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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Doctor Who The Companion Chronicles: Shadow of the past

But it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Was it bad? Hell no, its a great little tale with a nice ending and it really captures the feel of an early 3rd Doctor story. But after listening to the trailer I’d thought it was going to be a dark tale of something sinister in a UNIT vault and that’s not this story. So it was a slight swerve ball that disorientated me a little. Maybe it was me or maybe the trailer could have been cut differently. So what is the tale then? Well the vault does play a role; its the final home for a crashed alien ship but the tale itself is about what happens when UNIT originally found the ship when it crash lands on earth. Its very much a typical 3rd Doctor story, even when told in flashback you get the sense of boys own adventure that Jon Pertwee brought to the role. Its quite a brutal tale; we’ve got alien invaders up to no good and a Doctor who’s judgment may have been fatally compromised by the lure of getting out of exile.

Lex Shrapnel is the squaddie taking care of the remains of the ship and Liz has been called in to check that they remain safe. She recounts, to Lex, the tale of what happened. Partly to give him a sense of what he’s guarding but partly as a means of dealing with the survivor guilt Liz seems to have over what happened. A lot of people died stopping this invasion and Liz’s return to the vault triggers memories she’s buried for years. This gives the story a very interesting edge and both the actors work well with each other and ensure that its a well paced and dramatic story.

The music and effect work help to make the vault a claustrophobic place and lend a sense of urgency and danger to the action scenes. The story is clever and has a satisfying conclusion; its a suitable return to the Dr Who fold for Caroline John; I hope she gets to do more of these.

7/10

Available now at Big Finish

Doctor Who The Companion Chronicles: Solitaire

But how can you win when you don’t know the rules?

This isn’t your normal Companion Chronicle. The range started as a way to explore past tales with the companion giving their spin on events. But the range has been going for a while; its grown in experience and confidence and now its playing with the format. This Chronicle dumps the normal format and instead goes for a 2 person play. And it works perfectly. The doctor, while part of the story in a fashion, is sidelined from the start. Trapped as a ventriloquist’s dummy his role in the tale is minimal. Instead rather than narrate how the Doctor saved the day we instead see Charlie battle against the villain of the piece – The powerful and scheming Toymaker.

David Bailie is perfectly cast as the Toymaker. He was good in the previous Missing Adventure but hampered by that limited material. Here the script s far better. Its a more tighter and better thought out story and the setting, entirely within the shop, allows for a claustrophobic encounter between the two.

There is no need for actors to mimic the voices of others ( the normal weakness of the format). On the rare occasion the Doctor is heard it is through Charlies voice anyways as she operates the doll. Instead both actors tear into the material with gusto.

India Fisher more than holds her own against Bailie. Both are clearly having fun and both throw themselves into the story. Never once hamming it up or diminishing the material by playing it as anything other than deadly serious. The danger off the situation is felt throughout; even as the story twists and turns and roles are questioned.

Its a satisfying ending as well. Obvious in hindsight but it caught me unaware. Its been another strong month for Big Finish. They keep raising the bar but they also just keep jumping higher.

10/10

Available now from Big Finish

Doctor Who Klein’s Story/Survival of the Fittest- Review

Whilst not adding anything particularly important that we didn’t know to the mixture, the play helps iron out the character of Klein and by the end of this first story leaves the listener actually feeling pity for her and perhaps resentment to the Doctor.

10/10

Survival of the Fittest

It is quite amusing that prior to listening to this audio I had just seen the film Avatar. As a result I noticed many simularities here, although this is to the benefit of the play. The Doctor and Klein land on a mysterious alien planet populated by an insect race known as the Vrill who are in the midst of a crisis. Someone/thing has damaged the nest and has caused their Bee like society to break down. It is later revealed to be the actions of a group of colonists who have the planet set upon themselves. However, all is not what it seems.
One of the most interesting aspects of this whole play lies in the nature of the Vrill. The species communication by smell was an interesting feature, which has actually worked surprisingly on audio as it acts as a means of allowing vast amounts of description without appearing intrusive. Infact it often adds to the atmosphere. The Vrills voices are also quite unique and really capture their insect like nature well.
If I was to have one criticism of the play it would be that at times it can appear somewhat slow at times, which grows fustrating when theres major events elsewhere. However this is more than made up for by the brilliant cliffhanger at the end of the play which left this listener wondering what on earth will happen now. Next month cannot arrive soon enough!

8/10

The Three Companions – Episode 12

And so this charming adventure comes to an end. I must admit I found it a rather unsatisfactory ending with the Coffin Loaders defeat being overly simplistic. That said for those looking for an action packed ending with lots of fighting this will be bang up your ally. Once again the whole cast put in an excellent performance which truly merits the spirit of the play. It’s almost sad that the three wonderful actors will no longer be a part of the monthly range.
On a whole the Three Companions has been an interesting experiment, stretched out over a period of 12 months. Whilst I admit I have enjoyed each and every chapter I do feel as a whole this play would have worked best as a single release. Perhaps in the future for members of the Big Finish subscription service, Big Finish might offer this as a single download allowing one to listen to the play in one go without the need to switch between 12 disks. I do feel a listen from start to finish really does merit this play and helps the listener remember just how exciting and packed this play has been. If Big Finish choose to do another experiment like this I’d be more than pleased. I also hope to hear more from Marc Platt as this has shown just how truly wonderful a writer he is and I look forward to his next shot.

9/10

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