Creature from the pit review

The rest of the cast are awful charicatures, including a very stern K9, an out of sorts Lalla Ward (who at least admits it in the commentary) mug their way through four episodes of increasingly decent story which is let down terribly by awful production. The direction from Christopher Barry is uncharacteristically flat, actors hide behind plant pots to conceal themselves and a subplot concerning a group of hairy biker-alikes sounding like faux Fagans is a great idea badly executed. Costumes are mostly terrible dodgy bondage things, with masks, and the Huntsman with his whip, hands on hips and man boobs really is funny.

Myra Frances is gorgeous though, and demented as Adastra, and Bayldon plays “mental old man” very well, and Tom is clearly loving bouncing off them. When things go underground, good lighting is ruined by Matt Irvine’s embarrassing Erato – the titular Creature – which his own team describe as The Dick in the Pit – but this doesn’t make it a bad thing. Tom Baker has a ball with the phallic shaped monster and it really is achingly funny watching him and Bayldon tear the script to pieces.

And a decent script it is too. As expected from David Fisher this is a multi-layered and imaginative story with plenty going on. It’s just a pity not everyone was on the same page.

If you’re looking for dark, scary, meaningful Who, you won’t find it here. This is definitely on the Nimon-scale of slap stick. But if you like a laugh, and love Tom when he goes off on one, this will make you giggle.

Commentary for this is supplied by Myra Frances, Lalla Ward and Matt Irvine, one of whom is having a ball, one of whom is hoity but honest and one of whom tries to get out of taking the blame. I’ll let you guess who’s who. It’s quite a flat commentary though, surprisingly, and could have done with Tom stomping all over it, or perhaps an ajudicator.

The Extras too are a mixed bag. A fifteen minute biog and interview with Christopher Barry on the set of The Daemons is a bit slow and introspective, and has little to do with the story, but, well, it’s Christopher Barry, so respect. Team Erato talks to the culprits for the dick in the pit, with everyone blaming everyone else, saying how hard it was (yik) and how they never had enough money. What comes out from it is that the story was bigger than the budget, which, I suppose is nothing new. It just depends whether you give up the ghost or not. Finally there’s a funny little scene from set with Tom as the Doctor talking directly to the audience from Animal Magic, randomly. And very randomly, as is usual for Tom. It’s another thing, like his lucky number, which will make you laugh.

This is typical Season 17 fare. If you know what to expect, and are in the right frame of mind, you’ll enjoy the ride and laugh along. If it’s not for you, nothing in the world will make you enjoy it.

Cold Blood Reviewed

After leaving Amy about to be dissected and the Doctor and Nasreen confronted by a Silurian City, Cold Blood ramps up the pressure on the Doctor with that same age old problem both the Third and Fifth have tackled with. Can Silurians and Humans share the Earth? And can the Doctor broker the deal? In the meantime Alaya’s sister, Restac, head of the military, has other ideas, and plans to wipe out the “apes” as vermin, and reclaim Earth for the Homo Reptilia. But, like all good Silurian stories, the heirarchy are in two minds, and want peace. But will the humans or the Silurians cause a war?

As an anti-Waters of Mars story when Time can be changed, this works wonderfully, and allows the narrative the conceit that perhaps, by the end, things will be different from the future we know. The Doctor seems to think so, and engages fabulously with Silurian leader Eldane and scientist Malohkek to try and create that new future.

What’s so great about this story is that it is the absolute distillation of everything both the Doctor and the series are about. Never judge a book by its cover, protect the underdog and always look for peace are the driving forces in the very bones of everything Doctor Who is, and this story taps into them, with surprise motives, villains and situations. No one is evil in this story, there’s no machiavellian motive for world domination and everyone has deep, real and definite motives for their actions. My critique of The Hungry Earth is now mostly negated, because as a prelude to this it works very well.

The cast from episode one are joined now by Richard Hope and Stephen Moore who create realistic, honest and earnest Silurians modelled on ones we’ve seen in the past and Neve McIntosh is fantastic in her duel role as the warmongering Alaya and Restac. And we get lots and lots and lots of Silurians this time! There’s even a nod to the old Sea Devil guns.

The human side don’t let us down either with textured and layered performances by all the guest stars with some surprising decisions by at least three of them too.

Ashley Way again directs an episode packed with action and suspense. A straightforward director, it works well in this instance. What will really impress you though is the set design and the Mill’s execution of the CGI aspects. The Silurian City is probably the most beautiful set ever seen in the series, from its root-roofed corridors to its Star Trekian main chamber it is realistically beautiful and grand and just this side of “alien”.

A lot was made of the lack of similarities in the make up for the new Silurians, and I still say they could have had another eye, but the acting really shines through in this new strain, and their motives and attitudes are absolutely Silurian, meaning that, despite the change in appearance, these creatures are totally recognisable as the Silurian Race of the past. It was jarring, but now can be seen as the gorgeous make up job it is.

The main cast again are superb, with Amy being independent and capable – up to a point – and Rory being brave but ultimately not as resourceful.

Matt, and I keep saying this, is so the Doctor it hurts. His desperation for the peace to be brokered is tangible and echoes Jon Pertwee perfectly. His delight at the apparent beginning of the “talks” is infectious. His problem solving again comes into the fore as, again, it’s all about how the Doctor saving the day. I worried about this at the start of the season, but it seems since Amy was almost lost to the Angels she’s not as cocky as before.

The last seven minutes of the story are given up to the series arc, when the Doctor pulls something jaw droppingly surprising out of the Crooked Smile, and the final scenes with the Doctor and his companions in the TARDIS are heartbreaking. That’s all I’m saying about that.

Cold Blood
apes a lot of old episodes just like The Hungry Earth did. There’s echoes of Draconia, and celery, and of course Doctor Who and the Silurians, but, cleverly, not Warriors of the Deep, which in Earth Reptile timelines hasn’t happened yet, and the Doctor explains the Silurians with reference to the previous adventure. There’s also an echo of Remembrance of the Daleks, or maybe that’s just me. It’s a theme now that with the advent of Earth Reptiles the worst of humanity appears in the best of it. And these motives are layered, and clever and poignant.

This episode is as good as anything the series has produced so far, and resonates the emotional content missing from a lot of it, but so part of the RTD era. It is fantastic.

Squeaky bum time, in fact.

Doctor-Who-The-Hungry-Ear-006

City of Spires review

While Big Finish has had an excellent run there has been a lot of familiar echos in the last couple of months. The Suffering had a plot very similar to The Hand of Fear. The missing adventure Point of Entry was very similar in overall plot to the Shakespeare Code. And now we have the 6th Doctor teaming up with a companion normally associated with a different incarnation. Thankfully this has a nice spin on it that keeps it fresh. Teaming Colin Baker up with India Fisher was not only inspired it was highly entertaining; and Frazer Hines looks set to continue this tradition. They may have only shared a single TV episode but they get a good rapor going very early in this story. Oddly Frazers Jamie feels a little rusty here; something that’s not been present in the companion chronicles. Mind you this isn’t the same Jamie, he’s older and wiser; and totally unaware of his previous time in the Tardis.

It’s an entertaining story that’s very well paced for the most part. The ending has a lot of strands pulling together and the cliff hanger feels a bit of a let down. Yes it’s good that we’ve got more adventures from this pair but it ends on a whimper despite all the intriguing plot threads hanging lose.

It’s a good cast in this story. Georgia Moffet has a role as a feisty and independent woman named Alice who helps out the Doctor while James Albrecht puts in a fine performance as the despicable Major Heyward. The John Banks Red Cap is quite fun as well.

The Overlord villian is nicely hidden for the most part and the final reveal gives us something thats not been done before but is in the tradition of monsters like Sli. The Overlord also has some nice ghastly moments; there is a definate yuk factor to it that helps make it stand out.

With the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and given that the episode features the misuse of oil and the abuse of nature its accidently a very topical episode, despite its historic setting.

It’s a solid if not jaw dropping start to what looks like it could develop into an epic series. Jamie and the 6th Doctor; this could be the start of a beautiful friendship…

3.5/5

Castrovalva Audiobook Reviewed

Well, this is a similar peril to the one Rose found herself in in The Christmas Invasion, taking centre stage whilst the Doctor got better and popped up just in time to save the day, so it’s a well worked formula. The journey through the TARDIS, whilst eating up time, doesn’t eat up much plot, and the Doctor, when fully functioning, solves the problem quick enough for him and the companions to leg it before Catrovalva is no more, trapping, it seems, the Master in his own trap.

Again with Bidmead there’s lots of far-too-clever-for-his-own-good sciencey comments and mathematical puzzles which the listener is asked to keep up with, but at least Castrovalva is populated by a jovial and amiable cast and there’s a nice red herring and a suitably satisfying twist. It could do with some tightening, but, well, I’m maybe looking at it with new series eyes.

Read this time by the Fifth Doctor himself, there is a clear difference in style, as Peter Davison acts his way through with versions of Adric, Nyssa, a very dodgy Australian accent for Tegan and, well, himself. It’s quite a thing to see how, thirty years on, Peter Davison attacks the role differently, and a lot more subdued, than he did in 1981. It’s odd, for someone who knows the tv version so well, to hear him take different beats, but it isn’t a bad thing.

Again, the music, sound effects and production are better than the original (although I quite liked Castrovalva’s score) and in this case the story has a logical beginning, middle and end, which Logopolis doesn’t really get to grips with.

As with its companion piece, it’s a good representation of the story and manages to gloss over some of the more dodgy effects – although unfortunately does away with some of the beautifully bonkers costume design. Well worth the listen.

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

Castle of fear is available at Big Finish in CD and downloadble format

CAPRICA: A Review

 

It also focussed itself on a younger audience, with its protagonists – and indeed antagonists – being a lot younger than the parent show.

Caprica is gorgeous though, although perhaps a little harder to engage with for those who are looking for guns and ships and battles. Again, it uses the terrorist allegory – sometimes not very subtly – to look at the devil in the detail and how disparate people are thrown together and create a destiny they can’t escape from. Knowing how it all turns out gives the characters a sense of destiny which is both intriguing and tinged with melancholy.

The cast is uniformly excellent, from big named Eric Stoltz, a surprising piece of casting as Daniel Graystone, the creator of the Cylons and Esai Morales as Joseph Adama, father of BSG William, cast as much for his craggy similarity to Edward James Olmos as his stillness and dignity in execution. As the families fracture due to circumstances they cannot stop, it’s an intriguing conceit and one which justifies a detailed watch.

 

The tagline is “The future of humanity begins with a choice” and it’s great to see how that choice will shape a future we’ve all seen.

Blue Forgotten Planet Review

doctor-who-blue-forgotten-planet-295x300The Sixth Doctor and Charley arc is rounded off beautifully in this the final part of the departure trilogy, Nick Briggs witting has always been packed with detailed action but also the emotional roller coasters that come with it, this being best demonstrated in his Dalek Empire series. Blue Forgotten planet is no different. There at times when you could cut the atmosphere he has created with a knife, and if the final scene doesn’t make you cry at the very end I’d be very surprised.

The Vyrans make their welcome return since Patient Zero and further expand on this interesting race. Whilst motivations of their actions are not discussed the listener is shown a truly alien ethos in the dedication of the Vyrans objection but also their own particular understanding of morality an judgment.

The musical score in this play really makes it feel like a Blockbuster and the action equally so. In fact it is this reviewers opinion that Colin Baker has never reached such a high standard as this before. Working with India Fisher has given a fresh approach to the sixth Doctor and has certainly given a spark to Bakers acting, one which I hope he is able to maintain.
Absolutely wonderful.

The best big finish this year, 10/10

Battlestar Galactica: Razor

 

It follows the plight of another Battlestar – the Pegasus – up to the end of what becomes Season Three, and focusses on its crew and Commanding Officer Helena Cain, played by Star Trek‘s Michelle Forbes.

Cain is a far different commander to Adama, and her decisions and lust for power spiral out of control, particularly when they rejoin the Fleet. A mixture of power politics, a study in meglomania and a below decks biog, Razor is another interesting aside to the main series and for completists a must. It does nothing wrong, and is as gorgeous and clever as everything else with a BSG label.

 

If I were to criticise it it would be that it perhaps imitates rather than innovates, echoing some Star Trek The Next Generation and Star Trek Voyager plots, but that’s really me being churlish. Michelle Forbes is a surprising and clever choice as Cain – another name from the past which has nothing to do with their predecessor – and she pulls off this complicated and ultimately doomed character with aplomb.

Like The Plan it shows the ship yards being attacked, and perhaps, for this alone, it’s worth it’s purchase price.

Battlestar Galactica: A Series Review

 

Some of the most iconic characters from the original series were virtually unrecognisable, none more so that Starbuck, changed from the Dirk Benedict vehicle of the original to the damaged, tortured, fallible, and, perhaps most shocking of all, female Captain Kara Thrace, played by Katee Sackoff. This had Galacticans both intrigued and outraged in equal measures.

The series, particularly the mini series, isn’t a viewer friendly watch. Camera angles swipe and twirl, the Star Wars-esque dog fights gained call signs and machine guns more reminiscent of CAG or Top Gun and the whole thing became an allegory for terrorism and the alien within.

The vast role call of characters were treated with equality – this wasn’t a triumvirate lead Star Trek series, and it wasn’t a Leading Man series, despite Miami Vice‘s Edward James Olmos’s Admiral William Adama giving an intense, understated and powerful performance as the military Battlestar leader. The series was at once action adventure, at once human story, at once religious allegory, at once soap opera and it drove each of the disparate parts in a terrifying and surprising directions.

Each season had different emphasis, and each brought different aspects and layers to all of the characters. Some, like Saul Tigh and Galen Tyrol grew as the series evolved. Others, like Felix Gaeta made terrible and unback-outable decisions and, indeed, received injuries of war which never healed.

 

In the final seasons, the emphasis of the alien amongst us was ramped up when it turned out that five of the main characters were indeed Cylons, the enemy who had destroyed virtually all of humanity, and seeing much loved and rooted for characters struggling with their duality was a joy to behold.

Gaius Baltar, played by James Callis, was another who shared nothing with his predecessor other than the surname, and gave us a flawed and often fallible character with a God-complex who was, at times, utterly insane.

All in all, Galactica did have some faults – filler episodes haunted some sections of seasons unnecessarily, odd plot deviced – fat Apollo, for instance – seemed to have no logic and the denouement was a downbeat and head scratching affair after all we’d invested in it – but on the whole the series was a sparkling jewel and a new and innovative way to look at sci fi. It took the Star Trek model – Wagon Train To The Stars – and showed them how to do it.

So say we all!

 

Battlestar Galactica The Plan: Review

 

There are lots of gaps in the series when multiple stories happen simulataneously, and not all the questions were answered in the finale of BSG. This goes some way to explaining at least some of these, and director and star Edward James Olmos manages to weave established footage with newly shot scenes in an elaborate web which gives an entirely different look on the whole series you think you know.

Star of this is Quantum Leap‘s Dean Stockwell playing, as ever Cylon John Cavil, in particular two different versions, one who singularly plotted and wants the complete destruction of humanity and another who – perhaps – sees the error of his ways. His performance is fabulous, subtley changing very little between the various Cavils but enough to allow us to see a shift, a shift which would eventually spread to the whole Cylon race.

 

Joining him it seems is the whole cast from the entire series, but this isn’t the case. Clever editing, CGI and splicing allows Olmos to slot in old scenes in the style of DS9’s Trials and Tribbleations with new shots and it’s a clever conceit which gives us a different angle to things we already knew and also allows us to see scenes we;ve only heard of in the past, like, for instance, the “mysterious stranger” who saved Ellen Tigh on Caprica.

The cast who do return slip perfectly back into their roles effortlessly and it’s a little bittersweet knowing that now this series has ended there’s no returning to these characters.

 

If I was to criticise it at all I’d suggest The Plan is a little elitist. You have to be a serious Galactican to get all the references, nods and continuity, but if you have followed the series completely and know what’s going on, this is a great extra and “joining the dots” which will have you salivating for more.

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