Audio Reviews

1963: The Space Race (Big Finish Doctor Who Main Range 179)

Kazakhstan, 1963 – and the Doctor and Peri find themselves at the scene of a double murder. Stopping only to assume the identities of the cadavres they’ve just stumbled across, they soon find themselves picked up and taken to the control centre of the Vostok 7 moon shot. But as the tiny capsule disappears behind the moon, contact is lost…

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Who, especialliy Big Finish’s Who, famously has the legs it has because it can support such a wide range of stories: from the camp farce of?The One Doctor through the science fantasy of?Chimes of Midnight to the (relatively) hard sci-fi of, say,?Wirrn Isle. However, largely these can be said to fit into two camps: those stories that are largely realistic, even if dealing with sci-fi tropes; and those that are frankly bonkers.

The Space Race, on the face of it, sits squarely in the first camp. It is set at a known place and time, with real events and people (okay, maybe just potentially real people – people who could have existed, rather than did exist). And from the outset, it feels more like a pure historical than anything else.

But doubt sets in with a single line: “What is ‘red’?” I won’t tell you who asks that question, but know this: while things are already turning to mystery, it is at that line that one starts to wonder what is actually going on. And it’s only a few minutes later that one knows: the narrative has turned from pure historical to unadulterated, glorious bonkersness!

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The Beginning (Big Finish Companion Chronicles 8.05)

The first of a series of three Companion Chronicles celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who, Marc Platt’s?The Beginning is the prequel that many of us have been waiting for. The Doctor’s – and Susan’s, of course – escape from the confines of Gallifrey has been the stuff of furtive fan-imaginings for decades now, and at last a (semi-) official story has entered the canon. What questions will be answered, what mysteries revealed?

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Well, as it happens, a couple of quite delicious ones. Not everything, though: for example, the exact goings on inside the golden dome that caused the Doctor to make that fateful decision are touched on but largely glossed over. Thinking about it a bit, that’s probably for the best. Some mysteries are meant to remain mysteries, and the show remains the better for these things continuing to be the stuff of muttered guess-work rather than fictional fact. Faction? Does that work?

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Big Finish: Blake’s 7 – Fractures

At last, at long, long last, we have a second full-cast outing from BigFinish for the Blake’s 7 team. Fractures by Justin Richards is essentially a ghost story, with the Liberator entering a starships’ graveyard and finding not all is as dead there as it first appears. But who of the seven can be trusted, and who is now out to murder his or her compatriots? It’s a tense, fraught hour to the ultimate reveal.

 

It has to be said that this is an extremely atmospheric piece, and the paranoia that grows in each character as the story progresses – and it has to be said, some approach the problems that face them more pragmatically than others – is easily matched by that of the listener. Richards’s script is tight and fast paced, building an atmosphere terror nicely.

Performances are great throughout, with not one actor sounding out of place playing their characters even the former – let’s say it – have aged while the latter haven’t. Even Gareth Thomas’s Blake, which with past BF productions I’ve found to be a long way from the Blake of old, sounds right. 

Coupled with a sound scape built from nostalgia, this play feels right out of the season two of the TV show – and yet, still adds something new: a little more depth to the characters, Blakieverse (is that a word? It is now) and the story.

If you’re a fan of B7, this will take you straight back to the old series; if you don’t know the series so well, it will give you a thorough and speedy insight into what makes each character tick. Either way, it’s well worth a punt, this one.

Blake’s 7: Fractures is available from BigFinish.com.

Daleks Among Us (Big Finish Doctor Who Main Range 177)

There’s a thin line between tension-filled, Dark and Gritty(tm) drama, and out-and-out slapstick comedy. Well, actually there’s not: usually there’s a gaping chasm a mile wide. Nonetheless, Alan Barnes’s script for Daleks Among Us, the finale of this year’s Seven/Klein trilogy, manages to straddle it with extremities akimbo like a thru’penny strumpet who’s been offered a shilling.

If you’ll excuse the needless misogyny.

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This is neither complaint nor criticism, mind you. Rather, it’s more an expression of surprise. Frankly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the two approaches to drama so thoroughly imposed upon each other, and as such it takes a while to assimilate.

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Light at the End: The Big Finish Anniversary Special

“Wha?! It is a Police box – and it’s smashed our chimney!”
“Is it Father Christmas, Daddy?”
“What? Um, no Kevin, darling – it’s a bit too early for that!”

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And so into a stonking new fusion of the Doctor Who theme, as Christmas comes early for Who fans everywhere with Big Finish surprising everyone by releasing their anniversary story Light at the End exactly one month ahead of expectations.

For many the Who outing of this anniversary year, Light at the End provides what much of fandom has been declaring the epitome of celebratory story, the multi-Doctor epic. What it also provides is something that, I think, very few considered it possible to after cognating on the issue for a moment or so: a plot that is more than just a thin pretence for getting the eight actors in question into a room together.

Time is folding in on itself, and it appears to be focussed on the events in a Hampshire home on the night of Saturday 23 November 1963, an otherwise unremarkable (honest!) date. Eight Doctors, against their will, the rules and regulations of Time Lord society and the machinations of the Celestial Intervention Agency, are pulled inexorably together, as their effects on the universe are negated and their companions ripped out of time.

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1963: Fanfare for the Common Men (Big Finish Doctor Who Main Range 178)

Ever wondered what happened to the Fab Three? Doubted the veracity of the Mark is Dead rumour? Pondered on the amount of time they spent drinking tea (okay, that was the Rutles)?

Wonder no more. Fanfare for the Common Men tells you all you never knew you didn’t know about Susan’s favourite band, the global phenomenon that (never) was: Korky, Mark and James.

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Apart from one slightly missed trick, Big Finish’s latest Doctor Who Main Range release is a fantastic start to the 50th anniversary celebrations. Written by the redoubtable Eddie Robson, Fanfare for the Common Men tells the story of a world in which the Beatles never rose to prominence. In the their place, the Common Men of the title, a three piece from Liverpool who match their never-were townsmen’s meteoric emergence as dominators of the 60s music scene step for exact step. But how did this historic travesty happen? How did the Fab Four get replaced by the Fab Three? The Fifth Doctor needs to find out – or risk losing Nyssa forever.

The first in a trilogy of stories based around events occurring in 1963 – apparently a year that many of the Doctors found irresistible to visit – this one sets the series off with a bang. It’s a joyous thing, filled with mystery, peril, humour, aliens, thankfully non-dodgy Scouse accents and some of the best Beatles knock-off melodies this side of the aforementioned Rutles.

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