Doctor Who: Legend of the cybermen review

The Land of Fiction, a quirky and fluid place created and controlled by imagination. Filled with whatever fantastical creatures the controller can think off. Contrast this with the logic driven Cybermen, devoid of emotion and incapable of flights of fantasy. Its an interesting contrast and it gives the story a great starting place. But what happens next was a swerve ball I just didn’t see coming. Once the Cybermen realize they can take advantage of the fantastical nature of the Land of Fiction the story just gets strange and stranger. From the vast variety of Cyber-conversions, whales, mermaids, trolls and Valkyries to name but a few, to the Cybermens tinkering with the fabric of the Land reality. Its a strange story.

Normally with the Cybermen you get a tale of them low in numbers; being cunning and slinking about. Here its war; full on war with maximum conversion. They act like they should and their logical interactions with the world are chillingly efficient and to the point. Having the cybermen fighting against the inhabitants of the land of fiction allows some really odd battles to happen. I’d never have expected to see Count Dracula trying to sink his fangs into the Cybermen. But it works.

The story gets even odder still. Having the Cybermen alter the Lands narrative causing people to start narrating their own actions and environment. This does make the story rather confusing but hell its a lot of fun and its really innovative.

The ending; well its not as wacky or original as the rest of the tale but it gives a satisfying conclusion. Its a nice book end for the trilogy; and now the first 2 tales make a lot more sense. There are a few moments of sadness when you find out whats really going on but they just make the ending more poignant.

Its great seeing the Doctor team up with both Jamie and Zoe. Both actors slip back into their parts with ease. Though its a little odd as Frazer Hines is playing a much older version of Jamie and he acts quite fatherly to Zoe. That aside they are both great foils for Colin Bakers 6th Doctor. Having them with him diminishes his worst qualities and brings his often hidden softer side to the fore.

Its an odd tale this. The music and sound effects combine to produce what feels like the audio equivalent of an acid trip. It will not be to every bodies taste as its far from your regular Dr Who. But for anyone willing to take a chance its one heck of a ride. Just strap yourself in and trust the story and you’ll find yourself taken to places you didn’t expect.

8/10

Available now from Big Finish

Doctor who: Dalek War Boxset

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Frontier In Space is a cracking yarn. The story is straight forward – two mighty empires – Earth and Draconia – are pushed to the edge of war by the Master who is using a hypnotic device to convince each side they are being attacked by the other when, in reality, they are being attacked by Ogron assault troops controlled by the Master. Dropped into the middle of this the Third Doctor and Jo try to convince each side what is going on, whilst trying to stop the Master – but he has secret allies, and they’re heading his way…

Nothing in this story should work. The action is mostly off screen, the model work is a bit ropey and the story consists of constantly locking up the Doctor and Jo for episodes at a time. However, it’s a testiment to Malcolm Hulke’s script that the narrative pulls the viewer along with gusto. The dialogue is, with the exception of a couple of clunkers, very good,the characters well developed and Jon Pertwee, who at first seems to have phoned in the performance, proves what a laid back and fabulous Doctor he was with some wonderful one liners and a sparkling relationship with a feisty and resourceful Jo Grant. His attempt to escape from Jail No. One – only to be foiled by an approaching guard – is met with a “Oh, how very embarrassing!”. Wonderful!

Although the model work is what you’d expect from 1973, it somehow managed to create a suspension of belief – probably due to the cast playing it absolutely straight – and even a space battle worthy of Battlestar Galactica feels real as the Master attacks an approaching Earth ship. And there is some very good space walking too. Much better than some ten years later.

The triumph though, is the design of the Draconians. Why these aliens haven’t returned to Doctor Who is a mystery. A rich, diverse and realistic culture, they are fabulously brought to life by some wonderful prosthetics, which rival anything done today. A tour de force.

And of course no mention of Frontier In Space would be complete without a mention of Roger Delgado’s final performance as the Master. A bit of a incongruous ending for this incarnation – due to the tragic death of the actor soon after – it’s a real shame he didn’t get a proper send off. However, in this story he’s witty, cool, charming and utterly spinechilling. He talks to the Dctor and Jo as friends, and indeed saves their life occasionally, but has no compunction when throwing Jo into an airlock, or disengaging a ship that’s still attached to an open airlock of another. Genius, from start to finish.

There extras too are fantastic in this boxset. A rather odd, but interesting, pseudo-documentary/fiction discussing the socio-political influences of the serial featuring real interviews, fictional ones from futuristic characters and a narrative, is a weird mix, but fun, and very interesting, and a documentary about Roger Delgado is fitting and very, very touching. Add to that a lively commentary featuring Clayton Hickman refereeing old hands Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks, abley assisted by Katy Manning lying her head off, and it makes for an entertaining and infortmative commentary. All in all, well worth the money on its own. However, we also get…

…Planet of the Daleks. In this story, an injured Doctor sends a message to the Time Lords who send him and Jo to Spirridon, an inhospitable, jungle planet with an ice core, where a Dalek army is experimenting with invisibility and a couple of Thal assault teams are trying to stop them.

This is typical Terry Nation fare, but it’s not bad for it. Nation uses high concepts drive a thin plot, but, hell, he’s Terry Nation! There’s a lot packed into the six episodes, but, like Frontier In Space, one wonders how much better it could have been with todays brutal editing. That’s not to say it’s bad, far from it. The characters are given time to breath, are well drawn and have proper motives. The Daleks too have a typically bonkers and grand ambition, and Jon and Katy sail through with chemistry and aplomb. Episode three, recently recoloured by the restoration team, fits in seemlessly. It really is a wonderful job.

This story has been derided in the past, but I urge people to watch it with an open mind. There is much to recommend it.

The extras too are extensive and fun, with another crazy fiction/fact documentary and a great piece on the recolouring of Episode Three. My favourite though was a hystercially funny collection of Blue Peter articles featuring friend of Skaro Peter Purves, on the trail for two Dalek props that someone had nicked from outside Studio Eight. With a twinkle in his eye, Peter turns roving reporter, aksing a policeman, a witness and a small boy on the where abouts of these Daleks, and, when they are recovered, in earnest, reports on their discovery. The ending, with Peter, John Noakes and Lesley Judd trying to push John Scott Martin up a ramp into a transit van is cryingly funny.

The commentary this time, mistakingly in my opinion, drops Clay for Katy, Barry and Terrance to be accompanied by Prentice Hancock and Tim Preece and, although again it’s a lively and informative discussion (including Terrance being a little unkind to the new series…) it seems to lack the structure of the first.

All in all this is a wonderful boxset with plenty to recommend it.

Doctor Who: Castle of Fear

Don’t let the title fool you, Castle of Fear is rum and raisin and it’s heavy on the rum. If some strange intergalactic anomaly ever caused Doctor who and Monty python to be crossed this would be the outcome. Heck the Holy Grail even gets a name check; as does the Python staples of Knights with OUTRAGOUS French accents. Scenes have not so much been stolen as given homage and while it may cause you to check the box cover to ensure its Doctor Who it’s a lot of fun. I got a lot of strange looks for laughing loudly in a crowded train when I heard the rather cheesy Blacksmith joke but I dare you all not to laugh when you hear it; you’ll know which one.

It took me a while to realise that Casle of Fear was this flavour. It takes until episode 2 before you can be sure as it does tend to veer a bit in tone. The opening is brilliant and catches you off guard; the ending is truly shocking. And there are some nice who staples; multiple time zones playing off each other in what I think is a unique and interesting way ( I’ll probably be corrected about this)

The Baddie is a named who villain. I’m not going to spoil it but it’s not a major league player but it was a nice return. The only minor grip is that its voice makes you think of another villain. Not the production teams fault. It has a very distinct on screen look which helps the voice seem different on TV and the audio doesn’t have this advantage. The threat is also nicely integrated into established who lore.

What is it about then? Well it’s hard to give to much away but it’s a historical. We’re drawn into the story of Hubert, The new Earl of Mummerset, trying to regain his Castle. With his Turkish aid he may at first seem a bit Robin Hood but that doesn’t last for long; Hood only had to deal with an evil sheriff. Hugo finds he needs to evict a bunch of Demons from his Castle. While this is going on the Doctor and Nyssa are hundreds of years away, enjoying a traditional Stockbridge Christmas play. But when the Dragon slays St George it’s only a matter of time before they have to cross Hugo’s path…

The music does a good job of setting the scene and the sound work is excellent. The actors certainly enjoy themselves and while some of the support performances are a bit OTT it works rather well. It’s also a nice touch that we have the same actors playing their characters descendants over time zones. This works really well as the story comes to a close. Davidson and Sutton work really well together. Nyssa works much better as a companion when she’s one on one with the Doctor and its nice to see both of them giving top notch performances; even as the tone of the story jumps around. When the danger is there the sense of fear and urgency is conveyed very well but both of them are happy to go with the flow when things turn comical. Nyssa also shows she’s not just a Damsel in distress and is very proactive in the resolution.

This is the most fun I’ve had listening to an audio in a long time. While I normally enjoy them I had a constant smile listening to this tale. It may not be for everyone; its Monty Python trappings could annoy people wanting a more serious tale. But this story has a lot going for it and while it’s light in tone the ending certainly isn’t and should catch you off guard.

A recommended 8/10

Available now from Big Finish

Doctor Who: A Thousand Tiny Wings- Review

I mention Colditz because while this isn’t a sequel it does involve a returning character from that story. Klein, played by Tracey Childs, is a Nazi scientist from a future where Germany won the war ( with a little forced help from the Doctor). Thankfully the Doctor sorts it all out and the future with Truth, Freedom and Apple Pie wins the day; but Klein ends up trapped here. Cursed not only with living in defeat but also tormented with the memories of the future that was snatched away from her. Stolen by the Doctor. Now she’s face to face with the doctor but revenge may have to wait. Somewhere a thousand tiny wings are waiting and only the Doctor may stand between Klein and a death of a thousand cuts.

The story is set in post WWII Kenya; during the Mau Mau uprising ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mau_Mau_Uprising). On a remote farm a small group of women have taken refuge from the violence that is tearing Kenya apart. But its not the Mau Mau who intrude on their solitude as an injured alien and the Doctor cross their paths. Things then take a turn for the worse; something has injured the Alien, covering him in a thousand tiny cuts. Once the attack happens again,with fatal results, its clear that there is another alien presence lurking. What will get them first, the Mau Mau or something far worse?

Its a very atmospheric setting and the story really evokes the period, right down to the backwards colonial attitude that seems so jarring today. The women all have low opinions of the natives and the story never sugar coats how life was back then. Heck Plan A was to wait for the army to show up and shoot them all. The music and sound work help to drop you back 50 plus years and you almost feel that you’ll get a tan from the hot African sun as it beats down.

Its an engaging story and while it may seem like a typical base under siege the plot has some great twists. The character interaction also elevates this story. Tracy Klein slips back into her smooth but fanatical Nazi with ease and she more than holds her own against the doctor; as they verbally spar over both beliefs and methods. And for once the Doctors are not only challenged but at times shown to be lacking. Its brave of the story to show that the Doctors faith in people is sometimes badly misplaced and its others who suffer.

The only weak spot for me in the story is the eventual monster reveal. The monsters are very unique and quite interesting. Its hard to view them as the scary force that they’ve been built up as though. Their motives are also a wasted opportunity as it would have made more sense if they had a direct Nazi analogy; especially with Klein being such an important part of the story. Its thankfully just a small part of the story as the reveal happens very late on and its not truly that important. It certainly doesn’t diminish the story which makes the most of a great cast, strong atmosphere and brisk pacing.

I’m really looking forward to the next set of tales involving Klein; this story just leaves you wanting more. This is the first companion in a while that not only holds her own against the doctor but also takes the fight right to him. Oh and she wants to kill him after forcing him to recreate her evil Nazi future; she really makes Turlough look like a rank amateur.

4.5/5 They don’t get much better than this.

Doctor Who: The Twin Dilemma

There is little to recommend The Twin Dilemma, it has to be said. Whilst looking for positives in this story – a post-regenerative Doctor and Peri stumble on an “exiled” Time Lord who’s planet is under invasion by some men in false-faces and wrapped in duvets – I really struggled.

Colin is good, I have to say, his flip-flop behaviour is cleverly done and when he’s being charming he’s being very charming. But he’s saddled with some gawd-awful decisions. The coat, for one, the length of the TARDIS scene at the start, the failure to “let’s just get on with it”, and Peri is a lot more whiney than previously.

Gavin and Andrew Conrad are easily the worst actors to ever appear in Doctor Who and it’s hard to realise that Dennis Chinnery is the same man who starred in Genesis of the Daleks.

Again lighting and costume let this story down – and then some – but the writing, the editing, the performances (with the exception of Colin and Seymour Green as the wonderfully camp Chamberlain) are flat. There IS a story in here, a back story, a culture, the seed of an idea. But the application is very, very bad.

The DVD itself is also a little lacking in “specials”. No big doc, but a small one with Colin discussing his costume and that of the other Doctors and, for once, Chris and David get a mention!

For a story so gawd awful, 2Entertain should really have ramped up the Extras on this, to make it more appealing. However, I suppose it will help complete your collection, and, if you get some friends round, crack open the beer and put it on, it’s better than karaoke. Just.

Doctor Who the lost stories: The Song of Megaptera

Lets start of by saying the overall message is as you would expect: whalers bad, greenies good(ish). It’s a less than subtle subtext but thankfully it stays in the background and doesn’t dominate the story. There is a nice subplot with a fungal techno shaman which adds tension through the story and the shaman is a pretty interesting character with one of the best alien voices in a while. The whales are more of a backdrop, in some cases literally, to the story which makes sense as they are to big to directly get involved. The story follows what seems to be the very rigid template for these missing stories. The Doctor and Peri turn up; get separated; get back together; bicker a lot and finally save the day. Its a good formula but it would have been nice to see a bit more of a shake up.

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this but I was pleasantly surprised. I’m one of the few who hated The Green Death and I tend to enjoy less stories that take on a preachy condescending tone. But while the whalers are a bit two dimensional they are a lot of fun. John Banks has a great time as the computer who’s personality gets switched multiple times; settling on a psychopathic game player who rattles forth l33t speak. Yes it’s silly but it raised several smiles and the injokes for gamers sit unobtrusively in the background. The Captain (John Benfield) seems to be predictable. An old salty sea dog who’s got one last chance to make it. A self made man who, after working his way up the ranks, isn’t going to get stripped of his captaincy without a fight but even he has a few twists and surprises.

There are a few misfires; I thought the quirky cultists didn’t work all that well and I’m mixed about the two bumbling crew members. It’s been done before in Warriors Gate and in that story they got the balance right. Here the dumbness is too often overplayed, trying for a cheap laugh. But they work well when interacting with Susan Browns Cheif Engineer, she plays off them well and her characters despair at being lumbered in such an idiot filled environment had me chuckling on several occasions.

It’s a fast moving tale. After last months bleak and oppressive drama its a refreshing change of pace. It’s comedy and not farce and the timing is fortunate as in many ways it gives a back story to the star of The Beast Below. Worth a listen though not a classic.

3.5/5

Available now from Big Finish

Doctor Who The Lost Stories: Paradise 5

Its not often you curse the limits of the audio format but given the costume Peri is given you have to bemoan this adventure arriving in audio only. This could have helped to push up viewing figures just when the show needed it. The extra features explain that this story was originally scheduled for the Trial of a Timelord and some rewrite have been forced; to remove the elements set in the Trial.

Its not a bad story and there is a lot of fun to be had from Peri being turned into a sexy redcoat by the doctor but its not up to the high standards of the last two missing adventures. Still its miles better than Terror of the Vervoids ( the story that replaced it in Trial of a Timelord). I’m sure it would get an extra point on the TV purely for Peri’s thigh high boots.

5/10

Doctor who The Lost Stories: Mission to Magnus Review

Its an odd contrast. The environmental tale of global climate change is quite groundbreaking for the mid 80’s; we take that for granted now but it wasn’t such a big deal back then. The Ice Warriors are always best as villains and they do come across as threatening. Its a brutal plan they have and they carry it out in a chilling fashion, excuse the pun. Also returning is Sil who role in the story is best left as a surprise. Its great to see him in a Big Finish audio and I hope this isn’t his last appearance.

The lofty environmental storyline is sadly coupled with a cringe worthy storyline about women being in charge. This was ground breaking when played seriously way back in the 60’s in the story Galaxy 4. Here its just an excuse for the men to make sexist remarks and the women to get indignant about those remarks. The final resolution of this plot line is ludicrous and woeful to say the least. Its especially irksome for the women to be blinkered into believing only a massively convoluted scheme involving time travel can save them from their enemies. For an advanced civilization they don’t go much for reasoning or alternatives.

Also annoying is the botched introduction of what could have been an interesting Time Lord peer for the Doctor. Anzor was a the childhood bully that made the doctors life miserable at the academy. Sadly while he starts out interesting he soon becomes just a device to slag off the women and then gets shelved for most of the story. I don’t really buy a sexist time lord. Yes he may be a bully and a spoiled brat but the sexism seems at odds with being a time lord.

As with the first story Colin Baker is channeling his 80’s self. This isn’t the more rounded doctor we’ve come to expect from his Big Finish outings but the much more harsh and abrasive doctor from the 80’s. While he does round the edges a bit this doctor goes to extremes and isn’t quite as likable; and often verging on being a bit over the top. The first encounter with Anzor is played for pantomime style laughs with the doctor transforming into a quivering coward.

Peri once more gets something to do and as always, it seems, gets separated from the Doctor. Given the planet is ruled by women with men being treated like second class citizens its odd that this isn’t explored much with Peri. But then that sub plot is more played for laughs than really explored.

The music successfully captures the 80’s synth sound but I found it lacking compared to the more sophisticated soundtracks we’ve been spoiled with in recent years. Murray Gold may be accused of being loud but his work blends in seamlessly with the stories. Other big finish productions have rousing soundtracks that flow well with the story. The 80’s style synth jars rather than settles the story in the 80’s. Its probably a requirement to help ground the story in its rightful era but it doesn’t add to the story.

The sound work is good however. Oddly the Ice Warriors voices are not as good as the recent companion chronicles story “The Prisoner of Peladon”. While they have more variety in this tale they don’t quite capture the ice warriors as well as they should. Sil however is note perfect; its almost as if Nabil Shaban never left the role. You can easily visualize Sil in all his slimy glory just from Nabil’s voice.

On the whole this story felt like it needed dragged into the present day; its to much a product of the 80’s. From what I gather this is a faithful adaption of the book of the script and that perhaps is the problem. A few more edits and further development of the environmental/Ice Warrior plot line over the carry on doctor who sexist storyline would have been a much better idea.

While the story isn’t the best its worth it to hear Sil in action. Not the best of late but then its been a great year for Big Finish so its up against tough competition.

6/10

Available now from Big Finish

Doctor Who The Lost Stories- The Hollows of Time review

Its a big cast and they work very well. Hywel John and Victoria Finney flesh out a couple of low level minions while Trevor Littledale and David Garfield pull no punches for the more major characters. Garfield adds several layers to the character of Stream; a figure who’s actions and motives are hard to pin down throughout the story. Susan Sheridan, who plays the voice of Trillian on the Hitchhiker radio adaptation, plays two parts; one young and one old; and has the hard task of often talking to herself. She handles this well though the young boy she plays comes close at times to being a bit to street urchin.

Colin Baker and Peri are a delight to listen to. Peri gets a bit mumsy in this one as she gets paired up with the young boy for a good part of the tale. The Doctor is much more laid back and less acidic than the first two tales which is a relief. His verbal sparing with his enemies combines well with his fond chats with his old wartime friend Reverend Foxwell. While the Fifth Doctor was quintessentially English Colin Baker shows that this side of the Doctor hasn’t disappeared after the regeneration; fitting easily into what almost feels like a Miss Marple adventure. The music suits that setting as well. Gone are the very synthy sounds of the earlier stories, its a much more softer sound for this story which fits well.

Whats in a name? RTD has always been keen on anagrams: take Torchwood for example ( anagram of Doctor Who but you knew that). Now this may be spreading to Big Finish; though there is a reason for this. Unlike the other stories in this missing season range this story has been altered. Not through choice but due to a license issue that prevents a well known face from Dr Who turning up. Rather than a complete rewrite the producers have chosen the path of obfuscation. Hints and innuendo instead of cold hard facts. Gray is the color, not black or white. If, buts and maybe’s is all you’ll get… for now. This confusing meander simple means that the reveal of a certain character to be someone else can’t happen and you’ll be left waiting for a reveal that doesn’t come… yet.

Perhaps, if things get sorted in future, this could lead to a nice follow up story. While it doesn’t overly harm the story it does make certain bits feel forced. The Doctor can’t quite put his finger on things: someone is familiar; methods are not new; but he cannot put 2 and 2 together. Its a minor niggle and its clearly not through Big Finishes choice so I’m happy to excuse it. Its a nice touch that this area is well covered int he extras for the CD.

Its another good story in this range that is well worth catching.

A solid 8/10, recommended.

Avalable now at Big Finish

Doctor Who The Lodger Revew

The premise – and I’ll tell you that rather than the plot because this close to the finale all things are spoilers – is that the Doctor sets out to become James Corden’s Craig’s lodger, due to some drift compensation worth of The Ark in Space, but he’s not the only one staying in the house, and things, as always, take a sinister turn as soon as he arrives.

Despite the fact that this was written originally for the Tenth Doctor, there is no way David Tennant’s persona could have tackled – excuse the pun – this particular incarnation of the story because, well, the Doctor is just so gormless. Matt Smith plays it entirely for laughs in this pseudo-sitcom and does a great job mugging scenes from a likeable and affable Corden, but Roberts has got the Eleventh Doctor completely wrong. A faux-Starman, or pseudo-Mork, the Doctor’s social skills have been degenerated to those of someone who doesn’t know Earth at all. He’s far savier than this, the Doctor, and not knowing about football, social etiquette or the like just comes across as fake and silly. Sticking his finger in a jam pot in Fear Her is one thing, being rude or loud or bossy is another, but this script turns the Doctor into an idiot, whether by intent or design it doesn’t matter, and, despite the humour to be had, really debases the character. Matt is great – his comic timing and relationship with Corden, for once the straight man, is well crafted – but many will feel that there is a lack of dignity in the character, depite his typical heroics.

The football scene, well, I’ve nothing against that at all. If the Fifth can play cricket, then why not football, but it does seem a bit bolted on.

This episode, again, isn’t about the monster, it’s about the people and the ending.

James Corden and Daisy Haggard are engaging and believable as the every-day not-quite couple, but it’s a cliched sitcom device which, despite being done well here, isn’t really Doctor Who. There’s some humour to be had at the Doctor’s fish-out-of-water experience, but I really don’t think the same man who ingratiated himself into the Tylers, or spent three years with UNIT or even sent his granddaughter to Coal Hill School would be such a flounderer. It’s quite awfully misjudged.

Directorily, Catherine Morshead echoes the domesticity of Amy’s Choice but with a much more point-and-shoot approach more noticeable in her other TV work like Heartbeat and The Bill.

This episode may divide fandom – some nice continuity and some very decent revelations may placate many – but it tries the same experiment as Vincent and the Doctor and shows, perhaps unkindly, that Roberts just doesn’t have the writing chops of Curtis. My least favourite episode of the season, I’m afraid.

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