an appearance by, um, hold on I have forgotten (see what I did there) – however back Shutdown & I shut down this review by awarding 8/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

Kate Stewart and her UNIT team investigate and confront alien attacks on the planet Earth in this new 5 disc boxset.

2.1 Power Cell by Matt Fitton

Osgood and Captain Josh Carter are sent to investigate the disappearance of a UNIT scientist.

Meanwhile, alien technology has fallen into the hands of Lyme Industries, and Kate Stewart can’t persuade the company’s CEO, Felicity Lyme, to give it back.

But UNIT find themselves fighting a third battle when innocent people start to die. Who are the mysterious assassins? And what does Felicity Lyme want with top secret alien technology?

2.2 Death in Geneva by Andrew Smith

With few people left to trust, and with assassins on their tail, Kate and Osgood race to UNIT Command in Geneva. Will General Avary be able to help them?

But when death follows UNIT all the way from the English countryside to the snowy slopes of the Alps, Captain Carter finds himself in a race against time.

As the body count rises, Kate struggles to separate friend from foe, danger circles Osgood ever closer, and, high in the mountains, Josh comes face to face with the enemy…

2.3 The Battle of the Tower by Andrew Smith

The threat is now clear, and Kate Stewart retreats to UNIT HQ with her most trusted colleagues. She has no choice but to place the Black Archive into lockdown, and the Tower of London is where UNIT will make its stand.

While the capital sleeps, an alien horde is gathering, ready to rise from the shadows to attack Earth’s greatest defence force inside its own stronghold.

The Tower is infiltrated, and UNIT must hold the line. At any cost. Lock and load…

2.4 Ice Station Alpha by Matt Fitton

Caught between human greed and an unstoppable alien power, Kate Stewart leads her closest allies on one final, desperate mission. This could be the very last chance for the human race.

But the UNIT team has been declared rogue, and ruthless military forces are in pursuit as they race across the globe. Kate calls Lieutenant Sam Bishop to their aid, while Josh and Osgood head out across the frozen Antarctic plains to try and prevent a disaster no-one else knows is coming.

Written By: Matt Fitton, Andrew Smith
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

Jemma Redgrave (Kate Stewart), Ingrid Oliver (Osgood), Warren Brown (Sam Bishop), James Joyce (Captain Josh Carter), Alice Krige (Felicity Lyme), Asif Khan(Jay Roy) Tyrone Huggins (Dr Kenton Eastwood), Nigel Carrington (Sir Peter Latcham), Beth Chalmers (Anna/Radio Announcer/Quizmaster), Harry Ditson(General Grant Avary), Dan Li (Dokan/Alien Leader), Akira Koieyama(Chiso/Tengobushi Assassins), Stephen Billington (Commander Bergam), Jot Davies (Sebastien/Major Disanto). Other parts portrayed by the cast.

Producer David Richardson

Script Editor Ken Bentley, Matt Fitton

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

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REVIEW – COMPANION CHRONICLES: THE SECOND DOCTOR VOL 1

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

 The Set is split in to four stories:

 1. The Mouthless Dead by John Pritchard

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

 2 The Story of Extinction by Ian Atkins

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

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

 3 The Integral by David Bartlett

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

 4 The Edge by Rob Nisbet

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

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

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

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

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

10.1 The Mouthless Dead by John Pritchard

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

10.2 The Story of Extinction by Ian Atkins

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

10.3 The Integral by David Bartlett

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

10.4 The Edge by Rob Nisbet

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

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

Cast

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

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

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REVIEW – LOST AND FOUND

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

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

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

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

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

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

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

Written By: Penelope Faith
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Anneke Wills (Narrator)

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REVIEW – THE TROUBLE WITH DRAX

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

Step Two: set said production in the bonkers Season 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

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

Until now.

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

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

Which is where the trouble starts.

Written By: John Dorney
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast

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

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REVIEW – THE TWO MASTERS

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

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

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

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

Written By: John Dorney
Directed By: Jamie Anderson

Cast

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

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

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REVIEW – SURVIVORS: SERIES FOUR

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

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

 The set is broken down into four interconnected stories:

 4.1 The Old Ways by Ken Bentley

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

 4.2 For the Good of the Cause by Louise Jameson

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

 4.3 Collision by Christopher Hatherall

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

 4.4 Forgive and Forget by Matt Fitton

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

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

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

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

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

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

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

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

4.1 The Old Ways by Ken Bentley

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

4.2 For the Good of the Cause by Louise Jameson

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

4.3 Collision by Christopher Hatherall

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

4.4 Forgive and Forget by Matt Fitton

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

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

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

Cast

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

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

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REVIEW – TORCHWOOD: MOVING TARGET

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

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

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

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

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

Written By Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

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

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

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

Written By: Guy Adams
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Cast

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

Producer: James Goss

Script Editor: Steve Tribe

Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery, Nicholas Briggs

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REVIEW – THIS SPORTING LIFE

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

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

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

Written By Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

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

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

Written By: Una McCormack
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Peter Purves (Narrator)

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REVIEW – DRACULA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Ed & Hayley Watkinson

Synopsis

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

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

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

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

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

Cast

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

Other parts played by members of the cast.

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REVIEW – GALLIFREY VIII: ENEMY LINES

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

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

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

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

Written By: David Llewellyn
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Cast

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

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REVIEW – CYBERMAN SERIES 1 & 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written By Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

THIS EXCLUSIVE RELEASE IS ONLY AVAILABLE FROM THE BIG FINISH WEBSITE

“There Is Nothing To Fear…”

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

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

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

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

Cast

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

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REVIEW – THE TENTH DOCTOR ADVENTURES VOLUME 1

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

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

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

 1.1 Technophobia by Matt Fitton

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

 1.2 Time Reaver by Jenny T Colgan

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

 1.3 Death and the Queen by James Goss

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

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

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

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

1.1 Technophobia by Matt Fitton

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

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

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

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

1.2 Time Reaver by Jenny T Colgan

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

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

The Time Reaver.

1.3 Death and the Queen by James Goss

Donna Noble has never been lucky in love.

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

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

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

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

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

Cast

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

Technophobia

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

Time Reaver

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

Death and the Queen

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

Other roles played by the cast

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REVIEW – VAMPIRE OF THE MIND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

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

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

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

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

Written By: Justin Richards
Directed By: Jamie Anderson

Cast

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

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

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