Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Gardeners' Worlds

The Pertwee era was known for its straight up, no nonsense action adventures, with very little of the weirdness and whimsy that had perforated the eras of Messers Hartnell & Troughton. But this months Short Trips story does something rather clever – it is recognisably a Pertwee era story, but it has a sense of weirdness – a sort of surreal dreamlike Lewis Carol like quality that makes it a very very different Pertwee era story.
To begin with it has all the UNIT tropes – strange goings on in a home counties village, Jo & the Doctor rushing off to investigate, The Doctor moaning about the military mind & Jo asking lots of questions – but hidden beneath this is a whole world of oddity…..
 Tim Treloar (he who gives good Pertwee) narrates the story and indeed he does give good Pertwee in the 36 minutes of the stories length, he is also engaging as Jo, Mike Yates & the lady at the centre of the whole set of weird goings on Meredith Bright. Meredith likes to cultivate roses, no ordinary roses, these are special silver roses that grant her every wish if she just talks to them – they have made her husband successful in his career, her children do well at school – but now the roses are getting out of control and taking over her garden, and there are strange mechanical pests who swarm and feed on them too AND post boxes are going missing, a Celtic Cross has appeared in the village square and Captain Yates has ceased to exist.
 Yes indeed, very odd, very weird, very dreamlike with a heap of whimsy not unlike season 24 – it has some lovely imagery of The Doctor pruning roses and just getting on with the job of being The Doctor in a situation he did not expect to find himself in – whats more, despite the “threat” being just some flowers, these flowers could inadvertently end the world as we know it – think Inferno but with petals and thorns and you wont be too far from the mark…..
 You really have to admire Tim Treloar and his performance as Doctor Number 3 – not quite an impersonation, but capturing Pertwee’s very essence and keeping the story moving at quite a pace, again a lot happens in the short 36 minutes and Treloar pitches it  just right.
 Not a conventional story by any means but a very Pertwee-esque story told from a slightly skewed perspective, a rose in bloom at 8/10.
Written By Ed Watkinson

The War Doctor Volume 04 - Casualties of War

I cannot start this review without paying tribute to the late and very much missed Sir John Hurt – I will try to keep it short as pretty much everything meaningful has already been said. Sir John was truly a legend of stage and screen – the term legend is a very much over used one, but in the case of Sir John there is no other word to describe his contribution to the arts – whether you remember him as Quentin Crisp, John Merrick, The War Doctor or many of his other roles, or simply as the man himself – Sir John Hurt has made a lasting impression on the psyche of the UK – instantly recognisable, gravel voiced, avuncular and a real gentleman, we as Who fans were lucky to have you play The Doctor and took you to our hearts instantly and were privileged to have you back as the War Doctor in a series for Big Finish. You Sir, were truly The Doctor and will be truly missed.
 Bit of a lump in my throat writing that, and I apologise if it comes across as mawkish & inadequate, but believe me it is from the heart.
 Right back to the business at hand – as you may know I am not much of a Moffat fan, but casting a hitherto unknown Doctor was a master stroke, and persuading Sir John Hurt to play the part was even better – I was sad to see him go at the end of The Day of the Doctor, but we fans are a lucky bunch to have Big Finish tell us more of his story.
The War Doctor keeps insisting he is NOT The Doctor, that he does not deserve that name any more and though he cannot see it himself The War Doctor carries all the traits that make The Doctor special in exceptional circumstances he keeps true to his beliefs of compassion, honour, doing the right thing and protecting the underdog – and in this last series we see a dawning realisation that leads to that dreadful day in a barn with the moment, and a terrible choice to make.
 The level of anticipation for this set has been off the scale, the final War Doctor box set featuring none other than Leela (Louise Jameson) – companion to the Fourth Doctor, how will she react to the man he has become and how has the Time War affected her? Well dear reader, read on….
 4.1 Pretty Lies by Guy Adams
 Cardinal Ollistra (Jaqueline Pearce) & The War Doctor are trapped, they are stranded light years away from Gallifrey and desperate to get back and this story begins their long journey back trying to get help from anyone they can including journalist Schandel (Joseph Kloska) who seems to be a bit of a fan of The War Doctor and paints him as a hero in his reports. This story really is about perception and how clever editing can make a persons words mean a completely different thing, Schandel is much more concerned about perpetuating the legend of the War Doctor than the real hard truth, and this is a state of affairs that the War Doctor will have to use to his advantage, because in the Time War where there are Time Lords there will soon be Dalek’s and destruction will be brought to the innocent. A gripping opening with all involved giving exceptional performances – there is an air of desperation and of inevitability as the reality of a Dalek Invasion on an unequipped planet hits home and The War Doctor loses a little bit of his soul once again.
 4.2 The Lady of Obsidian by Andrew Smith
 After a grim and fatalistic opening episode, things are about to get a lot grimmer. Remember in The End Of Time Doctor 10 tells us about the weapons used at the height of the Time War, the terrible things that the Time Lords did? Well here we see the consequences of time weapons in The Unlived – creatures from potential futures but also in the Lady of Obsidian herself – at once dead, alive, never born and memories teeming through her of all the possible lives she has, hasn’t or may experience – and it is only the Lady and her forces that are holding the Unlived at bay inside the Obsidian Nebula – but in their pursuit of the War Doctor & Ollistra the Daleks are about to make new allies….
Cracking stuff that really does not let you pause for breath, even in the quieter more emotional moments, beautifully written dialogue for The War Doctor and The Lady, genuinely moving and inspiring and will melt the hearts of even the hardest of hard sci-fi fans.
 4.3 The Enigma Dimension by Nicholas Briggs
 And this is where it all ends. On Gallifrey, or a planet that once could be Gallifrey now inhabited by Daleks, or maybe not any of that at all – the answers are in the Enigma Dimension – and the answers found here will inspire the War Doctor to stand up and be counted to say “No More” and to take The Moment, because what he finds out, he may have always known – war charges people, war changes whole races and the “good” become what they set out to destroy. A stark, bleak ending to a series dealing with the starkest and bleakest times in the history of Gallifrey.
 And thats it – the saga of the War Doctor reaches its conclusion as all good things must, a poignant, bittersweet ending which ties in to the Day of the Doctor, and a lovely tribute to the wonderful performance we have enjoyed from the much missed Sir John Hurt.
 The War Doctor said “NO MORE” and of this series there will be no more but a satisfying conclusion like this makes that a little more palatable 9/10.
Written By Ed Watkinson

Pathfinder Legends 3.2 - Curse of the Crimson Throns - Seven Days to the Grave

When something inspires you to relive old hobbies and to foist them on to your family you know that you have a winner. Because thats just what listening to last months Pathfinder Legends release has done – it has rekindled my long abandoned interest in table top RPG gaming, I have dug out of a 25 year hibernation my Rune Quest manuals and invested in a new set of polyhedral dice and am ready to introduce my rather reluctant family to the world of the RPG.
 Pathfinder Legends captures the swords and sorcery world of the RPG perfectly, I know it is based on an RPG but it really does capture the vibe of playing a table top game in a darkened room for hours on end, completely captivated by the world that the Games Master has created – and that is why audio is such a fantastic medium – it is all in the imagination and listening to Pathfinder Legends recreates this perfectly.
 So where were we? our heroes Valeros (Stewart Alexander), Ezren (Trevor Littledale), Harsk (Ian Brooker) & Merisiel (Kerry Skinner) are still in the city of Korvosa after the events of last months episode & Ezren, being a wizard, decides to try a Harrow card reading – this is a bad thing, he sees death, plague & destruction – a typical RPG portent of doom to begin another adventure. Plague has come to the city of Korvosa, a deadly plague known as the “Blood Veil” for which there is no known cure. Citizens suffering are carted off to a special “Hospice” to be cared for by the Queens physicians and guarded by the Queens personal guard – the fanatical Grey Maidens. But is all as it seems, what is the true intention of the crow masked Physicians and what involvement does the new Queen have in the events that are decimating her city? When Harsk & then Ezren fall victim to the Blood Veil it it up to Merisiel & Valeros along with Merisiel’s friend Kyra (Evie Dawnay) & Cleric Ishana Dhatri (Amerjit Deu) to unmask the true nature of the plague, to save their friends, save the city and defeat an even bigger threat.
 Brilliant RPG stuff, I could see this being played out as part of a campaign, lots of detective work, of talking to NPC’s (non player characters or not the main cast if you will) to find out information – this really is an onion of a story, layers peel back to give the characters more and more information to solve the conundrum of the Blood Veil – false trails, deadly missions and a final realisation leading to an epic showdown and a hook to the next episode – what more could you want? Of course the plot is predictable but it is so much funs going through the RPG set pieces with the characters, the plot mechanics are spot on, the pace never lets up, the characters are not allowed to pause for breath before being plunged in to the next perilous situation, they really suffer and any victories seem earned – they may be stock RPG heroes but Valeros, Erin, Harks & Merisiel have a warmth, an affinity & a camaraderie that will have you rooting for them in no time at all. A great adventure, heres looking forward to next month 9/10.
Written by Ed Watkinson

Dark Shadows - Phantom Melodies

It is always a joy to go back to Collinsport, to drink in the permanent autumnal, twilight atmosphere and enter the lives of the people who live there. I only discovered Dark Shadows last year but have been completely mesmerised by the series  - there is something in the atmosphere that makes the stories compelling no matter who the main character is in a particular tale and how little the listener knows about the character because by the end of each tale the listener has suffered with the character and experienced what they have experienced – such is the intimate nature of the Dark Shadows range and this months release, the first of 2017 a collection called “Phantom Melodies” is no different.
 Phantom Melodies is a collection of four short stories each lasting about 35 minutes and do not deal with ghosts singing the title might suggest, in fact thematically these are very deep stories dealing with temptation, perception, manipulation and loss to t a greater or lesser degree and all have that Dark Shadows atmosphere, that first day of autumn negatively charged feeling of anticipation that permeates the series.
 Last Orders at the Blue Whale by Rob Morris
 Rob Morris is the undisputed King of Dark Shadows and here he has the man himself Matthew Waterhouse narrating his tale as Harry Johnson. In the bar of the Blue Whale Harry, a petty criminal meets a sailor called Mordecai and cannot resist stealing the treasure that Mordecai has in his bag – but Harry gets more than he bargained for as Mordecai is a demon looking for eternal rest and for someone else to take his place in walking death and by succumbing to temptation Harry pretty much fits the bill. Unless he can find someone else suitable to take HIS place. Rob Morris paints a picture in words of a slimy desperate man who will betray anyone to save his own skin, even those he regards as friends, he sees everyone and judges everyone by his own low standards of cunning and deceit. But this being Collinsport, nothing is quite so straightforward and Harry’s choice of victim could be his salvation after all.
 The Scarlet Bride by Ian Atkins
 Andrew Collins narrates this creepy tale of a young bride “Agnes” who has gone to her finance’s home to prepare for her wedding. Agnes has promised to write to her infirm mother every day to let her know how the preparations are going and this she does diligently, and through her letters we find out that all is not well at the house of her fiancĂ©e, as Agnes is having dreams of an emaciated man who is scratching at her bedroom window and trying to break in to her room – a man who’s description fits a  certain Barnabas Collins…..
Tense and tragic, a downward spiral of despair from the pen of Agnes as her joy at her impending wedding gives way to abject terror – a real heart in the mouth story as the listener knows more than the character and really does know what danger she is in and how desperate her situation is, I found my self mentally willing Agnes to leave and leave now, but the story must run its course……
  On the Line by Ian Farrington
 The year is 1973 and Carolyn Stoddard (Nancy Barrett) receives a strange phone call, strange as the caller claims to be a future version of herself from July 2017. The future Carolyn wants the past Carolyn to avoid making the mistakes to ensure a timeline is preserved, but who exactly is manipulating who and what are the true intentions of future Carolyn? Nancy Barrett gives a stunning performance as both versions of Carolyn Stoddard – both recognisably Carolyn, both subtly different with those experiences that only time can give – a mystery with a resolution that very sharp eared listeners will pick up and solve, and an awful choice for 1973 Carolyn to make that will change the future. A tragic story of missed opportunities and possible futures.
 In a Broken Dream by Penelope Faith
 Amy Jennings has decided to put the past behind her and take up Elizabeth and Roger’s invitation of a visit to them in Paris, to relax, to see the sites and to reconnect with herself. But when she arrives at their apartment Elizabeth & Roger are not there and Amy is plagued by nightmares of her family and her recent past, and when she meets possible not  tall dark & handsome Didier and begins a holiday romance, things start to get a good deal worse. Manipulation really is the theme of this set and no more than in this final story, Amy (Stephanie Ellyne) really is the product of her experiences, everything she does, every person she meets, every incident however innocent is coloured by Collinsport a past she can never escape no matter how hard she tries. An intimate portrait of almost post traumatic stress and how you never can escape yourself no matter where in the world you are, beautifully performed and written with care for the character of Amy, I think this set has saved the best story to last.
 Four very different on the surface, yet very similar stories tonally and like all good stories stay with the listener. I urge you all to turn the lights down, turn the volume up and lose yourself for a couple of hours in the the wolds of Dark Shadows and experience its Phantom Melodies – 9/10.
 Written by Ed Watkinson

4th Doctor 6.2 - The Eternal Battle

How do you reconcile the different phases of the Tom Baker era. For me it goes something like this – dour, fun, cold (Hinchcliffe, Williams, JNT) but there really is more to it than that. Tom was laugh out loud funny in the Hinchcliffe era and could be (albeit very rarely) deadly serious in the Williams era. But what of his final hurrah with JNT/Bidmead. Sleek, cold, logical but at least while he was with Romana II still with a sense of fun – mad old Uncle Tom was not going down without a fight and this months Fourth Doctor release seems to have that end of term feeling, a last hurrah, a lap of honour before the inevitable meeting with The Watcher and that awful moment at the Pharos Project when my childhood ended.
Such was the impact of Tom’s regeneration, my life was never quite the same again – but onwards, upwards and backwards to a time when fun was more on the agenda and The Doctor (Tom Baker) has decided to take Romana (Lalla Ward) to the Lake District to visit of all things a Pencil Museum. Joyful, just joyful – this is the carefree Tom of early season 18 just wanting to get away from it all. If only life were that simple….
 The Doctor (being the Doctor) has got it wrong and has landed in the middle of a war zone. A war in which The Sontarans have been fighting an enemy for so long that they cannot remember, an enemy that does not stay dead, an enemy that comes back to life and The Sontarans may not be able to contain it. Despite the jovial atmosphere that Tom Baker creates this is very much a season 18 story, it may not have been achievable on screen in 1980 but this is very much set in the era of entropy and the radiophonic workshop because this story is grim, doom laden and has a bleakness about it that screams 1980 – and when a story makes you empathise with the Sontarans you really have gone down the rabbit hole and perhaps ended up in a pencil museum…
 The story follows a couple of different threads and it is completely logical (in a Bidmead sort of way) in involving bubbles of time and some-such techno-babble dressed up to sound like “hard science” (I still call it magic) but in the context of the story it works very well – it also serves The Sontarans very well giving scope to develop them beyond their TV characterisation & Dan Starkey gives a wonderful performance as ALL of them giving each distinct characteristics which differentiate them as characters and not just a generic clone race – they have been fighting a war a very very long time so it is logical that they would develop, and their greatest characteristic is honour.
 A relatively short story but big on concept and big on adding layers to an old enemy. Just a shame that they didn’t actually get to the pencil museum! 8/10.
Written by Ed Watkinson

222 - The Contingency Club

Doctor Who just seems to “fit” in to Victorian London – not the real Victorian London of Dickens or anything as grim as that, but the mythological steampunk retro Victorian London of comic books and pulp wiring. The London of fog and cabbies calling their fares “guvnor” in mock cockney accent and of those most secretive of institutions – the “Gentlemen’s Club” a haven for the upper class man to sit around, read the paper, drink brandy and sleep, and this months main range release concentrates on the most exclusive of exclusive clubs – “The Contingency Club” and as a lot of stories have been lately, its an odd one and its also a breath of fresh air whilst retaining the feel of Season 19.
 The Contingency Club has quickly established itself as THE club to be a member of, other notable institutions are losing members to it hand over fist, and its policy of exclusivity and selectively turning down membership on seeming whims make membership even more attractive for the great and the good of the day. Into this world of calm and order, of discretion and tradition falls (literally) the TARDIS and the season 19 team of The Doctor (Peter Davison), Tegan (Janet Fielding), Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) & Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) after the TARDIS loses power and falls out of the vortex – and oddly, very oddly as Tegan & Nyssa have the audacity to be WOMEN – they are welcomed to the club by valet Edward (Olly McCauley) who treats them as if they are old members, doesn’t comment on their attire or the fact that two of the party are WOMEN – in fact nobody seems to notice anything strange at all about our heroes – but our heroes start to notice very very odd things about the club itself. The valet is called Edward, not odd in itself, but ALL the valets in the club are called Edward and they are all the same person duplicated en masse – now if this were the far future then that wouldn’t be so much an oddity, but this is Victorian London…. Also the other members do not notice that Nyssa and Tegan are WOMEN (how dare they) even when they are told the responses seem vague almost like they are programmed to see only what they are allowed to see and what fits in with the world of the Contingency Club. All very strange indeed and it gets stranger by the moment as we discover more about the club owner Mr Peabody (Philip Jackson) and his mysterious benefactor The Red Queen (Lorelei King) and the real reason for the existence of the club. Throw in to the mix Clive Merrison as George Augustus society writer who has been denied membership of the club & is desperate to become a member and Alison Thea-Skot as Marjorie Stonegood, daughter of a club member who designed the London Underground but has not left the club and you have a first class pulp-Victorian steampunk Gothic mystery, with a personal stereo thrown in for good measure.
 Yes indeed pulp -Victoriana is a great setting for Doctor Who and The Contingency Club plays with the conventions of the genre very well – the villain from the future who can only use contemporary technology, the untouchable nature of the clubs due to who the members were, the obsequious butlers who are polite even when they are being awful, the gentlemen members themselves and of course The Doctor in his fifth incarnation, not the obvious clubbable gentleman – but a wry observer of the absurdity of it all – he even finds time to quote Groucho Marx and maybe for that alone this story deserves praise, as this really captures the essence of Five in one sentence. But its not just quips and quotes, its the feel of the whole thing and the futility of what the villain of the piece is trying to achieve, a little gem – 9/10.
Written by Ed Watkinson

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

THE WORLD BEYOND THE TREES

This is a very odd story, made even odder if you are not familiar with the Short Trip story “Damascus” (review HERE).
Set in the mid 1970′s this involves Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker) at a bit of a loose end at The Doctor’s house in Baker Street, she is stranded there with Dark Eyes herself Molly O’Sullivan placing this story sometime during the Dark Eyes Saga.
 As I said a real oddball story, but told in an engaging fashion by Liv Chenka herself Nicola Walker. We are really lucky to have an actor of her calibre play a companion at Big Finish – her delivery of the story is world weary, spiky, tired, and at some points where she recalls her relationship with her late Father almost wistful.
 But what about the story? It is quite surreal, The Doctor only features in a dream sequence that Liv has that tells her things that she needs to know including “knock four times” – that got my attention, I had images of a certain Mr Cribbins in full Grim Reaper mode but no, it was just a clever play on expectations, the four knocks are just that – four knocks.
The story is very dreamlike – Liv is the only one in London awake as everyone else is rendered insensible by a “listlessness field” and as Liv investigates the cause she meets up with the only other person in London still alive and is taken to the mysterious Project Damascus.
 The title of the story is very poetic, and the story has a very ambling freewheeling fairy tale lyricism to it – in fact in ambiance it reminds me of the TV episode In The Forest of the Night, though the actual story is completely different, there is something of the fantastical and the other worldly – like Doctor Who is only really pretending to be a science fiction show and is really a fantastic fairy tale about magical worlds, sleeping princesses, wise old Wizards and secret doors in Worlds Beyond The Trees….
 Does it feel like Doctor Who? Well that begs the question “what does Doctor Who feel like?” – to me it does, to others it may be just a bit too left field, but me being me – I LOVE left field and could see this as an animated episode in the style of Coraline, a Doctor Who story – undoubtedly, a strange fairy tale? definitely? a 9/10? most deservedly.