Audio Reviews

Big Finish: Torchwood One – Before The Fall

Between planet-hopping, facing threats both alien and domestic and flirting with everything else, you have to wonder where Captain Jack found time to do the personnel paperwork for Torchwood Cardiff – and given the rate of staff turnover there must have been quite a considerable amount!

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In an appropriate echo of Everything ChangesBefore The Fall follows a new person joining the team – Rachel Allen may be a far cry from Gwen’s confident police woman of action, but that doesn’t mean the biggest challenges will be whether to sink a colleague’s stapler in jelly or steal it, even if it is a red Swingline…

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Big Finish: UNIT 3 – Silenced

As the year draws to a close, Big Finish brings another bumper UNIT epic to warm the cockles. This time, an investigation of an energy buildup takes Kate and Osgood into conflict against one of the more insidious alien threats that the earth has faced – and once it’s time for a Silent Night, will anyone involved Remember Christmas, or anything else?

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Big Finish: Torchwood – Outbreak

Just when you thought you were spoiled with the two-hour Torchwood Archive, here comes a bursting three hours of Cardiff goodness!

As the title and nicely-done disc art hints, Torchwood: Outbreak sees Cardiff at risk from a medical threat. But this is much more than an epidemic of sniffles – first they know you, then you love, then you kill…

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With no vaccine or protection against the mysterious infection, the Torchwood team have to keep themselves safe as well as find the true nature and intent of the disease. Is this from nature, or could alien factors be at work? Or could there be a deeper conspiracy at play?

 

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The Third Doctor Adventures Volume II

Although utterly fantastic and probably the best Third Doctor outing BigFinish had made so far, they can be said to have played a little bit safe with the Third Doctor Adventures Volume 1. Tim Treloar’s performance as the third Doctor was exemplary, and yet not 100% Pertwee – I said at the time that he was playing the Doctor, not impersonating Pertwee playing the Doctor. And that fitted in perfectly with BF’s own, slightly tentative approach to this untouched territory – they openly stated that they took the (largely disliked, okay, only by me) part-drama/part-prose route for the audio plays so that they’d be more acceptable to anyone offended by the replacement of Pertwee.

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However, with this second Pertwee boxset, no such shrinking violetage has occurred. Explicitly asking the question of its audiences at various conventions as to whether the part-prose interpretation worked, Big Finish has taken their feedback on board and bravely – but rightly – decided this time to go down the full-dramatisation route. Similarly, Treloar has obviously been doing his homework in the intervening months, meticulously observing and learning the various tics and nuances of the actor whose performance he is reinterpreting here. I still maintain that he is playing the third Doctor rather than impersonating the actor who played the third Doctor; but bloody hell, he doesn’t half sound like him. While listening to the first box set there were moments I forgot that this wasn’t Pertwee’s own interpretation; with this new set, there was hardly a moment when I didn’t feel that.

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Big Finish: The Torchwood Archive

It’s hard to believe that it’s already 10 years since Torchwood first hit TV, perhaps due in no small part to John Barrowman’s lack of aging. Like its parent show, it has worked in several guises across different media in that time, most recently having two six-episode seasons on Big Finish. And therein lies the challenge of celebrating it – with such a diversity of format (and not a particularly high character survival rate!) how do you reflect it all?

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Cue Big Finish stepping forward, of course, and the bumper 2-hour The Torchwood Archive… but is this an archive worth digging in to?

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The War Doctor vol 3: Agents of Chaos

For a man with no name, the War Doctor don’t half get around a bit. Yes, John Hurt’s grumpy soldier is back, joined once again by Jaqueline Pearce’s Servalanalike Cardinal Ollistra in a new Big Finish boxset: War Doctor Vol 3: Agents of Chaos.

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This three-volume set continues the story of the Time War, and opens with David Llewlyn’s rather wonderful The Shadow Vortex: Ollistra sends the Doctor to cold-war Berlin to track agent of Skaro Lara Zannis, who is hell-bent on using the nascent post-war atomic science to usher in a new world order shaped like a million Daleks. Second is Andrew Smith’s The Eternity Cage, in which the Sontarans bluff and blackmail Time Lord and Dalek alike in an effort to grab a little Time War glory for themselves. And the set closes with Ken Bentley’s Eye of Harmony which has the Dalek Time Strategist basing his next campaign on a rewatch of Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS essentially.

For a one-off gag, or at least a one-story device, as Steven Moffat originally intended the War Doctor to be for the fiftieth anniversary show, this incarnation of everyone’s favourite Time Lord has a surprising amount of depth and character. In part, of course, that is thanks to the fact that he is played by a superlative actor who lives and breathes characterisation; but it is also due to the care with which Big Finish amongst others have taken the skeleton provided by Moffat and added flesh to the bones. Despite being a soldier embroiled in war, the nameless one as interpreted by BF spends most of his time eschewing violence and yearning for a time when everyone gets on with one another regardless of race, creed or the ability to get up stairs without an ominously humming base unit. But this is no criticism: Hurt’s Doctor has every right to the name he refuses, since, just like all the others, he is a flawed guardian of morality and justice.

And the overriding narrative is strengthened further through a range of other characters of depth: Pearce’s wonderfully Machiavellian Ollistra, of course; Dalek agent Lara Zannis is played adeptly by Who royalty in the shape of Neve Macintosh; Honeysuckle Weeks’s Heleyna similarly plays a character whose true trajectory is well hidden until the appropriate moment; and Timothy Speyer’s Kruger, the Stasi officer who first captures and then aids War (as the kids have it) is a joy, with a journey that goes from traditional East-European intelligence officer stereotype through proper companion material to at last a sympathetic hero with a back story that actually justifies the choices he’s made.

It all sounds, as ever, great – the sound design, as professional as ever from Big Finish, creates totally believable environments; and a cast of fewer than fifteen delivers what feels like all of Berlin and most of the rest of the universe to boot. The writing is tight, taught and efficient, making for satisfying and unputdownable (now a word) listening. Overall, this is a joy and well worth adding to any BF collection.

There are those who thought the retro-fitting of the War Doctor into Who canon was a mistake that should never have been attempted. I was one of them. Well, I was wrong in 2013 when Steven Moffat did it, and I’m even more wrong now.

Big Finish – The Sacrifice of Sherlock Holmes

The latest installment in Big Finish’s Sherlock series finds an older Holmes facing revitalised foes from his past, enemies that have come back stronger, and who are focusing on his destruction. It’s not a promising start for the world’s greatest detective, although being reunited with Dr Watson provides perhaps a single strand of hope in the battle. But both men are old and adrift, Holmes now deprived of the help of his brother Mycroft whom he suspects has been murdered by the Society, and Watson alone due to marital difficulties.The sacrifice of Sherlock Holmes

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Big Finish: 4th Doctor Adventures: The Pursuit of History and Casualties of Time

A trap woven across time and a plan centuries in the making awaits the Doctor, Romana and K9 as they once again face the Conglomerate, with its mysterious head, Cuthbert. Time itself is under threat from the company’s business tactics and strange distortions in the Vortex are only the start of the Doctor’s troubles.  Someone has been playing a long game, and it may already be  too late to stop Cuthbert from embracing his destiny.  But is he destined to run the universe… or destroy it?

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Big Finish: Torchwood 2.6 – Made You Look

Series 2 of Big Finish Torchwood has been back and forth as far as the turn of the twentieth century, but it’s somehow fitting that for the finale it’s back to the, er, present (ish?) with post-Miracle Day Gwen.

And a trip to the seaside too, following a claim that “Talmouth is dying” – suffice to say this won’t be anything like the lovely day the day she went to Bangor…

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Something is in the newly-empty town, something that knows where you are and is right at the edge of your vision. But be careful – see it three times and you die, it says. Gwen don’t look, don’t you stare, is it hiding under there?

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Classic Doctors, New Monsters – volume 1

They’re coming thick and fast now, these Big Finish forays into the world of post-2005 (don’t call it Nu) Who. We’ve had Churchill, we’ve had River. And of course we’ve had the Doctor Donna. But the one I’ve been waiting for with a shedload of excitement (and a small toolbox of dread) is the one that’s out today: Doctor Who – Classic Doctors, New Monsters Volume 1.

Excitement because… well… it’s classic Doctors with new monsters, and considering there’s some crackers in there, what’s not to love? And this sort of canon-expanding boxset is bread and butter to BF now. Hard to see how it could go wrong.

And yet… and yet… well, let me explain that toolbox-sized modicum of concern. See, the line-up of new monsters – Weeping Angels, Judoon, Sycorax and not-as-new-as-they’re-pretending Sontarans – doesn’t necessarily look terribly audio. Or even audible for that matter, in the case of the Weeping Angels. And thereby hangs my dilemma: it’s a simple ‘will it work?’.

I needn’t have worried. Each story does what BF does best in the Whoniverse – it takes something we know and love, and somehow shows it to be bigger, more colourful and with greater depth than we knew before. It expands the canon, and in a very fulfilling way for the audient. (more…)

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