Doctor Who: Heroes of Sontar

As the first appearance of the Sontarans in Big Finish, its perhaps a bit unexpected that they’d be introduced via a play that, let’s be honest, isn’t taking itself that seriously.  A lot of this play is played firmly for laughs, with the Sontarans themselves a source of much of the comedy (and the actors involved really give it their all, and are clearly having a lot of fun).  Of course, with so many returning monsters that are played up as the ultimate menaces they are, this does give a nice, fresh feel to the play.  Unlike the earlier 5th Doctor comedic release, Castle of Fear, the humour really hit the mark for me on this one, and I was frequently laughing away to myself or sitting with a big grin on my face at the antics of the Sontarans.

One thing I found particularly interesting was that in a previous Big Finish podcast, it had been mentioned that the actors were being told to focus more on the classic series Sontaran stories, as that was the portrayal Big Finish wanted to capture more than how they appeared in the new series.  On this count, I can say the play didn’t really work, as the Sontarans far more brought to mind their blue-suited incarnation with their singing and the jokes at the expense of their height.  However, I don’t really see this as a bad thing since, for me, those aspects really built on what made the Sontarans really stick in people’s minds (especially the war chants highlighting their militaristic natures), and as with the new series, its a take I found very effective here.

Which is not to say its all laughs in this play (although it mainly is).  Nyssa and Tegan get some nice moments after Nyssa is infected by the plague that killed the population and is facing her own death.  The twist of bringing Nyssa back from a point after the character left the TV show is also highly effective for raising the tension.  Unlike Tegan and Turlough, we don’t necessarily know what is going to happen to Nyssa, and so that adds an element of danger that normally doesn’t exist with the companions from the TV series.

So to sum up, this is a release that I’d definitely recommend.  If you prefer your Big Finish plays to be more serious, then admittedly this one probably isn’t for you, but for myself, I had a blast listening to the various misadventures of the TARDIS crew and the team of unlikely Sontaran troops.

Heroes of Sontar is available from

Doctor Who: The Demons of Red Lodge and Other Stories

Starring Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa, each play brings something unique to the table. The Demons of Red Lodge has a brilliant spooky atmosphere that evoked the old Hammer Horror films to me. The Doctor and Nyssa awaken in the middle of some woods, and find themselves with no memory of the events that led them there. Seeking shelter in a nearby Lodge, they soon find that they’re not alone. The atmosphere is really the key to this play. Its claustrophobic with a small cast and an immediate threat that neither the Doctor or Nyssa remembers, and throwing the characters off kilter like that is a nice way to jump straight into the play.

The Entropy Composition is notable as its the winning entry to the competition Big Finish ran earlier in the year, and also because its a cracking debut by writer Rick Briggs. It makes brilliant use of the audio medium, crafting a story about a killer Prog Rock symphony that also has a nice link back to the previous story to explain why the Doctor’s taken Nyssa to the music archive. I’d definitely be keen to see what Rick Briggs would come up with given a 4 part release, and with such a brilliant hook for the play, its easy to see why it stood out to Big Finish.

Doing Time was a really interesting story, that saw the Doctor imprisoned by a tyrannical prison warden after warning them about an explosion due to happen in a year’s time. He then must live out in the prison for the following year, while Nyssa tries to get arrested to help him, and all knowing he’s trapped in the very place that’s due to explode. Again, its a strong release, with plenty of humour this time. As the Doctor works alongside the prisoners and butts heads with the authority figures, the story evokes the Shawshank Redemption at times, while the seriousness of the Doctor’s situation plays nicely against the humour in Nyssa’s continual attempts to get arrested.

Finally, Special Features, like The Entropy Composition, seems like a great idea for the audio medium, with the main action taking place in the recording booth of a DVD commentary track on an old horror show that had strange things happen during the filming. Fortunately the show’s historical advisor, Doctor John Smith is on hand with his unique view of events. Really two plays in one, this play nicely has the listener discovering about the previous events that occurred as the show was filming, as the cast rewatch the episode, while there’s also the question of what’s happening in the recording booth that’s prompted the Doctor to reappear. Its a clever idea that fits the 25 minute format perfectly, as it’d have felt dragged out over a longer story.

It really can’t recommend this release enough. Four brilliant little bite-sized, quirky stories, that shine through with Big Finish’s usual quality scripts, casting and sound design.

The Demons of Red Lodge and Other Stories is available from

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Doctor Who: The Crimes of Thomas Brewster

Of course, this opens up some potential issues, with all these returning Big Finish-only characters.  As someone who’d only caught one previous DI Menzies adventure, and none of the previous Thomas Brewster plays, I was slightly concerned I was going to be lost during this one.  I had done a quick bit of research though as to who Brewster was in advance of the play though (God bless wikipedia), and it all worked out fine and I found this a hugely enjoyable affair.  There were a few bits and pieces about Thomas’s backstory that I didn’t know, so I had to just gloss over them, but if anything, its made me interested in going back and picking up the previous stories with these characters, especially DI Menzies who plays off of the Sixth Doctor incredibly well.  Especially given the fact this Sixth Doctor has never met her before, so there’s a River Song-esque situation going on, with the characters meeting each other out of sequence.  Something I felt was well dealt with in the play, without ever becoming bogged down by it.

There’s a heck of a lot of fun to be had in this release.  From the opening sequence, which sees the Doctor and Evelyn on the run from a giant robot mosquito, to them getting mixed up in amongst London gangland turf wars, to the reveal of what exactly Thomas Brewster has been up to, there’s some great twists and turns to the play, and it keeps up a quick pace throughout making for a great adventure.

Of course, this play forms the first part of a new trilogy, and I’m intrigued to see where things go with the Doctor, Evelyn and especially Thomas, who looks to be driving this series of stories, much as Klein did with her trilogy    But most of all, it means another two months of the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn, and who couldn’t look forward to that?

As always, Big Finish’s high production standards show through here.  The play does a great job given the jumps between more realistic elements like the London gangs, to the fantastical nature of other elements like the robot mosquitos.  Of course, the cast is excellent, but many of the actors are playing characters they’re familiar with now, so that is to be expected.

All in all, this is a cracking, fast paced adventure that gets the new trilogy off to a great start.  Despite there being some continuity gaps for me, I’d still recommend it, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how things develop with Thomas Brewster being thrown into the Doctor and Evelyn’s cosy relationship.  And next month also sees the return of Axos, which I’ve loved the trailer for.

The Crimes of Thomas Brewster is available from
The previous Thomas Brewster Trilogy is also available at a discount

Doctor Who: The Lost Stories – Earth Aid

CAST: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Beth Chalmers (Raine Creevy), Paterson Joseph (Victor Espinosa), Nadine Marshall (Shepstay), Basher Savage (Yanikov), Ingrid Oliver (Lt Baraki), John Banks (Metatraxi), Alex Mallinson (Grub)

AUTHOR: Ben Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel
DIRECTOR: Ken Bentley
SOUND And MUSIC: Simon Robinson

Space… The final frontier. But these certainly are not the adventures of Captain Kirk. For one thing Kirk knew what he was doing, something that can’t be said for the Captain of the Vancouver. The Doctor’s latest scheme sees Ace taking on the role of a starship captain. A role she was most definitely not born for. Thankfully a lifetime of watching sci-fi on the TV has prepared her. So set phasers to stun and “Make it so”. Or perhaps delay that order…

The play opens with Ace on the bridge, giving orders before returning to her quarters. Waiting there is the Doctor. This would have been a major episode opening for this missing series. I believe at one point it may even have been intended to be the season opener. While it would look great on TV it still works with the audio and it sets the story off to a strong start. The plot initally also works well. This would have been one of the Cartmel Masterplan episodes, although this story has had some tweaks to make it fit into this Lost Story arc. There is an interesting mystery going on and the first act sees the Cargo ships crew suddenly vanish with only a single passenger left. But he’s acting very strangely.

The middle acts build up the story nicely. Raine makes an entrance that riffs off a scene in a previous lost story. It works but it feels a little forced so soon. Sadly the ending unravels rather than ties things together. The tone had mostly been serious and the atmosphere intense and almost spooky. Although this was almost undone by Ace’s fish out of water acting the story managed to avoid the tone becoming frivolous. But in the final act the tone suddenly switches to low brow comedy. Its almost as if someone has spliced an early McCoy story together with a later series story. As you would expect the results are not pleasant. It doesn’t completely ruin the story but it turns a story that could have been good into a more average tale.

The Metatraxi make a return. It seems odd to reuse them so quickly, especially as the story ending does not really leave the door open for their return. But they are fun while they last and the mind games between Ace and their fleet are highly enjoyable. Unlike the fight between Ace and the Metatraxi general in the previous encounter the space battles work well in the audio format. Its not like the effects at that time handled space battles all that well either.

The Grubs are a bit of a disappointment. Their speech pattern is dominated with a food reference gimmick which quickly gets stale (sorry, they’ve got me doing it now). The voices are good but they never really grab you, although how they fit into the overall story is nicely thought out.

Simon Robinson gets to have a lot of fun with the music and sound effects, especially the space battles. Ken Bently keeps the story flowing along at a brisk pace and it’s always clear what is going on.

If you’ve been following the series so far then you are getting more of the same. While it won’t blow you away it’s fun. It almost hits the levels needed to recommend it as a standalone buy for people not getting all the Lost Stories but its last act drops the ball. It’s an interesting look into what might have been, but it retains too many of the flaws of the 80’s.

Doctor Who: The Feast of Axos

Big Finish are on such a roll at the moment, that there’s various things I usually say that seem utterly redundant at this point.  The fact that I really enjoyed this play, the brilliant sound design, the casting, these are all things I find myself saying every month and they’re true again here.  This is honestly a great time to have a Big Finish subscription.

The return of Axos is something I found myself oddly excited about.  I enjoyed the original story, but its never really ranked as one of my favourites, and yet when the trailers for this play hit, I found myself immediately drawn to it, and excited about this monster that I previously wasn’t fussed about.  I guess that’s partly because Axos is such an untapped resource.  It hasn’t been used that often since its original appearance (unlike other classic monsters we often see popping up in Big Finish, be it the obvious Daleks and Cybermen, or other classics like the Ice Warriors).  So the chance to go back and explore this monster was an interesting one.

But I think the real draw for me, the thing that really made me sit up and take notice, was the casting.  By getting back Bernard Holley as the voice of Axos, Big Finish pulled off a master stroke.  With this being an audio medium, to have that wonderfully rich and distinctive voice booming out “Axos calling Earth!” just really grabs you.  I’m really glad they managed to get the original actor back as it really added that level of authenticity to Axos’ return.

The script itself also works incredibly well.  There’s various different parties introduced, who all find themselves exploring the almost-dormant Axos interior.  Its a nice, spooky set up, aided by the fact that you know the ship is all just part of a single, living entity.  Axos knows they’re there, and its just a matter of time before it acts as it starts to wake up around them.  This idea that Axos is all one organism, and Axonite’s abilities of duplication are all very well used by the script which again makes it feel like this is a proper story that could’ve only been told with Axos, rather than being a play that just happens to have this returning monster in it.

And in amongst all this danger, is another threat.  That of Thomas Brewster.  Can he be trusted?  The Doctor obviously believes not, and its up to Evelyn, fresh with her own reasons for not trusting him, to examine the relationship further.  Its a perfect example of why Evelyn is such a great companion for the Sixth Doctor, forcing him to look at himself, and examine his own motivations.   And as a listener who is coming to Thomas Brewster fresh with this set of plays, I must say I’m really enjoying the more ambiguous companion.  The idea of an untrustworthy companion is not something that’s often explored within Doctor Who, as they’re so often needed as the mouthpiece for the viewer, that its fun to see Big Finish’s take on it, and I’m greatly enjoying the way this subplot has been developing.

So, this is definitely one to check out.  Its got an interesting, and well-written return of a classic monster that doesn’t tread on the original story (as must sometimes happen to bring back a monster), as well as the depth of the relationship amongst the TARDIS crew.   Recommended, although as I say, with the great run of plays Big Finish have had lately, that really goes without saying.

The Feast of Axos is available from

Doctor Who: Cradle of the Snake

Cradle of the Snake
Reviewed by Reilly2040

Doctor Who - 138 - Cradle of the Snake

The first of the September Big Finish releases rounds off the recent 5th Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Turlough trilogy with the return of the Mara, following the previous release’s cliffhanger.

As Barnaby Edwards admits in the CD extras, once Big Finish knew they were getting Janet Fielding back for several plays as Tegan, bringing back the Mara was an obvious choice to make, and in this play, following the Mara taking possession of Tegan once more, the Doctor travels to the Manussan Empire seeking help. However, with the TARDIS being the TARDIS, they arrive several hundred years before the Mara first took over. Or was their arrival an accident at all?

Cards on the table time. I’ve not been the biggest fan of this latest trilogy. The previous plays were to my mind, enjoyable, but I think they suffered in comparison to some of Big Finish’s recent output (the superb 7th Doctor and Klein trilogy, or the just-finished 6th Doctor and Jamie trilogy). Not to mention, with the hype of bringing this TARDIS team back together for the first time, especially with Janet Fielding back as Tegan, expectations were high, and I don’t think the plays entirely matched up to them (although I did enjoy the Whispering Forest).

So, that being said, I found this last part to the trilogy to be much in the same vein. I thought it was ok, but it didn’t quite hit the mark for me either and left me feeling a little let down. It wasn’t off to the best of starts, with the cliff-hanger in the last play seeming a bit forced and tacked-on, and there’s some curious choices here, not just with Marc Platt’s script, but the trilogy as a whole. 

This’ll be a little awkward without getting too spoilery, but the Doctor, for example, is absent for much of the play, and when he does reappear (in a scene that reminded me more than a little of The Big Bang), I couldn’t help but feel it was poorer for him not being in the play throughout, and made him seem a weaker character than we’re used to. 

The lingering plot thread of the plague which was in the first two plays is completely absent from this third part. This is really not so much a trilogy as the previous releases, and might have benefited more from Big Finish’s previous release cycle (with the various Doctor’s adventures mixed up throughout the year), so as not to build that expectation that there was something that would be resolved in this play. Instead, this trilogy is very much just the continuing adventures of this TARDIS crew (albeit with a few decades in between for Nyssa).

The main cast are, as usual excellent, and I’ve been especially impressed with Janet Fielding, who’s really stepped straight back into the role of Tegan with little effort. While I may have been slightly disappointed by the plays, its still been great to hear her back in the role, and I really do hope we get more plays with her in (if at least to wrap up the threads of the plague and Nyssa’s return). The guest cast also do a good job, especially as the Mara’s influence spreads as the play goes on, leading to some particularly well done and creepy scenes.

Another interesting aspect to this play, was in comparing it to Cobwebs. Here Turlough and Tegan are forced to work together to a large extent, so as a credit to the trilogy, we’ve seen Tegan come to terms with Turlough being a part of the crew, after being (understandably) less than impressed with him at the start of Cobwebs. It nicely plugs a gap in the tv series that saw Turlough going from the Black Guardian’s (not entirely willing) servant to accepted member of the team very quickly.

The Mara’s a powerful villain for its unique link to Tegan, and in that aspect I think it worked well here, emphasising Janet Fielding’s return to Big Finish. And there’s some interesting ideas explored in the script, especially as the Mara’s influence spreads and how that affects some of the regular characters as well as the guest stars. For me though, something in the production ultimately didn’t quite click, and that’s a shame as I’d had high hopes for this trilogy.

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Doctor Who: A Death in the Family

Those that read my previous review of Cradle of the Snake, will know I hadn’t been overly enthusiastic on the 5th Doctor, Tegan, Turlough and Nyssa trilogy, but then when Project Destiny hit, I thought “Yes, this is much more like it.” I really enjoyed Project Destiny, and it seemed like a suitably big event, finally bringing an end to the Forge trilogy.

However, now for me it’ll be “that play that came before A Death in the Family”. Its been immediately eclipsed, despite how good and how pivotal it was.

Okay, enough gushing. Proper review time. Which is actually quite tricky, because I want to try and avoid spoiling things too much.

Events follow directly on from Project Destiny. Hex has run off after the confrontation with his Mother, having realised how much the Doctor had been hiding from him. Ace wants to go after him, but first the Doctor has realised there’s a Gallifreyan Sarcophagus in the Forge Archives that they need to get to before anyone else. However the reveal of who’s contained inside comes as a shock, and also disastrous when Nobody No One, the Word Lord, is released once again. Fortunately the Doctor has the resources of the Forge Archives to call upon to stop him, but at what cost?

Obviously, I’ve gushed about the play above, but why did I find it so good? Well, firstly its the villain of the piece. The Word Lord. I hadn’t previously heard 45, so I took advantage of Big Finish’s offer to get the Word Lord episode for 99p and was immediately grabbed by the character. A new, inventive villain that’s truly staggering in terms of his power and willingness to use it. The way that he can be so easily empowered by a slip of the tongue from anyone is a great idea. That’s scary thing about him. It’s not his massive power, but the way it plays upon people’s fears of saying the wrong thing. It takes a simple little thing, like saying “No one can beat the Doctor”, and that’s enough. Its a simple and fantastically effective idea. I’d definitely recommend anyone thinking of buying this however, to also make use of the offer from Big Finish and pick up The Word Lord, as I think it sets up the villain brilliantly, and possibly helps you understand what’s going on in this play a little better, from that point of view.

But mainly for me, the reason I love this play so much is through its treatment of the Doctor’s companions. The fight against The Word Lord leaves Hex and Ace separated, each living separate lives as Hex finds himself on an alien planet with Evelyn, giving fans the meeting they’ve been waiting for, as she’s able to tell him the truth about his mother and what happened to her. However, despite Evelyn’s presence, it was Ace’s story that I found the more powerful, as she finds herself without the Doctor, a parent figure that she’s been around most of her adult life, and her story finds her conflicted between what she wants her life to be. Its a beautiful story for the character, and Sophie Aldred should be proud of how well its been realised.

And, of course, there’s Evelyn. A fan favourite companion if ever there was one, and its nice to see that final scene in Thicker Than Water followed up on at last as she gets to properly meet Hex. However its her scenes with the 7th Doctor that steal the show, and work incredibly well, given that “her” Doctor was the 6th.

Author Steven Hall has written a beautiful script here, that despite its impressive villain, remains grounded in the Doctor’s companions. This isn’t a story about Time Lords or all powerful menaces. Its about the people caught up in the middle of it all who get to do more than just ask “But, what’s going on Doctor?”, and I can’t recommend it more.

A Death in the Family is available from Big Finish

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Doctor Who: Lurkers at the Sunlight’s Edge

The TARDIS crew arrive on an island just off of Alaska in 1934. An island notable as, up until four years previously, it didn’t exist, and on which is a mysterious, giant citadel. It doesn’t take long until they encounter a group of explorers led by the shady Emerson Whytecrag, who is determined to open the citadel and harness its secrets for himself. Secrets which seem linked to a pulp fiction magazine whose author, CP Doveday, lives in an institute also situated on the island.

I must admit, I came to this play with a slight disadvantage. There’s obviously a lot of influence here by HP Lovecraft, someone whose work I’m only vaguely familiar with. I imagine those that are fans of his work will probably get that bit more from the play. However, even without appreciating a lot of that influence, I still got into the story about ancient demonic forces and those that seek their power. The setting is very effective, as the snow-swept, citadel-dominated mysterious island’s secrets are slowly revealed, and even with the institute there’s an immediate feeling that all is not as it seems that comes across well in the script. And there’s plenty for all the main cast to do. Indeed, I quite liked how Ace pre-empted the Doctor’s introduction of her, to introduce herself as “Doctor McShane”. It made sense in the context of where they were, but also to me felt like it nicely tied in with the progression of the character seen in A Death in the Family (not to mention Doctor McShane sounded a lot better than that brief period when Ace was just calling herself McShane).

The play moves along at a brisk pace, easily making its four episode running time fly past as each of the TARDIS crew slowly start to uncover separate pieces of the puzzle, neatly meaning the Doctor and his two companions all get their chance to shine, whereas the previous plays in this run have focused more on Hex and then Ace respectively.

This is definitely a change of pace from a lot of the interlinked plays we’ve had this year, as its a return to a totally standalone format, and from that point of view, its probably quite a welcome change after having two plays in a row so tightly bound to the continuity Big Finish have built up over the years.

In many ways, this story is a staple of Doctor Who, with its horror-inspiration, ancient powers and the madmen that would possess them, with the Doctor and his companions the only ones standing in their way. Definitely worth a listen.

Lurkers at the Sunlight’s Edge is available from

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Chuck Versus The Aisle of Terror

This is an episode of two major ideas.  The first is Chuck dealing with the reappearance of his mother after so many years and the group trying to decide if she can be trusted or not.  The second forms the Halloween part of the episode, between Robert Englund’s scientist, and the Buy More getting ready for Halloween.

The real meat is, of course, the story with Frost, however the Buy More events are nicely linked in by using the crossover with the scientist’s research.  The reappearance of Chuck’s mother also nicely coincides with Captain Awesome’s mother (Morgan Fairchild) deciding to visit to help Ellie and Devon with the baby preparations.  The contrasting between the two mothers works well ensuring the human element to Chuck’s mother’s situation is not lost amongst the spy shenanigans, as Sarah and Casey realise they may have to protect Chuck from his own desire to have his mother back.

Less successful was probably the Buy More antics for me this week.  Once again, Morgan needed Big Mike to bail him out, and I still find myself hoping they’ll start to grow Morgan into the store manager role, as so far the role reversal is only serving to confirm that Big Mike should be in charge (although granted, he doesn’t know about the new store’s CIA connections).  Likewise, while the idea of Jeff and Lester being put in charge of decorating the store (thus leading to the Aisle of Terror from the title) was promising, the payoff didn’t really work for me.  That being said, there’s some nice Morgan/Casey interaction again this week, as Casey appears to be taking Morgan more under his wing after last week’s episode.

However, those were really the minor points of the episode.  Despite the Halloween trappings, this episode is all about Chuck’s mother, and on that score it really doesn’t disappoint, and I was very glad how much Ellie was worked into the episode when it would’ve been easy to keep the focus on Chuck’s interactions with Frost.  There’s some nice scenes that offer Linda Hamilton the chance to show a conflicted side to the character and her abandonment of her children, and I can’t wait to see what direction this storyline goes in next week.


Chuck airs on LivingTV, Thursdays at 10pm
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Chuck Season 4 Episode 1

Chuck Season 4 Episode 1
“Chuck Vs The Anniversary”
Reviewed By Reilly2040

Now having moved to its new home on LivingTV, cult favourite spy comedy Chuck enters its fourth season with the impact of season 3’s finale still being felt.  Chuck has, on the surface, retired from the spy business, while secretly taking on his father’s mission to uncover the truth about his mother’s disappearance.  Meanwhile Sarah and Casey are tracking down arms dealer Volkov who has developed a handheld EMP device, and find themselves missing having both Chuck and the Intersect on their team.

This is Chuck in fine form.  Sarah and Casey handling the traditional mission, while we also get the antics of Chuck and Morgan travelling around the world in order to try and find his mother.  In fact, the only real complaint I could make about this season opener, is we once again find Chuck hiding things from Sarah, a lesson he apparently didn’t learn after all in season 3.

Chuck’s tradition of getting strong, cult-favourite guest stars is definitely present in this episode, with both Linda Hamilton and Dolph Lundgren in guest roles (with the later getting a few familiar lines Wink).

The only fans who may be disappointed by this episode, are those of the Buy More.  There are new developments, with the store being mysteriously rebuilt after its destruction in season 3, however fans of Big Mike and the legendary Jeffster will be left hanging on their fates (although fear not, as all three are still in the opening credits).

The episode does a great job setting things up for the coming season.  The new menace of Volkov is established, as is the mystery of Chuck’s missing mother and what she’s been up to in the intervening years.  Its also nice to see that the writers aren’t slouching on the personal lives either.  Chuck has to deal with whether or not to tell Ellie what he’s up to, leading to a nice scene between the two, while Chuck also has to deal with his relationship with Sarah, and the fact their respective missions are keeping them apart.

Fans of the series will be pleased to hear the show continues to be as strong as ever, and the great news being for the UK, that we’re not having to wait until getting season 4.

I leave you with this final highlight.  Keep your eyes open for the great Chuck spin on those Indiana Jones map scenes Smile

Chuck airs on LivingTV, Thursdays at 10pm
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