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SJA: New Series: Sky Episodes One and Two

sja

SKY

EPISODES 1 + 2

by Phil Ford

Reviewed by Eddie McGuigan

The new – and sadly final – series of The Sarah Jane Aventures gets underway on 3rd October (followed the next day by Ep 2), on the CBBC channel with an adventure by veteran SJA writer Phil Ford.

A baby is left on Sarah Jane’s door step, but no normal child. One who blows light bulbs in the entire street when she cries, and who can pop electrical circuits whilst laughing. At the same time a warrior from a race known as Metalkind appears in a scrap yard and the slick Mrs Myers (although, apparently it’s not spelt like that!), shows up in a nearby Nuclear Power Plant, immediately to enslave the workforce and go looking for her “daughter”. Christianing the baby Sky, Sarah Jane, Clyde and Rani, set about to discover what’s going on – and who would leave a baby lying on a doorstep. Sarah quickly dismisses Rani’s suggestion that it’s the work of the Doctor, of course, but something isn’t write.

As the three disparate groups come together, the baby changes and out pops a twelve year old girl – same Sky, different body. It seems she’s a genetically programmed bomb, made by Mrs Myers’ people – the Fleshkind – as a weapon again the Metalkind to end an eon old war. But Sky is aware and as human as anyone, so of course, Sarah Jane is not going to allow this to happen.

Phil Ford knows his SJA inside and out, and this is standard, if a little derivitive, fair. The story is one dimensional and easily explained – but, to be fair, it is for the CBBC audience – and the basic premise is very similar to the pilot episode. With Luke still away at university, new character Sky, with her penchant for everything electrical, is the new wide eyed wonder, questioning what girls and pizzas are, and battling against her alien, darker side. It’s an exciting and fast adventure, and very, very Sarah Jane.

The cast is only let down by the over acting of Christine Stephen Daly’s Mrs Myers, who actually does shout “The end is NIGGGGHHHH!!!” and in an adventure where all the performances have been toned down since even last season, it does stand out a bit.

Newcomer Sinead Michael as the twelve year old Sky is good though, but she’ll struggle to be different from Luke as she’s essentially a reboot of that character – she even wears his clothes – but she’s lively and engaging and, to be honest, a better actor than Tommy Knight. The rest of the cast are as good as ever, though.

Script editor Gary Russell adds to the mythos of SJA with the surprising inclusion of the Captain late on in the second episode, and a hint that he’s more than meets the eye. In fact, it’s more than a hint.

It’s impossible to review The Sarah Jane Adventures now without knowing of the tragic passing of Elisabeth Sladen. It’s with mixed emotions that one can watch it – joyous at seeing her doing what she does so effortlessly and sadness at the knowledge that she’s been taken all too soon. Whilst looking the picture of health in the series, her voice over does sound a little older, a little deeper, and it’s such a heartbreaking thing to hear.

There will be debates as to whether these should have been shown, or whether they should continue – Clyde and Rani could definitely pull off a CBBC spin off, but it would probably lose a lot of it’s “Who” appeal for its older audience – but I for one am glad to see that Elisabeth Sladen spent her final months being Sarah Jane Smith again, and enthralling children everywhere. It would be churlish to criticise this series for story content or derivation, so, for once, let’s just sit back and watch Sarah Jane do what she does one last time.

Outcasts Ep 1 + 2

Outcasts

Episodes One and Two

Reviewed by Eddie

contained mild spoilers…

outcasts

It’s unusual for a terrestrial channel to go to such lengths with “serious” science fiction, so the BBC must be encouraged, endorsed and applauded for attempting this six part story from the pen of Spooks writer Ben Richards. Indeed, that’s not the only Spooks link in this highly polished tale, as production company Kudos and former Mi5 bad girl Hermione Norris all play a huge part in the programme.

Set in a future where Earth seems to have torn itself apart, a fleet of refugees, or Expeditionaries, set up a new home on the planet they name Carpathia, and try to rebuild the human race. They are driven, passionate and grim in their task, each with a past and backstory revealed slowly in layers. The basic premise is, as ships where lost and the Expeditionaries originally ravished by a virus, can the human race make a better life for themselves on Carpathia, or will humanity destroy itself all over again?

The cast, it has to be said, is stellar. Liam Cunningham leads the outpost Forthaven as President Tate, a geneticist who has fallen into the role of leader but is grim and steady about his job, and he is joined by a core team of Security and Protection officers, including Ashes to Ashes Daniel Mays, the afore mentioned Norris and Battlestar Galactica’s Jamie Bamber, who at first seems to be very, very Apollo. This is a clever conceit on the part of the director, who plays with our perception of the actor and his character, along with the juxtaposition of Daniel May, for a nice eyebrow raising twist. Other Kudos favourites like Hustle’s Ashley Walters show up as other S&P officers, in a role much more suited to him than that of a conman, and all play a part in the rich tapestry of people who live in Forthaven.

But something is not quite right. Bambers Mitchell – a hero and pioneer – seems to know something that is deeply troubling him, Tate has had to make choices he wishes he could forget, and there is a transport ship approaching with more survivors – but do they really want these new arrivals on Carpathia?

The one thing the story does not do is talk down to its viewer. It starts the story with the society up and running, and we have to pay attention to discover who is who and what is happening. Things have gone on for quite a time before we get to Forthaven, so it’s up to us to get up to speed as events take a dizzying turn.

Episode two, after a shock end to episode one, begins to deal with the new arrivals, in particular Norris’s Stella’s daughter, and the ramifications of that, and the Evacuation Committee’s vice president, Eric Mabius’s Berger. Both will set events off in new directions, as Berger is not only looking for his old position back, but also seems to be now some sort of religious guru. And of course, there is also the secret that Mitchell discovered in the wilderness… something which drives him to extreme choices.

Now, to critique this isn’t hard. It’s polished, professional, well written and shot beautifully on location in South Africa. The special effects, such as they are, are slick and unobtrusive and not the the point. It’s about the people. The BBC seem to be promoting it as an action adventure, though, and if you tune in looking for that you might be disappointed, because it’s not. In places it’s slow and wordy and you really do have to be paying attention, as words and phrases are used which are common place to the characters but new to us. What is an AC for instance? This isn’t a complaint. It’s adult sci-fi drama where the sci-fi is the cause of not the setting too, and that is a good thing. Sci fi fans will like it. Will your regular Waking The Dead/Silent Witness folk though? Well, they went for Torchwood, so hopefully. It is relentless in its reality though, and with Bamber around it’s difficult not to compare it to Battlestar Galactica, particularly the episodes set on New Caprica.

Critically, it is a little grim. Everything is dirty, everyone is miserable, especially Norris’s Stella who is far too self indulgent for the position she holds in Forthaven. Jamie Bamber’s Mitchell however is a complicated and broken hero, and… well, spoilers…

I thoroughly enjoyed this and hope you do too. I can see it being head scratching for some though, and disappointing to the pointy shooty brigade, so it may struggle to find an audience. I’m hoping it doesn’t though, because more of this would be very, very welcome.

Outcasts – Finale Feature Interview

outcasts

Interview With Ben Richards and Finale Review

by Eddie McGuigan

It’s no news to Skarosians that I’m a fan of Outcasts. Unfairly critiqued in some quarters, this is an intelligent, uncompromising series which, whilst not perfect in every sense, dared to take science fiction seriously and offered BBC viewers a non patronising and thoughtful series full of potential and fabulous characters.

Writer and creator Ben Richards has a fabulous TV pedigree. Coming from the background of a novelist, he was chief writer on Spooks for the middle part of its run – although now refusing point blank to acknowledge the very existance of Spooks: Code 9 (“What? Sorry? Never heard of it!”) – and has even put words into everyone’s favourite Doctor’s mouth, in the guise of Matt Smith in Party Animals. Ben is sharp, friendly, passionate and intelligent, and clearly loves not just the series Outcasts, but the concept too. Catching up with him, I spoke to him about his career to date, tried to find out what happened to Zaf (sshh, spoilers!) and got his thoughts on Outcasts as the series reaches its end. “We’re heading for Cultdom!” he despaired. Hey, Cultdoms not too bad. There are many good shows there, Caprica, Firefly and Dollshouse to name just three.

So how did you go from writing novels to writing for telly?

I was working as a Housing Officer for many years. Then I went to Chile to do a PhD on housing under Pinochet. When I returned, I was writing up my PhD and started a novel about my experiences as a housing officer (Throwing the House out of the Window) as a kind of distraction from the tedium of data crunching. My first professional commission was a show called Politcos. It never got made but it did lead to me being offered Spooks on Series 2.

So why telly? Is it better than writing novels?

The money’s much better on TV! Novels don’t pay the rent.

And what was your job on Spooks?

I used to be lead writer on Spooks from Series 3-5. Then I would do odd episodes here and there on further series. I didn’t work at all on the last one.

What do you think makes Spooks such an appealing and enduring series?

I think Spooks is so enduring because it has such a strong format and such brilliant characters. We also made the show stronger than the individual characters which allowed us always to bring in new blood.

Is part of the fun finding new tortures for the characters?

For me the main fun on Spooks is weaving the human and political  stories through the thriller stuff. Although I have killed off a few characters!

Tell me Sir Harry is safe!

Sir Harry Pearce will never die! (well not on my watch anyway).

Do you have a favourite episode or storyline?

My favourite episode is the one where Danny dies. I love the moment where he defies the terrorists knowing it will lead to his death but perhaps save Fiona. Fuck you, you death-worshipping fascist! A good line to go out on. I also liked the two-parter about the coup and the introduction of Ros Myers.

Talk to us about Party Animals, starring a certain Matt Smit

Party Animals was one of my favourite shows. It also got a mixed reception when it arrived, now people  come up to me or write to me and tell me how much they loved it. And of course it launched the careers of some pretty amazing actors. I have always had a strong interest in politics and the BBC at the time wanted a show that reflected the political landscape just as Cameron came on the scene. But we wanted to tell it through the lives of the young researchers and do a non-cynical take on politics because it’s not all about charlatans and liars. Some people didn’t understand that it was a character show, a rather gentle love story about two brother  and chose to read it as an attempt at satire which was never ever the intention. I sometimes think that “satire” is the only tolerated approach to British politics – it’s very much a tradition of the dominant class after all who sometimes have an uneasy relationship with democracy.

And having worked with Matt, do you like Doctor Who? Would you like to write for it?

I do like Doctor Who although I don’t always keep up with it. I love Matt Smith and think he is a brilliant actor. It’s a massive show that was so important to me as a kid as well – I don’t think many writers would turn down the opportunity to write for it.

So onto Outcasts, how did that come about?

Outcasts was originally an idea about pioneers and I never thought I was going to make a sci-fi show per se. I certainly never thought: “I know, I’ll make a British version of BSG” which I hadn’t watched at the time I started development on Outcasts. So the original idea was about pioneers and the space idea came from Hawking’s quote that if humanity were to survive it would have to “reach for the stars”.

They’re are many Battlestar Galactica parallels in it, particularly the New Caprica stuff. Was it an influence?

I have to be honest and say that BSG wasn’t really an influence at all – it may just be that in trying to focus on certain aspects of human struggle we are occupying similar terrain. Perhaps a bigger influence for me was Bladerunner – still, I think, a breathtaking, heartbreaking masterpiece which explored issues of human identity, emotion and mortality which were also fundamental ideas in our show.

What was the main thrust of the idea?

The driving force behind Outcasts was that of “second chances” and whether humans were doomed to failure as a species. Pioneers on another planet would be both fragile and susceptible to conflict. Another theme linked to this was my horror at the way we treat other species on earth and my interest in the idea of species and evolution. Specifically, what would happen if we found we were no longer the dominant species and what an “advanced” species might be like. I was interested in a Richard Dawkins idea that sci-fi has been unimaginative in always depicting “aliens” as rather weird looking creatures rather than different types of life-form altogether.

Did it turn out on TV as you had imagined it in your head?

Obviously, there is always a difference between what starts in your head and what ends up on screen but I think that Bharat Nalluri – the director who set it up, and Ed Thomas – the designer (who also designs Doctor Who) did an amazing job as did the CG people.

What are you most proud of about it?

I’m most proud of the fact that we tried to do something different, we were never cynical in our approach and we’ve paid a price for that. People who wanted space-buggies and lasers didn’t get them and those who don’t like sci-fi at all didn’t always get the show either. This meant a niche – albeit passionate – audience in a mainstream channel and we suffered for that. In some ways the schedule change was a relief because it meant our loyal fans who love the show could watch and I could stop worrying a bit! But we could have made a medical drama, or a cop show, and while – when done well – there is nothing wrong with these genres, we had ambitions beyond that. I’m proud of that. I’m proud of the effort people put in: the cast, the crew, the production team, the great and helpful support we received from the BBC etc. I have never once regretted doing it and I still don’t. I have a picture of a smoking survival shuttle from Ep 2 proudly above my desk – it’s an apt image I think and it makes me smile.

What do you think of the reception Outcast has received?

We’ve had some nice things said, some nasty things said and some exceptionally stupid things said. The people for whom I reserve my greatest contempt are those who didn’t give it a chance, who preferred shallow infantilist bullying to any kind of rational critical engagement or understanding of what we were trying to do. It was funny sometimes to read utterly contradictory criticisms especially over the exposition issue. Too much? Not enough? I am quite happy to say I still believe we got the exposition about right and would happily discuss that on a scene by scene basis! A few people attacked the production values or the CG – I think they can be dismissed as simply ignorant of the topic on which they purport to pass comment (although it makes me angry when I think of the intense effort that went into the production.) In most other fields this ignorance would be considered a drawback but it didn’t seem to bother some of the more opinionated “critics”.

More sensible criticism was about starting with too much back story when we didn’t know the world or characters well enough. That to me is a valid and interesting point and it would be a very arrogant writer who didn’t admit to learning from the reception their work receives. Should we have killed Jamie Bamber? Actually, we killed Mitchell Hoban which creatively I think was right as he represented a type of pioneer whose symbolic time had come. I think that debate is also interesting and it divides people, although many of those I have spoken to still think it was the right thing to do. Pacing is another huge issue on which I have strong thoughts (remember I’ve written a lot of Spooks so I do know a thing or two about it) but that would take us all day!!! I do wonder now if these episodes – given their slower place which I personally liked – might have worked better over 45 minutes as one critic (Dan Owen – check out his interesting – and by no means always flattering to us – blog) suggested. It’s a good point even if, overall, his taste in film is a little questionable.

I think the “real” sci fi fans might have “got it” more than more generic critics?

There was also a good side to the reception of course and people who were very supportive. With Outcasts I got real pleasure from the response of those who took the trouble to watch the show including some who had been sceptical at the start. I loved AA Gill’s review in the Sunday Times and I’ve had some slaggings from him on other shows. Many people warmed to Outcasts (surprising for a show that was a series not an episode!!!) as it hit its stride and I have had great fun discussing it with its hardcore fans, with some scientists, and with people like yourselves and Den of Geek. There is a tendency to see the internet as uniformly toxic or the territory of the nerdiest fanatics – in fact we have got some of our greatest understanding and most interesting critiques from that source.

And wat hopes of a second series?

Obviously it is highly doubtful if there will be another series of Outcasts which for me is a great shame as we had some interesting ideas and new characters to come. Sadly, it didn’t find a home on primetime BBC1 although that itself raises very interesting questions about what we watch and where we watch it.  How may people watched BSG? Or Mad Men? Where did they watch them? Of all genres though, sci-fi has probably the highest casualty rate and I suspect we might be joining an illustrious list of those who never made it to the next stage – to me a shame as many shows don’t get going until later on.

But I am really proud of Outcasts and I have just seen Episode 8 which I love. Anybody wants to slag that off and I am willing and ready to come out all guns blazing because I think it summarises all that is best in the show – great acting, high emotional tension and a concern for moral issues that is sadly lacking in much drama today. I stand by it 100%.

And what’s in Ben Richards future?

The future? I have some interesting projects in deveopment which are largely single pieces although there is also a series idea with the team that made Party Animals. Another novel definitely. A holiday maybe. Some time with my lovely, patient wife (who also worked on the show) and my kids of two and five who are brilliant and fun and a reminder that telly isn’t everything. I’m currently working on a script which involves the Titanic. So that will give me a respite from on-line controversy I’m sure! Being a writer can be really tough but it is still the only thing I can imagine doing. And I never say never with Spooks!

The final two episodes of Outcasts are very different creatures, but both deal with multiple strands that, it soon becomes obvious, aren’t all going to be tied up in a neat bow by the end of Episode Eight. This isn’t a bad thing. As I have been saying from the start of the series, this is fitting, as real life doesn’t stop and start in eight hour long segments.

Ep 7 deals primarily with Cass, as we find out more about his past and deal with another situation about other, secondary Carpathian residents. A neat twist and some fine acting framework a story with many strands, and there is a definitive gear shift, especially with Stella, which would have been welcomed earlier on. There’s also technobabble! Fabulous. Add to this the confirmation of Aliens on Carpathia and an extinct race, and there are mouthwatering concepts here.

Ep 8 sees the series end with all the cast coming into their own. A startling revelation about Fleur is the catalyst for Berger’s machinations with Jack to come to a head, but Tate and Cass aren’t as stupid as they’d all like to think, and as revelations abound along with a terrifying return of an old nightmare – or two – cranks up the tension. Berger finally makes his move – but are all his pieces in place?

Outcasts doesn’t end in a big spectacular, it’s uncompromising and clever to the end. There is definitely a faster, pacier, intriguing second series to be made, but whether that shows up on tv – or elsewhere – is not known for now. It’s a pity because, in the view of this critic, it’s absolutely worth a punt.

 

Thanks to Ben for his help in this article.

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day…

On Tuesday 5 July 2011, as the British summer finally arrived, felt it was being arrogant, and swiftly hid behind a raincloud, I found myself wandering along the Euston Road. Not aimlessly, as is often my wont: this time I had an appointment. For me it was going to be… Christmas in July!

Christmas in July is a trade fair: toy manufacturers from across the UK congregate in a mighty convention venue to show the eager press what’s going to be hot and what’s not for the 2011 festive season.

The convention venue, in this case, was Camden Town Hall. Not all of it, at that: I eventually found a small sign indicating that the event was “this way”, pointing in to what looked like a small church hall tacked on the building’s back.

Inside, a collection of some twenty stalls from a variety of manufacturers showing their wares. Of these, the majority were displaying a variety of remote control devices, dolls, child-oriented computer games and the like. All very nice, but really only three or so were of specific (as opposed to general) interest to Skaro’s readers.

IMG_0197aThe first of these was Schleich, the well-known German toy figure manufacturer. Schleich’s figures tend to be head and shoulders above the competition, and this season looks to continue in that trend. Most of Schleich’s ranges continue, and this Christmas we see the arrival of a “Warriors from History” range, including such stars as Roman legionaries, Vikings, Mongols and one character in a loin-cloth holding a spear who was dubbed “The Proud African” – ever so slightly dubious. Pride of place in the collection, however, is the magnificent Battle Elephant – a snip at £35 (Battle Howdah and figures extra) – and I can honestly say, it feels almost worth it. Lovely.

IMG_0204aSchleich’s big push this year, however, is a genre smash: the Smurfs! Schleich has held the licence for the little blue men for forty years now, and with this summer’s blockbuster movie (if you believe the advertising) promising to be Smurfs in 3D, Schleich are looking to cash in. Watch out for them (and if you have any left over from the petrol promotions forty odd years ago, check out ebay: you could have a nice little earner on your hands).

Second, Mega-Bloks, the other Lego-ish manufacturer, is moving more and more into the genre market. Having had a good degree of success with its Halo tie-in compatible-construction range, this Christmas it is introducing both a need for speed and Marvel superheroes range. Sadly, none of the latter were available, but it promises to be quite fun.

Which brings us to the manufacturer of what will probably be of most interest to visitors to this site: Character Options and its various Doctor Who offers.

IMG_0200aMuch of CO’s Who display was taken up with products that are already well known, in both the 5” figure and Character Building Lego-ish ranges. However, a few new products were on display: the Cyber-Conversion and Dalek Factories from the Character Building range both look expensive and worth every penny. Hours of fun – and when you’ve finished, the kids will enjoy them too.

Likewise – and this I predict to be a runaway bestseller – a mix-and-match sonic screwdriver set: three different models of sonic screwdriver all of which break into multiple, recombinable sections. A IMG_0203atotal of sixty-four different combinations are available I’m told. It’s Pimp My Sonic basically – create your own unique screwdriver (for values of unique less than sixty-four, anyway) for only £20.

And pride of place goes to CO’s faithful 5” figure reproduction of Susannah Leah’s Blue Peter competition winning junkyard Tardis console, as seen in The Doctor’s Wife. (Susannah herself was on hand, having been subpoenaed by CO to appear on their behalf and help with the marketing – you’ll be pleased to hear she’s not yet been IMG_0199acorrupted by celebrity status.) It’s a lovely reproduction, and again should provide hours of fun until the kids get their greasy paws on it.

I asked both CO and MegaBloks if there was any opportunity for cross-promotion. Both laughed at the weird little man and his preposterous ideas. Nonetheless, I predict that the good Doctor with his companions Hulk and Spider Man will be fighting Daleks and Green Goblins alike, coming soon to a playground near you.

All in all, then, there looks to be little revolutionary on the scene this year. Nonetheless, more of the existing good stuff – especially from CO – is on its way, and that can’t be bad.

CO have very kindly donated one of the Junkyard Console reproductions to give away – complete with a signature from Susannah herself, you lucky people. Details of the competition will be released later in the year.

Machine Gun Preacher Review

I know how it sounds. It sounds like one of those cheesy hallmark movies that your wife drags you along to. You know the type, bad guy finds God and now he’s Mother Theresa! This film could so easily have been like that, but trust me it’s not. This is an emotional story that doesn’t hold its punches.

It doesn’t go out of its way to paint Sam as a good guy. It leaves you to make your own mind up about that. Its shows the good things he’s done but also shows the mistakes he’s made along the way. He’s definitely not Mother Theresa with an Uzi! What it does show is how he learns from those mistakes and the difference they make to him and those around him.

 

Don't mess with Gerard Butler, he kicks ass!

 

Gerard Butler has made some good movies, 300 for instance, and some right stonking rubbish *cough*Phantom of the Opera*cough*. Luckily this one is a good one. I reckon he plays it well managing to hit the emotional scenes well without turning them into “NOOOOO! GOD, WHY!”  This is certainly, one of his better movies. The movie isn’t without its faults though.

For instance, none of the rest of the cast particularly stand out. It’s a decent enough supporting cast. Michelle Monaghan as his wife Lynne for instance, but it doesn’t really give much screen time to their story to give them a chance to develop well and they are pretty much just there to support.

Mind you, its already over two hours long so any more and its heading to Peter Jackson territory! It also lives up to the Preacher part of the title at times. Yes, it needs the church scenes in the movie but sometimes it just lays it down a little too thick and that could put some people off it. Having said that though, I enjoyed this film and would recommend you go and see it and decide for yourself.

Marks out of ten? I’d say an easy 7.

The Companion Chronicles: The Cold Equations

While its a fairly by the numbers 1st Doctor plot the story is very engaging. Set way in the future this earth is well past its Glory days and its inhabitants have been reduced to a primitive state.  Above the now neglected space ways are full of junk.  This scrap has attracted alien rag and bone men intent on making some money but when the Doctor and his companions drop in unexpectedly events quickly spiral out of control with disastrous consequences.  These events are the backdrop to the stories setup,  with our two protagonists trapped in the remains off a satellite floating high above Earth.  Air is low and there seems to be no hope off rescue, with the Doctor trapped in a different part of the wreckage and the TARDIS drifting in space.

The cramped makeshift prison and the threat of the air running out give the story a constant sense of claustrophobia and tension.  With time on their hands Steven tries to force Tom to reveal the secret he has been keeping.  The sparing between them is intercut with the back story of them arriving on the station and the events leading up to the disaster.

While the story doesn’t bother with shocks or twists it is well told.  And harking back to the shows remit as an educational tool it decides to throw some Math into the mix.  Yep, by listening to this story you may actually learn something.  While it doesn’t consume the story it is integral to the resolution.  It makes sense but coming from Peter Purves it did feel a little like being back in school.  Thankfully blackboards don’t translate into the audio format so the lesson is kept brief and to the point.

This is one of the better first doctor tales.  The intense setting helps the story to move along at a brisk pace and the secret Tom is carrying adds an air of mystery.  Purves does a good take on the first Doctor; he really nails the mannerisms without going over the top with them.  The music and sound effects are faily minimal but that serves the story.  The aliens don’t get developed much but they really are back story; with the real meat of the story being between Purves and Allen as they spare over the secret.

An enjoyable tale, well worth a listen.  7/10

Reviewed by Friendsofderek

The Companion Chronicles: The Cold Equations is available from BigFinish.com.
Discuss this review in the forums.

The Book of Kells

The Book of Kells
Reviewed by Nic Ford
Doctor Who - The Book of Kells

Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! This review is going to be pretty short – largely because I want you to stop wasting time reading this, and go straight out and buy the Book of Kells. I really think it’s worth it. So, let’s get the basics out of the way.

The story revolves around, as you could probably be expected to guess, the Book of Kells, a medieval illuminated manuscript written by the monks of Kells Abbey. Saying much more than that would probably give the game away – but I’ll just say that it involves meeting with an old acquaintance, a use of medieval illustrative techniques that doesn’t bear terribly close examination, and a cess pit.

And it’s good. Funny, well-acted, well-written by Barnaby Edwards. It sounds lovely. It’s educational. (I now know more about twelfth-century Irish royalty and politics than I ever did before. So, hardly anything then. But it’s still 1000% more than I knew before.) And it has a twist.

The eager student will remember that I’ve been waiting for the episode that gives Tamsin a chance to really shine. I’m not sure that this is it, but it’s a lot closer than we’ve had before. Tamsin is turning into a wonderful mix of klutz, genius and innocent abroad, with a healthy dose of cynicism about her travelling companion. This makes for a great comedic character, not to mention some lovely jibes at McGann’s Doctor (who is, despite being my Top of the Docs, a bit bloody smug sometimes) and Niky Wardley plays that side of it to the full. Looking forward to more from her.

The rest of the cast are very fine too, with Terrence Hardiman providing an appropriately melancholic interpretation of the Norse King trying to forge peace from warring clans. Special mention should go to Graeme Garden, who puts in an assured comedy performance, without sounding hugely like Graeme Garden. Not that that would be a problem , he’s fantastic – but his interpretation here works lovelily.

And Lucianus is… but wait! Didn’t I say this needed to be a short review? I’ve already spent too much of your valuable time, when you could be out buying it. Go!

Are you still here? Why are you still reading? It’s great, go out and buy it. Even if nothing I’ve said here whets your appetite, buy it anyway.

And don’t listen to the extras till you’ve heard the play.

And make sure you listen all the way through the closing title music.

And then wait. It’s worth it. Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!

Discuss this review on the forums

 

The Carrion Queen

I must admit, this one threw me a little to begin with.  As I don’t have any knowledge of the characters or events from the TV show, throwing the listeners into the middle of ongoing events with Trask walled up can mean new listeners need to take the first few scenes to find their feet with what’s going on.  However, once that’s done (and it honestly doesn’t take much to get up to speed – Trask: nasty piece of work who thinks he’s doing God’s will – got his comeuppance and is left with only the ultimate way out), this is another cracking little play in Big Finish’s Dark Shadows range.  Honestly, for a series I have no prior experience of, I’m enjoying the heck out of these.

The fun in this play really kicks in once Trask and Angelique find themselves back in the Civil War.  Here we’ve got two villainous characters playing off each other.  Each having been promised a way out from eternal damnation, so each is eager to out do the other.  Both these characters play off each other well, with it being clear (at least based on what I could get from the play) that Trask is generally the nastier of the two, whileAngelique is the smarter, and none too happy to be stuck with him, especially as Trask sees it his divine duty to ensure she loses.  Jerry Lacy in particular manages to come across very menacing as Trask, and its a great job by the two main stars.

A really nice bonus to this play is the cast.  While Lara Parker and Jerry Lacy are credited, the Big Finish website would have you believe this play is a Companion Chronicles-style 2 hander, but that’s not the case, as you have Nigel Fairs as the Dark Lord and Lizzie Hopley (who also wrote the play) turning up in the civil war as a mysterious figure Trask and Angelique stumble upon, who turns out to be very important to events.  The couple of extra voices really add to the play, giving it a much more “full cast audio”, richer feel and really feeling like you’re getting more for your money.

If like me, you’ve been enjoying Big Finish’s Dark Shadows range, then I definitely recommend picking this play up.  While the unfamiliar backstory definitely threw me to begin with, once the main story of Angelique and Trask’s challenge kicked in and they arrived in the Civil War, I found myself really enjoying the interplay between these two characters and was thoroughly hooked.

The Carrion Queen is available from BigFinish.com
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The Creeping Fog

First things first, in addition to David Selby reprising his role of Quentin Collins from the TV series, this plays sees Matthew Waterhouse make his Big Finish debut as John Cunningham, the museum employee who helps Quentin take shelter from the fog, and it was really nice to finally hear him appear in a Big Finish play.  He does a great job as his character who helps Quentin sort through the mystery of the voices in the fog.

Atmosphere is key to this play.  While the previous Dark Shadows play I reviewed, Death Mask, relied on a pulp detective feeling, this play is much more about the spookiness and the claustrophobia of the museum setting, as the fog slowly works its way inside to claim Quentin.

The meat of the story focuses around Quentin’s immortality and the consequences of living so long.  Quentin goes from being completely apathetic about being caught in the middle of the blitz, to finding himself being reverted to his true age, and haunted by the past, both his own, and those of others claimed by the fog.  Its an interesting idea and one I found quite interesting, as Quentin actually finds himself facing the real possibility that he’s going to die, but still doesn’t succumb to the end, and is determined to find a way to win.  His age nicely plays off the setting, as he’s surrounded by all these items from the past, and finds himself dragged into other times by the fog.  This is a story that feels steeped in age and history.

This is a nice little play, and its definitely got a strong focal point in Quentin and his immortality.  To that extent I did find it a shame that I don’t know the history of the character from the TV series as I feel that would’ve let me get even more out of the play.  As I found with Death Mask, the strongest compliment I think I can give these Big Finish Dark Shadows plays is that they really make me interested to watch the original show, as the characters involved are fascinating.

The Creeping Fog is available from BigFinish.com

Deimos

 

Deimos
Reviewed by Nic Ford
Deimos-FORWEB

Um… I’m not sure what to say. It’s not that there’s a problem with Deimos – there’s not, it’s good. It’s just that it’s the first part of a two parter, and it really doesn’t feel like it’s over yet. It’d almost be disingenuous to say anything.

The story concerns a museum exhibiting the remains of an Ice Warrior settlement on the Martian moon Deimos, and the band of Ice Warriors awakened from its hidden vaults, who go on to try to take over the moon base for their own nefarious ends. And that’s about all there is to say – I’d like to claim I’m avoiding giving anything too much away, but the reality is, I’ve pretty-much covered the totality of the narrative right there.

The writing from Jonathan Morris is strong, and apart from anything else contains some great names. It’s atmospheric and scary, but with really quite humorous moments, Niky Wardley as Tamsin taking a fair few of the available gags. She really is becoming a comedy assistant – although, I’m glad to say, not in a way that intrudes on her believability as a person.

The casting works well: Tracy-Ann Oberman as Temperence Finch (lovely name!) is very good, and believably cold and calculating. Likewise, David Warner as Professor Boston Schooner (gorgeous cognomen!) is as superior and selfish as they come. And Nicky Henson as Gregson Grenville (okay, it’s wearing off now) plays the character he always plays, which is no criticism because it absolutely works. Even Harold and Margaret (what happened?!) get some good lines, and are believably heroic, defiant and slightly old and shaky.

It’s by no means the best thing that Big Finish have produced, but it’s also a long way from the worst, and it’s certainly not a waste of an hour or so. It’s a fun yarn, which I am certain will be funner when I’ve heard the ending in a month or so. Watch this space. Oh, and it has a surprise ending. But not as much of a surprise as The Book of Kells did. Which is no surprise, considering.

Enjoy.

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