Sunday, 30 April 2017

THE OMEGA FACTOR SERIES 2

Forgive my seeming ramble, but it will make sense. Probably. As followers of my twitter feed will know (or be bored to tears with) I moved house recently, and for one whole week had no TV. No terrestrial, no Sky, no cable, no Freeview. Zilch. The only thing we had was a Blu ray player and a large collection of DVD’s. Now a very good friend of mine purchased a DVD for me which he insisted I watch called “The Living and the Dead” so over the course of that first week in Colwyn Bay (for that is where I am :-) ) Mrs W & I watched the series and loved it, and it ended on a cliffhanger and there was going to be a second series, but there isn’t now. A wasted opportunity. And this got me thinking about The Omega Factor because even though they are a century or so apart in time thematically they have a lot in common, even down to being cut short after one season. Thing is The Omega Factor was completely off my radar, I had LOVED series one (review HERE) but hadn’t thought that much about it – but watching The Living and the Dead had whetted my appetite for more.
The Omega Factor is often described as a template for The X-Files, but it is a lot more than this, it has a sort of sadness and despair that the films of the late 1970’s had – its not perpetually bleak but it feels born out of a world that was once all fun and games but has suddenly become dangerous – the hangover from the late 1960’s and early 1970’s is in full force and the world is a lot more dangerous for it. But that was the late 1970’s when the TV series aired – Big Finish did something rather daring with their continuation, instead of going for a period piece they set it now and as foil to Dr Anne Reynolds (Louise Jameson) they cast John Dorney as Adam Dean, son of Tom Crane (the late James Hazeldine) – the first series from Big Finish was a resounding success, even being shortlisted for a BBC audio drama award, but could the second series keep up the momentum. The short answer is yes, the long answer is carry on reading my rambles…..
It is very difficult to do The Omega Factor justice by mere words and reflection on what I have listened to, this is a series more than any other that has to be experienced, all the episodes are intensely personal and the listener almost feels like an intruder eavesdropping on private conversations or being privy to information that they really shouldn’t know – scripts are one thing, but bringing those scripts to life is another, so we as listeners are privileged to have an astounding leading duo in Louise Jameson and John Dorney, they make everything so real, they are utterly believable characters not genre tropes, both flaws, both imperfect, but with a bond that in some ways is stronger than family.
So The Omega Factor Series 2 – we return to Department 7 for four more tales of the paranormal, the strange and the downright disturbing, but this time there is a linking theme, an arc going all the way back to the original series.
2.1 Somnum Sempiternum by Phil Mulryne
Horror is an easy table to give a release – The Omega Factor is not horror, more “Creeping Dread” and nowhere more so than this opening story. Anne & Adam are called in by their boss Doyle (Alan Cox) to investigate a series of impossible suicides of high up members of the establishment including a prominent MP. This is a cruel world, cold and uncaring, a world where a young girl can be tortured, mind controlled and used as a weapon for a cause, a world where the life of someone that can be used is cheap to certain individuals who have a lot to gain. Its all about character, thats what sells this so completely, Anne & Adam are just so believable and fallible – and this is where i disagree with the X-Files comparison, that show just didn’t have character like this. And what a bleak way to start a series, but what an intriguing way to suck the listener into the world of Department 7.

2.2 The Changeling by Roy Gill
You think part one left us in a dark place? No, that was just the beginning, just testing the water. Part two is altogether more sinister and more dangerous. We start with Adam being locked up in the maximum security Tollmire Prison where his cellmate is one Alasdair Reiver (Alan Francis) serving life without parole for the premeditated murder of his teenage best friend Nicholas Link, he doesn’t deny it, but he has his reasons for doing it, reasons that will put Adam in mortal danger. Tense, thrilling and nail biting – like a downward spiral of despair as Anne uncovers the truth behind the death of Nicholas Link and the forces that are behind it and the reason Reiver committed murder all those years ago, sometimes the past is best left well alone…..

2.3 Let the Angel Tell Thee by Louise Jameson
You can tell a Louise Jameson script, even though the subject matter is horrific the construction is poetic and lyrical and has a sort of macabre beauty. Anne has taken on another psychic prodigy in Edward Milton MP (Gunnar Cauthery), he has similar abilities to Adam. Anne also finds time for a brief romance with his Uncle, Anthony Archer (Hugh Fraser) – but is he all he seems, and is Adam’s apparently deteriorating mental health a symptom of a greater conspiracy? This episode sees the return of Morag (Natasha Gerson) who appears to Adam in fever dreams or nightmares or psychic projections warning him of danger of “1984 or 1985 or 1986 or 1987” the Morag scenes are worthy of my favourite director David Lynch, powerful, surreal imagery emblazoned across the mind of the listener – it is the most visual of episodes, and the most upsetting but also the most beautiful.
2.4 Awakening by Matt Fitton
The conspiracy will stop at nothing to get it sway, even injuring Adam’s estranged partner and daughter in an accident & taking them to an exclusive private clinic – and taking Morag there at the same time in to the bargain. This really does expose the conspiracy as petty and vindictive, wanting power for powers sake and willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to get it. An action packed finale to an excellent box set.
And pause for breath – its that sort of set – the stakes keep getting raised higher and higher as our heroes are washed further in to the spiral of despair and on top of that there is a hook for a possible third series.
Big Finish have hit the proverbial home run with this set, it has everything and stayed with me – in fact I still cant stop thinking about it. Fantastic scripting, superb sound design and two incredible leads in Louise Jameson and John Dorney make it a resounding success and a 10/10 from me. (now if someone at Big Finish could get on to the BBC about a continuation of The Living & the Dead…..)

JAGO & LITEFOOT SERIES 13

Can it really be 40 years? I mean really and truly? Well yes as a matter of fact it appears it can. Just over 40 years ago the Fourth Doctor and Leela arrived in Victorian London for one of their greatest adventures, met up with a Giant Rat, a Homicidal Homunculus and a time displaced terror from the future and also made some lifetime friend in Professor George Litefoot & Mr Henry Gordon Jago – who would have thought that those six episode of TV gold would spawn 13 series plus many specials of audio gold? Yes indeed this is the bi-annual bean-feast of bluff & bravado, the six monthly slice of silliness & spectacle – this is Jago & Litefoot Series 13.
I must admit I was a little bit worried at the ending of series 12 – there was no traditional tag scene or cliffhanger leading us on to the next box set, nothing – I thought it might be twelve and out for our investigators of all things infernal. How wrong I was, and really how could series 13 be trailered anyhow, it is a very different series, still full of the usual theatricality and charm this entry into the J & L canon harks back to their earliest encounter whilst being completely different to anything that has appeared before. Now being Whovians you all probably know The Talons of Weng Chiang back to front (and if not – why not???) but I suggest that you give it another airing before listening to this set as one name hangs heavy over the proceedings, and that name is Magnus Greel…..
That got your interest didn’t it? and so it should if not for The Doctor & Leela and Magnus Greel Jago & Litefoot would probably not have encountered each other at all. Imagine that.
The set comprises of four interlinked stories:
13.1: The Stuff of Nightmares by Paul Morris
It all begins with very real and very vivid dreams Jago, Litefoot & Ellie are all suffering. Litefoot consults his old Psychiatrist friend Dr Hilary Standish (Carolyn Pickles) for assistance whilst Jago employs one Harry Hypno (Tony Turner) to try to get to the bottom of the waking nightmare worlds they seem to fins themselves in. And then there is Agent Cara (Abi Hayes) a Time Agent sent back to apprehend one Magnus Greel, she is utterly cold, ruthless & single minded and her trail leads her inevitably to Jago & Litefoot.
This opener drops the listener right into the thick of it – beginning with Litefoot’s nightmare of being dead on a slab whilst Jago performs his autopsy – the listener is caught completely off guard, this feels a lot more dangerous and bleak than Jago & Litefoot has been before. Add to that the cold nature of Agent Cara and you have one of the most  intriguing but also most visceral episodes that the series has produced – 13 series in and it is still fresh.
13.2: Chapel of Night by Jonathan Barnes
Carrying directly on from the previous episode our heroes find themselves back home in London – good old smog filled Victorian London, and it is. Unfortunately it is not their smog filled Victorian London, but something slightly different. We are in new territory for J & L, they are in a parallel universe. A universe in which they never met. Litefoot works it out pretty quickly – Ellie doesn’t know them, Inspector Quick only has a professional relationship with Litefoot & does not know Jago at all, but infernal investigator they are whichever universe they are in and they soon become embroiled in a mystery regarding the “Chapel of the Night” and its owner Mrs Bartholomew (Teresa Banham) – why is she taking in suicidal men, what is she doing with them and why? It seem perhaps Jago & Litefoot are not the only visitors to this Universe.
Parallel universes are a sci-fi staple and usually involve a big difference like The Roman Empire not having fallen or Charles I winning the English Civil War, but this is far more subtle – the failure of a certain Time Lord to turn up changed the lives of the Jago & Litefoot of this universe as we shall see in the next story….
13.3: How The Other Half Lives by Matthew Sweet
Victorian times were awful if you think about it – disease, poverty, squalor, drugs, filth, cruel working conditions, debtors prisons. So what are two gentlemen from a parallel universe with no means of support to do in these hard times? Well they survive as best they can, renting a room in a squalid tenement block. But what of the Jago & Litefoot of this universe – well this is the episode where we meet them and see the sort of people they would be had the events of Talons not really impacted on them. Litefoot is more remote than the man we know, more dry and bookish and tinged with a sort of melancholy. Jago is, well, Jago – no longer a theatre owner (He lost his job at the Palace) but a married man, married to Xiu Xiu (Lucy Sheen) and scraping a living by scouring the sewers of London for lost items of value to sell – but Jago has a plan to put himself back on top, ever the showman Jago & wife have a plan to hunt, shoot, kill and stuff the giant rat that still roams the sewers – and a chance meeting with one Professor George Litefoot (from our universe) steps their plans up a gear. So did you all rewatch Talons? Matthew Sweet obviously has and has lovingly picked apart the story & reconstructed the outcome had there been no Doctor to save the day and to bring Jago & Litefoot together – but someone had to defeat Greel, and destroy Mr Sin didn’t they? IF Jago & Litefoot didn’t exist then someone had to step up to the plate and become them – make way for Aubrey & Betterman, Investigators of all things infernal.
13.4: Too Much Reality by Justin Richards
Aubrey (Jamie Newall) & Dr Betterman (David Warner) two characters who have appeared previously in Jago & Litefoot and in this Universe it was they (without the help of the Doctor) who defeated Greel and have since investigated infernal incidents and in this final story Jago & Jago & Litefoot & Litefoot & Aubrey & Betterman have a Demon to investigate, corpses that fade in and out of reality and a final encounter with a recent enemy. AND our Jago and Litefoot still have to try to get home. A lot to wrap up  and a lot going on but wrapped up beautifully and completely logically and for me a “punch the air” moment – there was a cliffhanger to the next series…..
Another wonderful collection filled with nostalgia, adventure and a new way of looking at our leading men and the men they almost were. I also need to thank David Richardson who is bowing out as producer of the range after 13 blockbuster series, I have made no secret that Jago & Litefoot is my favourite Big Finish series and this is in no small part down to David’s production skills. It was lovely to hear Trevor Baxter & Christopher Benjamin get to play slightly different versions of themselves and their skill in bringing these subtle differences to life was a joy to hear. What will the future hold? The new producer has huge shoes to fill – but has been gifted with a legacy of quality stories, class acting and exceptional sound design as a starting point, and I cannot wait for the new dawn that is series 14. A sideways trip that does not pause for breath and a Talon’s tribute-tastic 10/10.

Spare Parts (Limited Edition Vinyl)

There has never been a Doctor Who story quite like this, not before, not since. And it is very easy to see why it is a firm fan favourite and by extension a candidate for a very special Vinyl release – this story is unique. It could quite easily have been a derivative of “Genesis of the Daleks” and I am sure it would have been very exciting – but Spare Parts is  different and over the course of the six episodes (recut from four episode of the original release) the listener experiences the death throes of a doomed civilisation and the birth of something terrible – not through the eyes of the great and the good but through the eyes of an ordinary family – The Hartleys’.
Spare Parts takes us to Mondas at the point of the evolutionary dead end that would eventually give us the Cybermen becomes a necessity, the planet is dying, the population are weak and ill, and to survive the “Committee” with the aid of chief surgeon Doctorman Allan (Sally Knyvette) has devised the only logical way to ensure the survival of the people of Mondas, they are to become Cybermen….
This is no grand evil plan for universal domination, this is desperation pure and simple and that is the tragedy of Spare Parts, the road that has led the Mondasians’ to this cul-de-sac is the ONLY logical way to survive.
This story is about as bleak and as grim as a Doctor Who story can possible get – The Doctor (Peter Davison) & Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) arrive on Mondas, it is like a bleak version of the 1950’s a sort of Orwellian dystopia – if you have ever seen the Terry Gilliam film “Brazil” you will get the idea – TV announcements are all done in the frightfully posh received pronunciation and there is a rather fake blitz spirit of everyone pulling together while really the world falls apart, food is rationed, power is low, a curfew is in force and the Police who enforce it are “augmented” halfway points between human & Cyberman. We go back to the original premise of the Cybermen – Spare Parts surgery gone mad. Replacing limbs & organs is the norm on Mondas, the people who do it are not evil, they just want to survive, which brings me to the Hartley family – as ordinary a family as you could imagine Dad (Paul Copley), Frank (Jim Hartley) and Yvonne (Kathryn Guck) all making the best of things as the world crumbles around them. Poor Yvonne – it is her character more than any that represents the tragedy of the Cybermen, no spoilers but you will know the scene – genuinely moving, utterly abhorrent and tinged with tragedy – all of Mondas and its troubles personified in a frightened young girl. Chilling.
In a world populated by those who have no choice but to replace their bodies with steel, chrome and plastic the Cybermen seem inevitable – The Doctor cannot stop it, the Cybermen are part of established history, but can he get a small victory, can he change them at all?
The whole production has a feeling of claustrophobia and fighting against the inevitable. Never before has Doctor Who had such a sense of futility. As for the Cybermen themselves Nick Briggs absolutely nails the Mondasian voices giving distinct character to the different Cybermen, especially Commander Zheng (remember Cybermen had names in their Mondasian form) and his portrayal of ****DELETED FOR SPOILERS**** would bring a tear to the eye of even the most stiff upper lipped fan. We also have Derren Nesbitt as Black Market Organ trader Thomas Dodd – as slippery and morally ambiguous as they come still trying to make a fast profit as the world crumbles around him.
If you have the asking price then I urge you to buy this classic, it really is a thing of beauty. If you don’t then the standard version is just £2.99 – and it is a story that ALL Doctor Who fans have to hear. If this were a TV story it would be up there with Talons of Weng Chiang, City of Death & Blink in fan polls. It is a very human story about people voluntarily surrendering their humanity, it stayed with me on its original release and it is haunting me now on listening to the reissue. Mondas must survive. At all costs. A distorted reflection of our own world and a magnificent 10/10

4th Doctor 6.4 - Dethras

After 42 years of being a fan of Doctor Who I can still be caught unawares by a story, and this months Fourth Doctor story  ”Dethras” is proof positive of that. On the surface of it Dethras is not a very Season 18 story – in fact it sounds completely bonkers – a World War 2 submarine, a crew who suddenly fall unconscious and wake up with only three crew members remaining and (wait for it) a Chimpanzee has mysteriously appeared on board. If you are getting a Season 17 vibe from this description then you are not alone. But the execution is pure season 18.
Whereas this situation could have been dealt with with flippancy and one liners we see the mighty Tom Baker here in full no nonsense mode, taking the material seriously, treating it like a serious situation rather than lampooning it and surprisingly it works. It works very well. And I am at a loss at what else to say about the rest of the story as anything else would be absolutely a huge spoiler and ruin the enjoyment that this little gem brings because this is a story that rewards those who know very little about it. So what can I talk about????
The atmosphere, thats what I will go on – it is pure Season 18 – morose, doom laden with a very quick tempered Fourth Doctor who is a complete contrast to how he was in last months release – the concepts are also very science fiction rather than science fantasy as has been the norm with the Fourth Doctor releases, the listener really is drawn in to Bidmead’s vision of Doctor Who in this release. This is a high concept story dealing with evolution and ethics, has a very small cast and a very satisfying conclusion, and I haven’t even touched on who or what Dethras is – because I really can’t.
What isn’t there to love about a story involving a chimpanzee in a submarine? This may be one of the shortest reviews I have ever written, but that is in no way a reflection on the stories quality – Dethras makes you sit up and take notice and challenges, it requires active listening rather than passive enjoyment and stands out as a very mature story, no monkeying around here, Dethras has a well deserved 9/10.

TORCHWOOD - THE DOLLHOUSE

Question: Can I write this review without mentioning 1970’s camp cop show Charlie’s Angels? Answer: seeing as I just have the answer is a great big NO :-)
Because The Dollhouse wears its influences not only on its sleeve, but has printed t-shirts and matching mug & coaster sets – this is Torchwood Los Angeles in the 1970’s, this is Torchwood going Disco and its a brave move too as no cast members that we know appear, this is Torchwood in the last outpost of the British Empire (in L.A of all places) fighting the future in platform heels and Farrah flicks.
So back to the influences – we are introduced Charlie’s Angels style to our heroes Marlow Sweet (Lalla Pyne), Charley Du Bujeau (Kelly-Anne Lyons) and Gabi Martinez (Ajjaz Awad) and their disembodied voice of a boss Mr Beamish (Guy Adams) and we get a very disco iteration of the opening titles – so far, so camp, close your eyes and you really can visualise this as a prime time TV show in the 1970’s with bad stunt doubles, worse editing and a groovy soundtrack – and that would be the easy route, Dollhouse doesn’t take the easy route, and having been lulled in to a false sense of what the world we are about to enter is like it suddenly changes and becomes more real, darker, dangerous and sleazy.
Young aspiring actresses are going missing and there trail leads the ladies of Torchwood to one Don Donohue (Stuart Milligan) theatrical agent and all round flesh crawlingly creepy slime-ball, as Marlow Sweet gods undercover as an office temp, Gabi & then Charley use all their feminine wiles to find out if he is the link and to find out exactly what “The Dollhouse” is.
Camp would have been the easy way, but this pulls no punches and is a much more realistic depiction of L.A in the 1970’s, the racism, the sexism, the male dominated corruption is all laid out – women are (literally) seen as a commodity by Donohue and his allies – the world these characters inhabit is glitzy on the surface but delve a little beneath and it is cold, cruel, charmless and dangerous.
The story moves along at quite a pace, has some great voice acting and incidental music and leaves the door open for further escapades for Torchwood L.A, because these ladies are needed to protect L.A not only from alien threats but from the worst of humanity that see alien threats as an opportunity.
The Dollhouse is a hard edged, hard boiled tale dressed up in spangly disco gear – if Big Finish were pitching a new series then this is a more than worthy pilot – an angelic 8/10.

224 - Alien Heart/Dalek Soul

This is release number 224 in the main range. Let that sink in. a whole 224 stories released since 1999 – more than the entire run of the “classic” series plus all of the New series up to The Doctor The Widow and the Wardrobe. What took the TV series 48 years Big Finish have achieved in 18, surely cause for a celebration? Well if not a celebration then maybe a shake up, a change of direction, a reinvention, a re-emphasising? Anyone? Well like it or not thats what Big Finish have done at least for three releases & we will have to see how successful these releases are – Big Finish have decide to go for a “double bill”, two stories per release rather than one, linked but different and what better monster to put in this mini reboot but the Daleks?.
So two stories with complementary titles (rather like series 9 of the TV series remember The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived etc) we start of with Alien Heart/Dalek Soul and they are about as tonally different as it is possible to get, but strangely they really do compliment each other. Whereas Alien Heart is pure pulp sci-fi in the 1960’s mould – it really could pass muster as a Hartnell story, Dalek Soul is as grim and as bleak as it is possible for a Doctor Who story to get.
Alien Heart by Stephen Cole
The Doctor (Peter Davison) and Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) discover that ten planets have been utterly obliterated and are concerned that the planet Traxana is next in line for the same treatment, what follows is a boys own adventure featuring giant green space spiders, human colonists on a base, thrills and spills aplenty and a bit of a sucker-punch ending (well it was for me) Halving the episode count makes the plot go faster, every line seems to matter and we lose the capture/escape/run up and down corridors padding that can sometimes (but not always) take the urgency out of proceedings, because things on Traxana are urgent and the threat level is ramped up and up as the pieces start to fall in to place as to what is really going on. This is a plot based old school story and should really appeal to the more “trad” Who fans.
Dalek Soul by Guy Adams
Now this is different, but you will be happy to hear different in a good way because the Daleks have won, they are occupying the planet Mojox and developing a virus to wipe out the “rebels” (read freedom fighters), but they are not developing this virus alone, they have an ally in their Chief Virologist – one Nyssa of Traken and they also have a chief quisling and propagandist a really nasty piece of work called “The Doctor”. Nyssa experiments on live test subjects and has a lot of blood on her hands, encouraged to work hard by The Doctor to aid their Dalek allies in wiping out the indigenous population. Is it a nightmare, is it a parallel universe, are they playing along? To quote the Prisoner “That Would be telling”, but this release pulls no punches and is genuinely nasty in its portrayal of a totalitarian regime. Special praise to Sarah Sutton as Nyssa as she plays a different type of Nyssa, or maybe someone Nyssa could have been in different circumstances. Cold, cruel and disturbing and played just right – superbly crafted, paced and acted.
Big Finish experimented like this before with the three parts and one part stories that emerged around 90-ish in the range, so time will tell if these double bills work or not. I found that the even though there was a tonal difference there was enough for these stories to work as a double bill – not quite a four parter but two different but linked parts of a fractured whole. A Brave move that might just work. 8/10.

PHILIP HINCHCLIFFE PRESENTS THE HELM OF AWE

Tom Baker did and still does dominate Doctor Who, his seven year tenure casting a long shadow both forwards and backwards in time, Tom is the yardstick by which all other Doctor’s past or future seem to be judged and the “not we” always seem to ask where our scarves are when we mention we are Who fans – and amongst a large section of fans the three years in which his stories were produced by Philip Hinchcliffe are the pinnacle of the show, the sacred cow that can not be criticised and with this weight of history and expectation the “Philip Hinchcliffe Presents” range has a huge expectation to stand up to.
 Written by Hinchcliffe himself and then adapted for audio by Marc Platt the pedigree is obvious, add in Tom Baker & Louise Jameson and how can it fail?
 The TARDIS is drawn off course to the remote Shetland Isle of Bothness at the time of the “Up Helly Aa” festival, however the island should be deserted, there is no record of anyone living there and the locals are anything but friendly (think The Wicker Man but without the animal masks) and do not welcome “off Islanders”. The Doctor and Leela befriend Joanna (Joanna Vanderham) daughter of the local Laird Professor Angus Renwick (David Rintoul) and Leela is recruited to the traditional long boat race of the festival whilst The Doctor searches for the lost artefact that has drawn the TARDIS to Bothness.
Being a Hinchcliffe story this borrows liberally from established Horror classics, in this case there is a LOT of similarity to The Wicker Man in the early parts, being a Hinchcliffe story it also has an alien threat buried underneath the island – but very unlike the Hinchcliffe era there is a very modern “timey-wimey” (there must be a better word for it) sub plot involving the island in the past and the influence that the alien menace has exerted on the Renwick family.
 There are some wonderful character pieces, and a genuinely and sensitive performance from Louise Jameson as she explains her Grandfathers fate in a way that keeps his myth as a war hero alive and some excellent imagery – the island feels remote and cold and exposed and very real and the threat from the denizens of the island is visceral and very believable.
 The Helm of Awe really does feel like a 1970′s missing story. It has all the ingredients – Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Philip Hinchcliffe, the space/time telegraph, mentions of UNIT, plot with parts appropriated from a classic British Horror film etc etc, but something isn’t quite right, despite all the right ingredients this release just didn’t quite work for me, it never seemed to get out of second gear and meandered all over the place, it didn’t feel like it had a real sense of purpose which is a shame as listening to the making of documentary everyone really seemed to enjoy making it. I think what it lacked for me was a sense of humour, Tom was incredibly serious in this release with very few of his trademark twinkles and silly one liners – I wasnt expecting a Williams era “Tom Baker Show” but he seemed just a little too restrained – but maybe thats just me. I am sure fans of Hinchcliffe will love the authenticity of the piece but for me I only award a 6/10.