Sunday, 31 July 2016

The Blame Game

So, Rufus Hound eh? Comedian, actor, Whovian and all round affable chap. Rufus Hound reading a Short Trip. Rufus Hound reading a short trip and obviously having a ball – because his sheer joy at being involved in the project is obvious from the life that he brings in to the story. But why Mr Hound, usually these stories are read by a companion from the time? Well dear reader, for those of you who are spoiler averse then read no further and go and listen to The Black Hole available here and review here.  Have you all gone, done that and are up to date? Then I will continue.
 As well as narrating Rufus plays The Meddling Monk in this Short Trip reprising his role from The Black Hole and this story sees him arrive early in the Pertwee era, sometime after The Silurians and make the Doctor an offer her cannot refuse – he offers to take him off earth to travel with him. Unfortunately the Time Lords are not so easily outwitted and soon The Doctor, Monk & Liz Shaw are stranded on a Dolphin (them of the eyebrow communication) spaceship. To make it worse the ship is on a collision course.
 What writer Ian Atkins has achieved in this story is an examination of what it is for a Time Lord to be stranded – the Monk describes it to Liz in terms I had not considered previously, and what a terrible thing that has been done to the Doctor stranding him on Earth, but also what a terrible thing that The Doctor did to the Monk stranding him in the TV story The Dalek’s Masterplan, because if stranding the Monk did one thing, it gave him a lot of time to think of a suitable bit of payback.
 An excellent character study of both the Doctor & the Monk written in shades of grey with Liz Shaw as the moral compass that both desperately need. I blame the blame game for my decision to award 9/10.

CLASSIC DOCTORS, NEW MONSTERS VOLUME 01

The punctuation is a bit wrong in the title “Classic Doctors, New Monsters Volume 01” is the title but it should be punctuated differently in my opinion, but I will come back to this a bit later on.
 This is the first really overt mixture of “old Who”and “new Who” that Big finish have done – and why not (to quote Barry Norman) – when The Doctor meets The Weeping Angels, The Sycorax and the Judoon in the TV series when he is in his Tenth (or Eleventh depending on how you class John Hurt) incarnation he is aware of them and has definitely had encounters with them previously – and this box set tells part of that story. We have Five with the Weeping Angels, Six with the Judoon, Seven with the Sycorax and Eight with the new series incarnation of the Sontarans, complete with “Sontar -HAH!” chants, but even though the stories feature new monsters, the stories really do retain a classic era feeling, the Davison era story feels Davison, the Colin story really only could be a Colin story, the writers are respectful to the Doctor’s they are writing for whilst obviously relishing the new toys they have been given to play with. They fit into their respective eras like they have always been there – well time CAN be rewritten you know :-)
 So four very different stories all showcasing the strengths of their respective era’s and we begin with Doctor number Five…..
 1.1 Fallen Angels by Phil Mulryne
 I will now commit sacrilege. I was never that fussed on “Blink”. There, I have said it. I just didn’t see the fuss was all about. Moving statues, all that “timey-wimey” nonsense and not much of The Doctor – really not my cup of Earl Grey. So I wasn’t really looking forward to this one that much. How wrong can a man be??? Very wrong as it turns out as this one is a definite copper bottomed classic. Up there with THE classics of the classic era, this story can hold its head up high. Peter Davison is fast becoming my Doctor of choice in the Big Finish range – I never really got him on TV, but this years run of main range stories have really showcased his talents and Fallen Angels carries on this welcome trend. Now then. Weeping Angels, a VERY visual monster. Well….. yes. How could they work on audio?? They shouldn’t but they really do, this is a roller coaster ride. From the pre-credits sequence to the workshop of Michelangelo (Matthew Kelly) to the Sistine Chapel, to the catacombs beneath the Vatican, the pace never really lets up. The plot involves a secret priesthood named “The Cult of the three Angels” worshipping the Weeping Angels and using Michelangelo to “rescue” them from blocks of marble that they have become encased in. It also has a rather clever “timey-wimey” plot involving honeymooning couple Joel (Sacha Dhawan) & Gabby (Diane Morgan) being zapped back in time to 1500’s Italy. It also has a very clever in joke for fans of Blink towards the end that had me laughing out loud. A fantastic opening story.
 1.2 Judoon in Chains  by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris
 Judoon, monosyllabic, authoritarian, literal creatures. Not a poetic bone in their body or so you would think. Old Sixie has always been the most verbose and poetic of the Doctor’s, so who better to feature in a tale of Courtroom grandstanding, victorian carnival’s and a very special Judoon who has found his sensitive side? The Judoon in question is Captain Kybo (Nicholas Briggs) and we meet him on trial in Victorian England for desertion from his regiment with his advocate none other than The Sixth Doctor, and he has a story to tell…..
Told as a Dickensian nightmare and with a slight feeling of David Lynch’s “The Elephant Man” we see victorian values at their most abhorrent as Kybo is taken in by Circus owner Jonathan Jaggers Esq (Trevor Cooper) and used as an attraction in a freak show. Kybo really is the most interesting Judoon, his translator is broken yet he learns english, he writes poetry, he sees things in shades of grey rather than black and white and is an incredibly sympathetic character brought to life beautifully by Nick Briggs. The story also sees a conspiracy and cover up by a greedy corporation and a new beginning for a platoon of enlightened Judoon.
 1.3 Harvest of the Sycorax by James Goss
 Where the first two stories are set in the past, this one is in the far far future. And it is a very bleak future. The populace are controlled by designer viruses and designer mood enhancing chemicals. We meet the hero of the story Zanzibar Hashtag (Nisha Nayar) on a space station that has been invaded by The Sycorax, there is a vault on the station and The Sycorax will seemingly stop at nothing to get it open. Into this chaos arrives the chaotic Seventh Doctor, and then things really start to get interesting. The Sycorax are using blood control to make the denizens of the station do their will, but this time they have managed to procure some Time-Lord blood and are able to control The Doctor. This is the most light hearted story of the group, in fact i cannot really place where in Seven’s time line  this occurs, he is not as manipulative as his later person abut not as comedic as his season 24 persona. It also has a very very funny lead Sycorax played by Giles Watling who reminds me very much of Tim the Enchanter in Monty Python’s Holy Grail film, he gives hysterical speeches in a clipped high pitched voice, he also informs is that Sycorax “rock” quite often. A bit of an oddball of a story, but there really is nothing wrong with that.
 1.4 The Sontaran Ordeal by Andrew Smith
 And this brings us almost up to date. Many many years after his TV Movie appearance, Eight is involved in the early stages of the Time War, railing against the Time Lords and what they have become he arrives on the planet Drakkis – a planet devastated when the Time War entered real time and scarred it backwards and forwards in time forever.
Add to this mix an exiled Sontaran called Jask (Dan Starkey of “Hello Girl” fame), a Paladin named Sarana Teel (Jossette Simon) and a story that goes right to the heart of the Sontaran concept of honour and what it means to Jask. These are very much New Series Sontarans, complete with chants and the inflections of speech that their TV counterparts have, in fact General Stenk is played by Christopher Ryan (of “Mike the Cool Person” fame) who played a similar role on TV. At its heart this really is a story about honour and duty and doing the right thing for the right reasons whatever the consequences. It also goes some way with its denouement to explain why Eight became sick of the time war and what it was doing to him, how he couldn’t help people because of the perception of Time Lords, and why he needed to die and become the War Doctor. A story of hope and also a story of despair.
 At the beginning of this review, a very long time ago, I commented on punctuation – “Classic Doctors, New Monsters Volume 01” may be grammatically correct and also the name of the box set, I prefer this “Classic – Doctors! New Monsters!” because that REALLY does what it says on the tin. Its a classic (especially the first two stories) it features Doctors and New Monsters AND it enhances the characteristics of these monsters adding new layers to the mythos of the creatures whilst remaining completely rooted in each Doctor’s era. A Blinking, Stomping, Rocking, “HAH” – Ing classic set 10/10.

THE AVENGERS - THE LOST EPISODES VOLUME 06

I am sure it has been said before, but I will say it again – some stories just fit in a particular era. And whereas the Emma Peel & Tara King episodes could not have been made at any other time than the late 1960’s, the Doctor Keel episodes seem steeped in the ambiance of the early 1960’s or the long 1950’s that ended with The Beatles. All shot haircuts, smart suits, received pronunciation. Where you knew a villain was a villain because of his accent (working class, slimy or foreign) and where the heroes spoke properly and were thoroughly decent chaps. It really is a crying shame that only 2 and a bit episodes of the first series of The Avengers exists – but those that do showcase a completely different beast to what most people think of as The Avengers – studio bound, stagey, split in to “acts” almost like theatre for TV. And this level of authenticity for the era simply oozes from this latest Big Finish box set. From the dapper Steed (Julian Wadham) to the practical Keel (Anthony Howell) and all the supporting characters – they are what they are and they are most definitely of the era.
 In this penultimate box set of Lost Episodes there are three stories, one is a rare thing, an adaptation of an existing episode “The Frighteners” and this is where the set begins:
 6.1 The Frighteners by Berkeley Mather, adapted by Rae Leaver
 Steed and Keel become involved in an intimidation ring – a gang of “Frighteners” led by the rather nasty Deacon (Michael Lumsden) – they have been employed to scare off  upper class twit, confidence trickster and all round cad Jeremy De-Willoughby from rich young debutante Marilyn Weller (Eve Webster), you see her father Sir Thomas Weller (Hugh Ross) isn’t too fond of Jeremy (with good reason) so has gone to some rather extreme methods to get rid of him….
A story very of its time, with the class structure being completely upheld (and satirised) – its ok if someone is a cad and a layabout, but working class origins – good lord no!!! And is a very faithful adaptation of the TV original – it feels claustrophobic, studio bound, violent and seedy – a very noir beginning to the set.
 6.2 Death on the Slipway by Ian Potter, from a storyline by James Mitchell
 If you were asked to come up with a cold war thriller set in a shipyard I don’t think you would be far off what we have here. Intrigue, blackmail, stiff upper lips, dodgy “foreign types” and Steed having his suit ruined by oil. Again feeling just like early 1960’s TV – Steed investigates the murder of one of his colleagues under cover at a shipyard that is developing a special Submarine – but one of the staff there is being blackmailed into helping an enemy agent.
Very “of its time” very “Cold War”, you can tell who the villain is because he has an eastern european accent. This aside the hold he has over his victim for blackmail is rather tragic and he manipulates a man who is genuinely decent but has made an awful mistake. Very “Keel Lite” leaving Julian Wadham as Steed to carry the episode which he does with swagger, vigour and charm – he simply IS Steed – oh and Steed’s mysterious boss One-Ten makes an appearance played by the fabulous Dan Starkey of “hello girl” fame, love his and Steed’s interplay. Very good indeed.
 6.3 Tunnel of Fear by John Dorney, from a storyline by Terrence Feeley
 The Avengers was always off the wall, and for an early epode this is pretty left field. A Ghost Train at a Southend seaside is the venue for the latest attempt to smuggle information over the Iron Curtain – and while Dr Keel teams up with ex con Harry Black (Pete Collis) Steed makes himself at home as boss of the belly dancing attraction, and seems very taken with the dancers and the role he has taken on. This is very “Avengers-ish” if that is a word. Espionage and villains hiding in the world of vaudeville and surrealism – its not the full Peel or King, but it certainly has one foot in the wry and odd with fortune tellers, dancers, fairground rides and hypnotism all playing their parts.
 So another triumph of a set, acted in the style of the era, produced and directed in the style & with a soundtrack that fits right in with the era – I am so glad that these episodes are being recreated, but a double edged sword is that there is just one more set to go and the whole run has been recreated. For now though I will savour the fine vintage that is Volume 6 and in honour of Steed’s boss One-Ten I award it Nine-Ten.

214 - A LIFE OF CRIME

It started with a funeral. It ended with an economy class seat and in-between was a bit of a classic would be the short form of this review. Long time readers will know that I don’t do short, I tend to ramble on and on and on with flights of fancy – so I won’t disappoint here.
 But it does start with a funeral (you can hear part 1 for free here) – its the funeral of one “Lefty Lonnegan”, half human half cyborg crime boss, retired to the “costa del crime” planet of Ricosta, Lonnegan is also the erstwhile partner of one Sabalom Glitz who is also the erstwhile business partner of one Melanie Jane Bush. Yes, this is the story where Mel (Bonnie Langford) comes back. I know she has never really been away as she has been a star with Big Finish since almost the beginning – and they have made her a much more rounded and likeable character than she was on TV. But this is the story set after her final appearance in Dragonfire and where we find out about the intervening time with Glitz. But its not just about Mel, oh no, its a lot more complicated than that – this is a story of two halves, what starts as a long con turns into an invasion story. It also has a non linear story structure with Mel’s thread and The Ace/Doctor threads happening at different times and then dovetailing quite nicely at the end of part two.
 So the plot – there really is not a lot I can say without giving away spoilers, there are criminals, a bank job, a rather vile species of alien banker called the Speravores who delight in absorbing the potential futures of their victims. Unlike the TV series the non linear narrative works to the stories benefit and fit together perfectly, logically and as a listener I felt rewarded and enlightened rather than frustrated and cheated.
 But this is Mel’s story really – and there is a knockout scene between her and The Doctor where they discuss how each other have changed in the intervening time, Mel expresses her disappointment at the machiavellian path that Seven has taken whilst the Doctor is appalled at how Glitz has apparently been a bad influence on Mel. But sometimes in a friendship you have to dig beneath the surface to fins out real motivations as the Doctor & Mel both find out. And as this is Mel’s story, I have to give praise to Bonnie Langford as Mel, a more worldly wise, wily and less perky Mel, a more mature Mel. She has changed, we all change, but she has changed whereas Ace is very much the same calling Mel “Doughnut” much to Mel’s annoyance.
 This is a fab story, one that really does keep you on your toes as the tone changes so very quickly – it also sets up a potential new villain for the upcoming trilogy and a mystery as to why they have caught up with Mel at all…
 What begins great caper of a story reintroducing and updating a classic companion and giving her some very believable character development ends as an exercise in cause and effect and a ride in economy class – but this story is most definitely business class 9/10.

4th Doctor 5.7 - The Pursuit of History

When I was listening to last months release – The Trouble With Drax there was a throwaway line that intrigued me, and then I completely forgot about it. I was reminded of it straight away with this release. Memo to self, pay attention and remember what you are paying attention to because it may well be important. In this case it seems to have been an important plot point involving a Parrot. And The Pursuit of History begins (well not quite but the first TARDIS scene) begins with Romana and K9 in pursuit of said overlooked Parrot. Its a Parrot that the Doctor seems to want to ignore, and it seems to be reciting phrases from The Doctor (albeit in the style of Terry Jones as a Pepper-pot in Monty Python) so at this point I am both intrigued and amused.
 Ladies and gentlemen we are in season finale mode – the little hints and tidbits for the more discerning (or more attentive) listener are all coming together and an old enemy is making a reappearance. The old enemy in this case is Cuthbert (David Warner) head of the Conglomerate, last seen in an alliance of sorts with the Daleks and Cuthbert has a plan to increase the Conglomerates profits involving robbing a train in 1850’s Yorkshire and selling the proceeds of the robbery to the finance minister of Earth’s Oceanic zone 200 years later – so far so Scaroth. But there is something else bubbling in the background a plan that Cuthbert’s machiavellian capitalism may only be a small part of.
 Right from the off you get the feeling that you are listening to something rather epic, the tone whilst still very much of Season 17 is more City of Death than Horns of Nimon and you really do get the feeling of an age old plan coming to fruition and that the Doctor and Romana are completely out of their depth only seeing part of the bigger picture.
 David Warner never ceases to amaze in any parts he plays for Big Finish – he is another of those actors who bring out the best in Tom Baker – their verbal sparring just sparkles and Lalla Ward is at her haughty best when confronting Mr Dorrick (Toby Hadoke) again and explaining that she is the same Romana he has encountered before.
 Nick Briggs has crafted an excellent opening story for the finale, it really does feel like “all bets are off” for the final story because the stakes keep getting higher and higher and then there is the cliffhanger to episode two. Not saying any more apart from the fact that I was driving at the time of listening, actually heading in to Conwy, waiting in a queue of traffic and I got a very odd look from a Dog walker as I was sitting there shouting “NOOOO”. Its one of those sort of cliffhanger.
 So, Parrots, train robberies, economic chicanery and a threat level ramped up to 11 – can’t be bad for an opening gambit and a well deserved 9/10.

THE NEW COUNTER MEASURES: WHO KILLED TOBY KINSELLA?

There is a film, its one of my all time favourite called “Lost Highway” directed by David Lynch. The first line is “Dick Laurent is dead” and then it goes to some very very strange places. This months very special Counter Measures release could possibly start with the line “Sir Toby Kinsella is dead” – its not a spoiler, the story is called “Who Killed Toby Kinsella”, so we know he is dead. But not quite at the beginning he isn’t – he is assassinated by a mystery gunman about 20 minutes in to episode one, and this in turn starts off a chain of events that lead to the “New Counter Measures” which will be with us in December. But lets look at this story, in fact lets look at Counter Measures.
 Counter Measures are a spin off from the Doctor Who TV story “Remembrance of the Daleks” featuring Captain Gilmore (Simon Williams), Rachel Jensen (Pamela Salem) & Allison Williams (Karen Gledhill) all reprising their roles. Its a very 1960’s ITC style of adventure – it feels like a TV film series of the era – added to the mix for the audio spin off was the character of Sir Toby Kinsella (Hugh Ross) – the man in charge of Counter Measures, a civil servant, a slimy, amoral, but strangely very likeable character – he led Counter Measures through four box sets set around the early 1960’s and made some very questionable decisions for the greater good and the security of the world.
 This special release takes place at Christmas 1973 – Counter Measures have long since been disbanded – Ian, Rachel & Allison are all in hiding under assumed names, all presumed dead – this i the Britain of power cuts, economic uncertainty and the three day week and a Prince form the Middle East Hassan Al-Nadyr (Raad Rawi) is in the UK on a trade mission but Toby Kinsella thinks his life is in danger and is killed when trying to protect him at the Opera. The death of Toby Kinsella brings the Counter Measures team out of hiding to track down the killer of their old boss and uncover a conspiracy stretching back to Toby’s time in University….
 This story has a very 1970’s feeling, the theme tune has been updated and the news of strained relations with the Middle East and an oil crises ground this in the early 1970’s – it has the feeling of a Sunday night drama that should be on at 21:00 on the BBC rather than an ITC film series – more “Tinker Tailor” than “Man In A Suitcase”  - this feels like a real world only slightly removed from our own where the characters have real concerns and the past is a very very dangerous place that is now reaping revenge.
The Counter Measures team fit perfectly into this conspiracy thriller – but they are on the outside looking in and themselves rogue elements rather than at the centre of things.
 Although he is dead, Sir Toby’s spectre haunts the proceedings – every move made is haunted by his memory and the events that unfold come from seeds that he planted in his University days.
 As a conspiracy thriller this is top notch, layers within layers within layers of plot are presented to the listener and there are many “lightbulb moments” as well as heart pounding action sequences.
But its not just a conspiracy thriller, its a pilot for “The New Counter Measures” and it certainly sets the scene and whets the appetite for more adventures of the reunited team plus a few new additions. Marching forward with confidence into the 1970’s – Toby Kinsella is dead, but the New Counter Measures live on. 9/10.

TORCHWOOD - BROKEN

With the bar set so high by last months release “Moving Target” this one had to be something rather special. And it is. And it is as different from “Moving Target” as it is possible to be. This is a study in grief. Not teenage angst or self indulgence but pure unadulterated human grief. And the man suffering is none other than Ianto Jones (Gareth David Lloyd).
 This story is set within the first televised series of Torchwood from the time of “Cyberwoman” to “They Keep Killing Suzie” and follows Ianto as he pours his heart out to barmaid Mandy Albiston (Melanie Walters).
 Ianto is broken – truly broken and lost and alone. His girlfriend Lisa is dead, he has no friends, he is estranged from his family and he loathes his boss Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) because he is the one that killed Lisa. His only friend in the world is Mandy, Mandy understands, Mandy is there for him when no one else is with a piece of sage advice, or a pint, she is Ianto’s only friend, she is the one person Ianto turns to.
 Ianto paints a picture of a cold uncaring Jack Harkness – someone who just keeps on keeping on with no time for the emotional problems of his staff – mission after mission after mission, horrific encounters, death does not seem to have an effect on Jack – but Ianto on the other hand is emotionally destroyed – and he only has Mandy to turn to and Mandy is always there with a friendly word and a pint….
 A very very different take on a Torchwood tale. We have become used to the frantic pace of the “Cardiff Buddy Movie” format, this is an altogether more pensive release, slow and brooding which suits the downbeat confessional nature of the story and this story lets Ianto bear his soul. And just when you think things really cannot get any bleaker, redemption may just arrive in a bitter sweet phone call.
Another excellent release and a completely different take on the Torchwood format, and whilst the story and the content are a difficult listen, the release is very rewarding and adds another building block to the Jack/Ianto relationship that ran through the series – the denouement really does seem earned by all the players, the reward may not be what they were looking for but it is most definitely what they need.
 What we have here is an emotional car crash of a story, a study in what can happen if we let grief consume us and see our friends as enemies, and a warning that redemption may not always be at the bottom of a pint glass. Broken but with a cure maybe in the distance 9/10.