Doctor Who:: Remembrance of the Daleks Special Edition

The Daleks too continue to grow in menace, and work well, for once, without the focus being on Davros, and is a nice hark-back to pre-Genesis days. The grey/black, cream/gold look is very striking and the new Special Weapons Dalek is chilling in its ferocity. The edition of John Leeson and Brian Miller to the Dalek voices is also welcome, as is the return of the ring modulator. The reveal of Davros inside the Emperor at the climax is, indeed, a punch-the-air moment. Terry Molloy managed to instill in a head all the bonkers genius and desperation of Davros in those few short scenes brilliantly.

The supporting cast is universally superb, with Pamela Salem making a wonderful faux Barbara Wright-cum-Liz Shaw and Simon Willians is fabulous as Brigadier-in-waiting Group Captain Chunky Gilmore. Add to that a great cameo by Who stalwart Michael Sheard and this story has just about everything.

Being set on location helps too. The school is an effective back drop, and the few sets needed designed are straight forward enough. Being a historical neither lighting or costume can mess it up, and both do a good job.

It’s directed by Andrew Morgan like an action adventure, and the quick edits work well, and so do some of the OTT explosions!

it isn’t perfect – the Daleks wobble a bit, there’s a shot of some very modern looking flats in one scene, the sign on the door of the scrapyard is the wrong spelling, the Time Controller is a plasma lamp (they shoulda just used a lava lamp!) and again the story relies on Time Lords and a back story. You can see why RTD decided to do a way with that particular thread. It isn’t, either, the end of the rot – The Happiness Patrol and Silver Nemesis follow directly on from this – but it is a great indication of what is possible. A great story.

The Special Edition is packed wit features – including two lengthy docs about the making of and some great interviews with all the movers and shakers, all of whom seem very pleased to be associated with this tale. The commentary too as always with Sylv and Sophie funny, bubbly and easy to listen to.

This SE comes with a bonus disc about the history and evolution of Davros. It’s a wonderful documentary, and pulls in everyone from the world of TV, Big Finish and the written word to complete a “definitive” biography of the creator of the Daleks. However, this is where it let’s itself down – filmed in 2007, it desperately needs updating to including Journey’s End, and seems to suggest that, as BF’s Terra Firma does, Davros becomes the Dalek Emperor. We now know that isn’t the case, and it taints what is a wonderful journey through his life.

Doctor Who: The Wreck of the Titan review

The story moves on at incredible speed, which is sad really as it doesn’t give that much time for the listener to assess the situation. Each time you think you know what’s going on, it turns out to be wrong, which whilst amusing does frustrate those like myself who love to deduce things at a leisurely pace. However the conclusion of the play is extremely satisfing and was something I had not expected at all, even though the hints were staring me in the face. This is Big Finish at its best.

Full marks must go to Colin and Frazer who worked extremely well together. I am admiring this new mature Jamie who doesn’t depend on the Doctor as much as he used to in the classic series. Big Finish have clearly developed a more rounded figure that is exactly what we’d have expected Jamie to become, had he stayed on in the Tardis. It’s actually quite sad, knowing this is a trilogy, as the relationship between Jamie and the sixth Doctor is one of the strongest companion relationsships to grace Big Finish.

Additionally, all the additional cast put in fine performancees. I was especially fond of Alexander Siddig’s performance, and how his character “adapts” thoughout the play, allowing Siddig to show his full range of acting abilities.

Another excellent installment from author Barnaby Edwards. One of the most original and strong Big Finishes to date.

10/10

Available now from Big Finish

Doctor who: The Hornets nest- The Stuff of Nightmares

Retired Captain Mike Yates sees a classified ad which seems aimed directly at him. Responding to it, he finds himself in an over-stuffed country cottage where a certain Time Lord seems to be taking a sabbatical from his wanderings in Time and Space. Of course, trouble follows the Doctor around, and stuffed animals are coming alive, or, more precicely, being brought back to life, seemingly, by tiny little alien hornets…

Episode one is mainly the set up for what is to come, and is told in a first person first person, where Mike Yates takes the role of, essentially, Dr Watson, recounting his reassociation with the Doctor who, in return, recounts his own situation and the trouble which is builing around him. For this part, we rarely hear the characters “speak”, as it seems they are mostly writing down what has happened in the past.

The cast is universally superb at speaking aloud – and I know that this is an odd thing to say about an audio, but don’t be looking for a Big Finish “live action” play and consider this more like a Radio 4 talking book, as the style is morelike that of a Sherlock Holmes story than a Doctor Who one. The language is wonderfully colourful and flamboyant and Paul Magrs shows he is a craftsman with words, and these words fit the mouths of all the major characters very well. Every scene, every place, is described in vivid colour, and every situation described in clever, minute and crystal clear detail.

However, this is also quite frustrating as, although we hear Tom Baker’s voice, we rarely hear the Fourth Doctor. This is a story Mike Yates is retelling, and he’s clearly embellished the Fourth Doctor’s own account, with abverbs and adjectives and metaphors abound. Mike comes across as rather pompous, which is no surprise, and no criticism, he is a retired army officer of course, but the fact that it is him telling the story dilutes, for me, the impact of the Fourth Doctor’s return. Tom revels in the wonderful dialogue, it’s right up his street, but it comes across more of a Tom Baker character than a Fourth Doctor. Tom famously played the Doctor almost as himself for the seven years he held the part, and he does so here too, although thirty years have past and he’s a different person now, and so the Fourth Doctor seems just below the surface, scratching to get out.

Occasionally, when the Fourth Doctor speaks directly, we can see this is deliberate, and that Paul knows exactly how to write for the Fourth Doctor, with some wonderful dialogue that comes directly from Tom’s tenure. When someone states the Doctor is mad, a wonderful grin erupted on Tom’s face and he states. “I know! Marvellous, isn’t it?” And there he is, right there.

Musically, the score is dramatic but unintrusive, and the sound clear and crisp and very naturalistic. The supporting cast is also very good, everyone involved is a very good “reader”.

This isn’t Big Finish. Anyone desperate for the Fourth Doctor to be in that kind of adventure won’t get it. Although they won’t be disappointed. This is very much in the style of Holmes and Watson, and the writing and language is suitable to that genre. The flashes of Fourth Doctor are tantalising and exciting too, and I for one can’t wait until the next episode, as this story unfolds, to hear him again.

Destiny of the Daleks Review

Watching Romana in comedy regeneration mode, Daleks with their side panels clearly falling off, and a cut-price Davros with a head which doesn’t quite fit, my first thought was “Come back Mrs Noah!”, the Mollie Sugden vehicle from 1977. Partially this is because I was looking for a copy of the sole series of Mrs Noah the other day, but equally I think I saw a resemblance because a resemblance was there.

Don’t get me wrong – I like the single episode I’ve seen of Mrs Noah but it looks like it cost about seven and six to film and even its most ardent fan couldn’t claim it as an example of careful and considered scripting. Instead it’s a quick knock-up, utilising a name with a degree of cachet in a genre with equal, if potentially equally transitory, status as the in-thing.

For the BBC combining Mollie Sugden and Star Wars-generated sf fever, read an alt-universe ITV squeezing Doctor Who into a Buck Rogers in the 25th Century shaped hole.

Hence the Movellans’ camp as a row of caravans uniforms, complete with silver disco wigs and groin enhancing tight white trousers. Add their fabulously trashy pink guns, the Dalek bombs which look like nothing so much as giant antibiotic tablets and Romana wearing a cerise version of the Doctor’s long coat and you have a story which costs sod all, plays up to the campy attraction of a major ITV import success and where story and plot are of far less importance than the aliens looking cool and with it.

Having said all that there are things to like in Destiny even if you ignore the camp.

There’s a nice (I suspect, scripted) touch where the fluttering of Davros’ hand as he first awakens is mirrored by that of a Movellan crushed under rubble, highlighting the similarity between the species before the reveal that the Space Disco Queens are robots.

Suzanne Danielle is quiet lovely as Agella, the fit Movellan.

The shots of the Daleks gliding about the sand and rubble strewn hills of Skaro are very effective, especially in those scenes where the Doctor hides at the bottom of an escarpment along which the Daleks are hunting. In fact, the location filming in general is excellent.

It’s just a shame that the interior filming is less successful. As with the Dalek scenes in the Pertwee serial, Day of the Daleks, the set designers have obviously decided that evil alien mutants in state of the art travel machines would, for preference, choose to live in a city largely composed of plywood painted black and illuminated by the sort of free standing lamps only otherwise seen in…well, TV studios. There’s a definite air of ‘good enough I suppose’ about the construction of the Dalek city. The fact it has none of the quality of the same city as seen in Genesis of the Daleks isn’t terribly surprising given budgetary constraints, but they could at least have tried to make it look the similar.

Now that we’re back to complaining, this might be a good time to enquire – what happened to the dangerous radiation? In episode 1 the Doctor warns Romana that the radiation on the planet could be deadly and gives her a beeper to tell her when to take radiation tablets. He then (a) doesn’t give her a supply of tablets, rendering the beeper just a cruel, sick joke and (b) never mentions it again, except at one point later in the same episode when his beeper goes off and he scoffs a couple of tablets. Romana feels a little ill in the mines later on, but that too passes as writer Terry Nation entirely forgets what’s going on.

Or maybe the radiation continues but shows itself in unexpected manner? How else to explain the stoned looking willingness of various prisoners to be shot by the Daleks in a scene only a little while after those same prisoners were shown actively shifting rocks and trying to protect Romana from herself? Or indeed the exact same prisoners in the exact same scene doing weird mugging and grinning when told they could leave so long as they take their recently murdered friends of theirs with them.

In the end though none of this really matters, nor does David Gooderson’s sub-standard Davros or the fact that Nation certainly implies that the Daleks have wholly eradicated their organic element. Having sat down to watch part one on a Monday, intending to watch one part an evening over the week I ended up watching three parts that night and the last part (and the two decent extras – check out how pissed Ken Grieve acts in his interview) the following evening – it may be loosely plotted, dodgily acted and seemingly cast from Saturday’s crowd at Fire Island, but it keeps the attention and – as with most Nation scripts – careens along at such a clip that you do always want to know what happened next.

If only ITV’s actual science fiction output had been half as good…

Doctor Who: The Eternal Summer

Fans of the Doctor Who comic will be happy to see Max make his transition from print to audio. Mark Williams gives an enjoyable performance that captures the characters quirkiness and enthusiasm for all things alien. He works as an excellent foil for Peter Davison and Sara Sutton; who are both again on top form. Bernad Cribbins character Wilf is often said to be inspired by Max but this performance takes the character in a different direction; and its a very enjoyable listen. Its also nice to have his backstory referenced by the Doctor; making Max feel like an existing part of the who universe.

The rest of the cast are also good and it captures the small village feel. There is a lot of emotion crammed into this episode; due partly to the time distortions that are causing all the villages to live their lives again and again in a single day. Its a lot to convey in a short space of time but its well handled. The only minor disappointment was the Lord and Ladys voices. Its not a big complaint but they felt like they could have benefited from some extra effects being applied to them. Its impossible to go into detail why without spoiling a plot point however.

The plot is good with plenty of twists and turns though its hard to say to much about it due to its nature. The sound effects are good, as is the sound track which doesn’t overpower the story. Well worth a listen.

8/10

Available now from Big Finish

Doctor Who: The Dalek Collection

Dalek, by Rob Shearman, is one of the best Dalek stories of all time. Reminiscent of Power of the Daleks, and based on his own Big Finish Sixth Doctor story Jubilee, Dalek sees a lone and damaged Dalek being tortured by Henry Van Statten, an odd mix of Richard Branson and Bill Gates in a story reminicent of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s The Most Toys. When the Doctor and Rose arrive, events escalate, and the Dalek, predictably, escapes. But something is wrong with it, and, as it creates carnage on its way to the surface of the underground base, it begins to change, a change it seems for the worse…

Everything in this story works. Nicholas Briggs is in turns chilling and sympathetic as the Dalek, Billie Piper is vulnerable and determined as Rose and Christopher Eccleston shows a visciousness and terror unseen in any Doctor in the past. A great story, and as good as you remember.

Series One ended with Russell T Davies’s Bad Wolf/A Parting of the Ways and ties up a lot of loose ends left dangling throughout the season with the Daleks in a plot to reinvent themselves under the tutelage of a bonkers Emperor who considers himself a God. Bad Wolf shouldn’t really work, but does due to the conviction of the main cast. Deadly games of Big Brother, The Weakest Link and other contemporary gameshows are played on the Games Station – which turns out to be The Long Games Satellite Five. Behind a plot to destabilise the Human Empire and create a new breed of Daleks, the Dalek Emperor appears for the first time, properly, since Evil of the Daleks, completing the Second Doctor echoes in this series. This is all about motives rather than plots, and in A Parting of the Ways, little happens plot wise as the chaacters are all put through the mill or killed. Or both. With Jack abandoned and the Doctor regenerating, again this is a thrilling, heart racing adventure and one which merits a second look.

Skipping, it seems, Doomsday, the action moves to Helen Raynor’s Daleks In Manhatten/Evolution of the Daleks. As David says in his intro, Daleks In Manhatten does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s the weakest of all the stories in this boxset and a story full of holes and “best of” scenes and if it wasn’t for David and Freema this could have been actually bad. It’s not though. The Dalek’s plot is suitably mental again, the fact that they DO evolve and change with every adventure is refreshing and some of the concepts almost work. Dalek Sec’s Human Dalek however, is and was a bad idea. Daleks are Daleks. That’s the point. Carnage ensues, but one gets the feeling that the Daleks could have been substituted for another alien race to greater effect. And “Daleks In Manhatten” is absolutely the worst title for a Doctor Who adventure ever! Sounds like a provisional title someone forgot to rethink.

On to the end of series four now with The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End with the Doctor having to bring all his companions from the new series together fighting a Dalek Empire which has been rebuilt (again) from the body of Davros, pulled out of the Time War from Caan, from the Cult of Skaro from Doomsday after he escaped at the end of Evolution of the Daleks… phew! This has got to be the most convoluted Doctor Who adventure ever. Russell T Davies talks about wiping away the “baggage” of classic Who for his new series, but goes on in this story to create a continuity which goes away back two series. It’s a fan thrill to see all the companions again, the story again is a mad Dalek one, and echoes The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and it ties up a few loose ends from series four (lost bees, lost planets, etc…) but, in my opinion, there is just too much going on, and for a casual viewer it must have been a mystery. Some things don’t work at all. Another Doctor/Rose reunion wastes a perfect ending in Doomsday, and the way Rose swaps to a “human” Doctor is jarring and uncomfortable. It is an adventure, which Terrance Dicks alludes to in the commentary for Planet of the Daleks, which goes for “the moment” as apposed to the story. Just don’t think too hard about it. Triumphs are, of course, Julian Bleach’s Davros, although, again, I think this is recasting for recastings sake – not only would Terry Molloy have been able to be Davros exactly like this behind the mask – it would have given a further gravitas and continuity thread that only he could. Another triumph is the parting of Donna and the tragic way she becomes what she was before she met the Doctor. A tour de force by a wonderful Catherine Tate. The scene with everyone flying the TARDIS is heartwarming too, if the reason they have to – towing the Earth back into position – is suitably bonkers.

All in all, this is a set of varying quality – Dalek is the best, by far, Daleks In Manhatten the worst – but none of the stories are bad, and all are full of fan thrills and fabulous moments. But then, you know that, because everyone already has these…

Doctor Who: The Companion Chronicles – Night’s Black Agents review

Its a fast past tale this month and its very atmospheric. We lurch from powerful physical battles with a giant Kelpie down to dark and eerie banter with a reverend who has something of the night about him. The tale goes at a brisk pace and even in its slow moments it keeps you hooked. You never quite know how things will pan out although you know its only a matter of time before it all goes to hell.

Frazer Hines doesn’t do the voice of Doc 6 as well as Doc 2 but its passable. And he tells a captivating tale; knowing how and when to ramp up the tension. Opposite him this month is Hugh Ross, who is a delight as the plotting priest who’s domain the Doctor and Jamie end up trapped within. The story gradually teases out more and more of the ministers back story and builds to satisfying climax that didn’t disappoint. The dark dealings here were both more convincing and scary than last months Missing Adventure: Point of Entry.

Well worth a listen to; the companion chronicles have been consistently good of late and this was no exception. Its also a nice touch it overlapping with the monthly series.

8/10

Available now from Big Finish

Doctor Who: The Black Guardian Trilogy

After a very unnatural and forced conversation in which shouty Tegan might as well have turned to the camera and gone “Previously, on Doctor Who…”, Peter Davison, looking as though he’s thinking “right, home by half ten, don’t think too hard about this” speaks some technobabble and the TARDIS is caught in between two opposing Time Zones – neither of which make much sense. 1983, clearly because well, contemporary works, doesn’t it, and, em, 1977, just before the Brigadier joined UNIT, sees him retired from, er, UNIT, and working in a, um, School For Boys as a Maths teacher. Meanwhile a group of aliens with Welsh names (or maybe Latin, it’s hard to tell) have managed to evade Capitol Guards, break through the Transduction Barriers and swipe some regeneration technology from the Time Lords. Ok then. You keeping up… so, we have, a school boy – who’s really an alien trapped on Earth, employed by the Black Guardian to off the Doctor with a rock or something, TWO versions of a confused looking Brigadier wandering around the set for Every Second Counts and the TARDIS crew caught in the middle. Add to this the alien crew, who regenerate into paper-chain wearing, spag-bol headed floaty likes and you have an absolute mess of a story.

It doesn’t hold up in the slightest. The plot is pointless and makes no sense, the Time Zones are off by so much it’s criminal that any of the production team didn’t clock it, Turlough – played by Mark Strickson who goes on to have a jolly old laugh about it all – is OTT, hammy and thoroughly unbelievable and Sarah Sutton and Janet Fielding look like their characters have suddenly taken stupid pills. Add to this a Nicholas Courtney who really does himself, or the Brigadier no favours with lots of “pondering” and this is a difficult story to recommend. It’s good for curiousity value, if nothing else, and Peter Davison is always very good value, but don’t expect a coherent story. Direction is flat and all a bit meh, lighting is awful – but curiously shows how it COULD have been – and the cast are clearly going through the motions, with the exception of Strickson who is really trying a bit too hard. Mawdryn Undead, for that is what it is called, is not a classic Who tale by any means, in fact the whole thing comes across as a production crew going “Ach, that’ll do…”

Following this is Terminus and this is, to be fair, an adventure with more a coherent thread that the previous one. Sets though look like they’ve been dragged out from A Nightmare on Eden and again the lighting department and costume lets it down. “Space Pirates” with blown up condoms for helmets and the “terrifying” Garm clearly aren’t what was in Stephen Gallaghers mind when writing it and, of course, there’s what to do with murderous Turlough. Em, look him under the floor… This is a better story that Mawdryn Undead, but is bonkers at times too – slow motion fighting, the Garm, Nyssa’s sudden cleavage-showing and shedding-of-clothes and sudden decision to stay. Modern Who is criticised a lot for its “soapy” way of ridding the Doctor of a companion, but I’d rather have the emotions of Donna or Rose than the bland “last minute” decisions of the older companions.

Completing the trilogy is Enlightenment, and it is the best of the bunch. A wonderful concept – Eternals, bored and listless in a race through the stars – and some fabulous design, it makes one frustrated as to why the previous two stories weren’t given so much attention to detail. With the exception Leee John and Lynda Baron as the pirates, ooo aaaar, the cast is uniformly good, and the denouemnent makes perfect sense for once. In a story where costume is everything, however, the Black and White Guardians bird-headpieces are just plain daft.

The boxset itself is excellent value. Packed with commentaries, little featurettes and three substantial documentaries, it shows the cast and crew were really up against it during the filming of these stories, both under the constant interference (?) of JNT, budget, time and a script editor who’d clearly gone “fuck it, that’ll do…”. Another rewrite or two, some discussion with the lighting and costume designerrs and these stories might have worked better. The cast make a wonderfully witty and self-afacing commentary too, and show that, like us, it helps not to take this too seriously. My only gripe is the narrator of the documentaries – kids favourite and SJA guest star Floella Benjamin OBE – who seems to be speaking with a constant smile on her face, puts weird emphasis on certain words, punctuates oddly and who, as my own personal bugbear, pronounces “Dalek” and “Dalik” and Cyberman and “Cybermn” as though they were Jewish.

Despite my moaning, this is a decent boxset and worth it for Enlightenment – and an oddity of a Special Edition re-edited/new effects version too – and the extras alone. Just, when you watch Mawdryn Undead, just don’t pay too much attention…

Doctor Who: The Architects of History- Review

I won’t go further into the story here, as it would ruin it, but I will say that this is a play of epic proportions, equal to that found in BF’s Dalek Empire story The Apocalypse Element. Anyone expecting to see a remorseful Klein will be suprised by how her predicament is resolved, but I think listeners will also possibly feel quite saddened. I never thought I’d feel sympathy for any Nazi character, yet for Klein I do. She is a victim of the Doctor’s deeds and it’s clear she really believes in what she is doing. But under all that, there is a underlying saddness to the character as she knows she can never really return home.

The only criticism I have of this play has to be the Selachians who are quite generic: it would have possibly worked better if the Daleks were to replace them. (The Daleks do get a name drop in the play however). This is not really important, however, as they are mainly used as a device to move on the plot.

What really drives this epic is the quality of the characters and wonderful acting/music. This has certainly been the best Big Finish play of 2010. I’m sorry if this review is somewhat rambling but the fact is there is so much going on in this play it is really quite hard to condense it. This is just one of those plays that works on so many levels, has something for everybody and offers a damn good ending to what has been a wonderful “trilogy of four parts”.

10/10

Available now at Big Finish

Doctor Who: Plague of the Daleks- Review

Plague-of-the-Daleks-coverThe final part of the Big Finish Stockbridge trilogy finishes the pattern set by the first two; we’ve had past and present so now its the turn of the future.

The story initially feels like the Android invasion. The locals are present but something’s not quite right and finding out that Stockbridge is actually a historically themed tourist attraction isn’t a major surprise. But the attraction isn’t that successful and years of underfunding and a lack of staff see the place falling to pieces. But something else is lurking in Stockbridge, something nasty and alien and its not to long before the tourists are wondering if this vacation may be their last.

The Doctor and Nyssa spend much of the adventure separated which is a shame as they play off each other very well. The new characters, the staff running the place and the tourists, are nice enough but never seem to be as well developed as the characters in the previous two stories. There are some nice twists with the Daleks and they behave in the usual manner; with tactics from past stories being reused in interesting ways.

The story moves along at a fair pace but even with the Daleks it takes a while to build up a sense of real danger. Davidson is on top form and has some interesting material to work with; Nyssa doesn’t get as much to do as previous stories. The rest of the cast provides adequate performances but none off them really blew me away. Nic Briggs as always delivers great Dalek voices but given his high quality this is something thats now expected. Its very much a run of the mill Dalekstory. If you like the pepper pots you’ll enjoy it but its much more a Dalek tale than a Stockbridge one despite the setting. It does however give Stockbridge a nice send off and if you’ve listened to the first two stories it ends things in a satisfying way.

3/5

Available now From Big FInish

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