Audio Reviews

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?

The Pursuit of History and Casualties of Time (more…)

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…

BF TW 206 Made You Look

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…)

Big Finish: Torchwood 2.5 – Broken

Jack and Ianto, and some alone time at last? Well, not quite as you’d expect…

BF TW 205 Broken

A criticism levelled at the first televised series of Torchwood was how Ianto seemed to recover his very British stiff upper lip so quickly after some very traumatic events early on, and got more integrated into the team despite the betrayals around Cyber-girlfriend Lisa. It all felt a bit of a leap – and in jumps Big Finish to tell what was happening behind the screen. Pull up a pew, I’ll get the pints in…

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Big Finish: UNIT 2 – Shutdown

Last November, Big Finish introduced Kate Stewart and Osgood to their audio universe in UNIT: Extinction, which was one of my favourite releases of the entire year. Now, Kate and Osgood (and Josh and Sam) return – their task, should they elect to acquiesce, is to investigate missing people and secretive use of extraterrestrial technology. But no simple operation this – across several continents they will face threats both alien and closer to home, and risk capture, being disavowed by their government, and death. Even Tom Cruise would balk at an assignment this unachievable…

BF UNIT 2 Shutdown

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Big Finish: Doctor Who Main Range – A Life Of Crime

The intergalactic Costa Del Sol, otherwise known as Ricosta!  Tropical, fantastic beaches, great food, and a thriving ex-pat criminal community retired from active robbery and thieving.

A life of crime!

But for one hopeful addition to its cadre of relaxing ex-criminals, things may not be as easy as she’d hoped.  While Melanie Bush is no longer associating with the scoundrel Sabalom Glitz she’s finding it much harder to extricate herself from the shadow of his reputation.  Perhaps having friends in low places will come with benefits: some of Glitz’s other cohorts may have need of someone with Ms Bush’s skills.  But why is the Doctor missing and just why do they have his TARDIS?

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Big Finish: Doctor Who Main Range – The Two Masters

The Master has an enemy. While the Doctor may want to foil his schemes, this foe wants him dead.  And this nemesis is the most dangerous man in the universe: himself!

The Two Masters

While the future and past are dying, gaps appearing in time itself, the two of them are locked in a battle to the death.  But how can the present kill the past? And can the past kill its own future?  This battle has been a long time coming and its outcome may mean the end; not just for the Master, but for the entire universe.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who Main Range – Vampire of the Mind

On a mysterious island, where not everyone who lands will one day leave, stands a solitary castle reputed to be haunted. However it’s not ghosts that inhabit this ancient structure, but something far, far worse.  The Doctor will have to keep his wits about him to discover not only the secret of this place but also the fate of several missing scientists, all of whom are connected to the top secret Dominus Institute.  But is this nagging feeling of having been here before just déjà vu. or is there another ghost from the Doctor’s past waiting for him?

Vampire of the mind (more…)

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