Tuesday, 1 August 2017

SHORT TRIPS - FLASHPOINT

So there I was on Thursday night about to write my review of Flashpoint when Kitchen disaster took place, or more accurately Kitchen clearance took place, no table, no chair, no place to write my review in my usual Kitchen haven – the Men from Magnet are imminent and nothing will ever be the same again.
In a strange turn of events I sit hear on Sunday 16 July and the world of Doctor Who has just had the single biggest change in its 54 year history – Jodie Whittaker has been announced as Doctor Who number 13, and the show will never be the same again – a brave and bold move, a strong female role model, a hero to a whole new generation, wonderful times to be a fan and I cannot wait to join her on her adventures.
Jodie Whittaker may be the first female Doctor, but the series has had its fair share of strong female role models and Big Finish has had its hand in creating one of the very best – stand up Sheridan Smith as the magnificent and irreplaceable Lucie Miller, the lass from Blackpool and companion to the eighth Doctor over four magnificent series and now she is back to read this months Short Trips release “Flashpoint” and Lucie gets to shine as this release is what in TV terms would be called a “Doctor Lite” story, that is The Doctor is not in it for the majority of the story and this time it is up to Lucie to be the hero, but can she? Can she be The Doctor? Can she protect a little boy from cruel heartless gangsters who want him dead – when it comes down to it how far will she go to do the right thing?
Tense and dramatic and squeezing a lot in to its 35 minute running time – Lucie Miller can proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with Jo Grant, Sarah Jane, Romana, Rose Tyler, Donna Noble & Bill Potts as all time great companions – she is out of her depth, she is frightened, she is disorientated but she still keeps her sense of right and wrong, she puts the life of a complete stranger before her own safety, sh basically does what the Doctor would do, difference being he is 900 year old Time-lord who can regenerate, she is an ordinary girl from Blackpool to whom death means death.
16 July 2017 will always be remembered for the day Doctor Who became female, but Flashpoint celebrates the proud history of strong female characters that came before 13 and Lucie Miller is one of the strongest and one of the best and Flashpoint showcases her perfectly 10/10.

4th Doctor 6.7 - The Movellan Grave

I have decided to rename series six of the Fourth Doctor Adventures. Well not quite the series but the season it is ostensibly set in. It may have the theme music of season 18 but thematically it feels a lot more like a progression of season 17, so from now on (in my mind at least) this is set in Season 17.5. Glad I got that off my chest :-)
So Season 17.5 continues with The Movellan Grave, and more a-typical a Doctor Who story you could not wish for. It just feels EXACTLY like Who used to feel back in the 1970’s. Doctor and Romana discover something is not quite right, go and investigate, ingratiate themselves with the people involved, discover what is going on and have an adventure. This story follows that pattern almost to the letter, but do you know it does it with total panache and style that it feels fresh and new and exciting. It actually has a “New Who” feel about it as it is pacy whilst retaining the charm of season 17.5. It also does what 1970’s Who did very well and “borrows” or plunders or pays homage to sci-fi of the big screen, in this case Terminator 2, there is a scene in episode two that…. – but I get ahead of myself.
Yes Terminator 2, albeit Terminator 2 on a BBC budget (even on audio) and as I have not mentioned it already (although the title may give it away) it features the most Disco aliens ever to feature in Doctor Who – The Movellan’s.
You see a Movellan power pack has been found in an archaeological dig and this draws The Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana (Lalla Ward) to the scene where they meet archaeologists Carrie Pierce (Camilla Power) and Robin Lyon (John Banks) who are very sceptical when The Doctor and Romana explain the power packs extra terrestrial origins, but soon there is a buried Movellan spaceship uncovered, and a Movellan secret weapon in the war against the Daleks, a mutant, augmented Movellan called Chenek (Chris Jarman) – an unstoppable force created to be the ultimate warrior and coming back to episode two he does a mean T-1000 chasing down Tom et al in a land-rover which brings back memories of the on foot chase after the motorbike n Terminator 2.
Its very exciting stuff but not all adventure, explosions and chases, underneath the window dressing this is a morality tale about the ethics of war and of methods used to develop weapons of mass destruction. And it also has spangly disco robots as well.
This was a story I was expecting to be a bit of a filler, the calm before the end of season two parter but it is nothing of the sort, it is a breath of fresh air and a complete redrawing of the rules on telling a more traditional Who story without breaking what makes stories of the era so special. Judgement day on this release gives a favourable verdict of 9/10.

227 - THE HIGH PRICE OF PARKING

Now don’t all run away when I say the next line. Promise you wont? You all trust me don’t you? – OK here I go “Season 24”……..
Tumbleweed. People walking away, disdain from my fellow Whovians – that is the legacy of said season 24, it doesn’t get much love, and it is easy to see why – garish stories with really broad (to say the least) turns from the largely light entertainment guest cast, a Doctor who hadn’t really found his feet and in Bonnie Langford the least popular companion since Adric – so why would Big Finish do an homage to it? Well maybe it wasnt intentional, but this months main range release “The High Price of Parking” feels just that – or more accurately feels like season 24 with 30 years of hindsight. If you want to know more and haven’t yet quit at the mere mention of said season, please read on….
OK  - So I have mentioned Season 24 more than is really healthy to do, but more specifically this one reminds me of Paradise Towers. It reminds me of Paradise Towers a lot, which is no bad thing as Paradise Towers is a bit of an overlooked gem (my resignation from Who fandom is in the post :-) ) no really, it is – the basic story is sound, “some” of the execution is good, the ideas are excellent on paper, it was just hampered by the production values of the time. And Richard Briers. But close your eyes and The High Price of Parking is all there, shot on video in Television Centre, overly lit, hopelessly over ambitious and not really coming off that well. But on audio it is in a grimy, run down, poorly lit, litter strewn planet sized car park – and that is the joy of audio because the pictures are in your head. I know its a cliche, but its true.
The High Price of Parking has The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Mel (Bonnie Langford) on their way to the Dashrah, a planet of exceptional beauty – but to get there they have to park the TARDIS on the planetoid known as Parking, which is basically a planet sized park and ride, complete with overly officious parking Wardens, this being Doctor Who though it is in no way as simple as a trip to a universal beauty spot – they get arrested by the wardens, led by the deliciously oily Kempton (Hywel Morgan) and the far more reasonable Cowley (Gabrielle Glaister of Blackadder “Bob” fame) and are accused of being “Free Parkers” – not that that means what you might think, that they have tried to avoid paying their parking fee, no the Free Parkers are a tribe who want Parking to be an independent planet. Yes tribes, a planet sized car park has indigenous tribes descended from those who just couldn’t find their vehicles and have gone native through the generations and have built their own cultures based on the rituals of Parking – think Kangs or the tribe of the free or the Sevateem and you wont be too far from the truth. And then there is Seraphim (Kate Duchene) a robotic voice that has set herself up as a God operating from Parkings oldest and lowest levels with a plan for universal domination. Stir well and cook on gas mark 1987 and we have a bit of a classic brewing. Seriously.
This story distills the elements of several of the tropes that make up a Doctor Who story and make something altogether better than the sum of their parts – it can sometimes feel like a bit of a greatest hits compilation, but one as carefully selected as this by a writer that really knows his Who and structured so well, trading the fine line between drama, camp and panto – with actors able to give a “turn” and chew the scenery because the tone of the story allows it and the leads on top form, McCoy being the Doctor he really wanted to be in 1987, Langford playing Mel as she should always been played and Aldred giving her best bolshy shouty Ace with attitude. Not a lot more to say but go out and buy this one, close your eyes (not if you are driving listening to it) and alternate your thoughts about how it WOULD have looked in 1987 and how it SHOULD have looked, definitely a story that hasn’t out stayed its allocated parking time – 9/10.

TORCHWOOD - THE OFFICE OF NEVER WAS

We’ve all seen them but perhaps not noticed them, large glass and chrome monoliths, or drab grey concrete buildings lacking joy and empathy, bland corporate logos above the shining glass doors, staff packed in like battery hens as they try to “push the envelope” or provide “boots on the ground” – I am talking about office buildings – faceless corporate almost entity’s in themselves and an unavoidable part of our landscape. Pressure cooker culture with impossible ideals to meet, homes of one upmanship and targets and “dress down Friday  and staff nights out that no one really wants to go on. It was pretty inevitable that Torchwood would investigate one of these, and in this months release this is just what Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd) does. He doesn’t particularly want to, it is Friday night after all and he does have The Apprentice to watch, but investigate he does and for Ianto Jones this is a Friday night like no other, this is a Friday night where just once he should have gone home and watched The Apprentice, because the Office building that he is investigating seems to have been waiting for him….
There is something inherently creepy about deserted buildings, and even more creepy about deserted buildings that still seem to have a function – this one looks and feels like an office, but there is no one around, and Ianto is locked in. You can feel the tension and the building paranoia as Ianto explores his prison and discovers that perhaps this is a prison built specifically for him – but why? Why has he been lured here, and WHO is the girl that he meets (Bethan Rose Young) who claims to be in charge of security but cannot remember her name – can he trust her? Will he ever get to see this weeks (or any other weeks for that matter) episode of The Apprentice?
This story goes right to the heart of what Torchwood are and what they do, it deals with the consequences of those actions almost like no other story before it and lays Ianto’s soul bare – Ianto always was the softer side of Torchwood, this explores how he deals with the contradictions in his job and how those contradictions can devastate the lives of those who Torchwood sometimes only think of as all in a days work.
The special features for this story describe it as inspired by The Avengers episode “The Joker” and I can definitely see that – claustrophobic, dangerous and unpredictable and trending upwards (to use the vernacular of the Office) 8/10.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

DARK SHADOWS - LOVE LIVES ON

When I think of Dark Shadows, I don't think of Horror in the conventional sense, its more than that - yes it has Vampires and Witches and Werewolves and a creepy house and secrets and blood and gore and it does have a touch of the Hammer about the production but to me these aspects are just window dressing, to me Dark Shadows is a gothic romance in the style of Rebecca or Jane Eyre more about lost potential and lost souls and wasted lives than ghosts and ghouls, so it was with great joy that I received my copy of the latest anthology of short stories “Love Lives On” and was promised four tales of horror romance and intrigue and do you know dear reader that is just what I got.

Dark Shadows is many things, it is the empty school at night, it is the loner nursing his last of too many glasses of bourbon in a smoke filled bar at closing time, it is the romance that never was or never should have been but it is a romance, not always a good romance but a romance nonetheless. I am not talking Mills & Boon or Barbara Cartland but more in the classic sense of the word and these four stories take that brief and run with it:

Tuesdays and Thursdays by Cody Schell

Matthew Waterhouse (of Adric fame) has really become part of the fixtures and fittings of Dark Shadows, he really has found his niche and here he tells a rather charming tale of Professor Stokes and his coincidental meetings on consecutive Tuesdays with medium Janet Findlay they set at first at loggerheads with Stokes increasingly frustrated with the meetings, but in the world of Dark Shadows nothing happens unless there is a reason behind it. A charming beginning as we witness the gruff Professor Stokes slowly become enamoured of the mysterious Madam Findlay, its a joy to listen to and although not a rip roaring rom-com has more of a late summer than an autumnal feel that is more in the tradition of Dark Shadows.

The Velvet Room by Antonio Rastelli

From charm to terror. This story is the complete opposite of its predecessor and feels claustrophobic and intense. It is a tale of Gerard Stiles and Hallie Stokes who have been offered their hearts desires at a club called The Velvet Room - all they need to do is visit three times and tell the story of their lives and it will be theirs. This has the feel of one of those stories you used to get in the portmanteau films Amicus releases in the early 1970’s very From Beyond The Grave if you get my drift - the denizens of the club are suitably macabre and tick all the Horror boxes and narrator James Storm gives an anguished and desperate performance as Gerard Stiles.

Behind Closed Doors by Paul Phipps

The most appalling horror of all is not that of Vampires or Witches it is that that exists in the real world, that of mans inhumanity to man, and transported to the world of Darks Shadows this can bring a whole new dimension of terror to the already horrific subject of domestic abuse. Marie Wallace gives a tour de force performance as Jessica Griffin, on the cusp of happiness with husband to be WIllie Loomis but haunted by the memory of her abusive and controlling late husband. This being Dark Shadows death doesn't really mean a lot and after a hard day tending her bar Jessica receives a visit from the man who tried to control her life and who she thought she was free from, her late husband. Its a tense half an hour as we relive the pretty awful life Jessica lived before her first husband died, it one of those stories where even though it is uncomfortable to listen to, it is a story that needs to be heard and to be appreciated.


The Suitcase by Alan Flanagan

And so the anthology draws to a close with a tale of Cyrus and Sabrina Longworth, owners of the Collinsport Inn and a mysterious guest that arrives claiming to be a travelling cosmetics seller, but her suitcase seems to be something other than a suitcase and something rather deadly. The story is a cautionary tale following the “be careful what you with for” school of story telling as Sabrina’s innermost desires seem to be granted, but is there a price? surely there is a price? Continuing the theme of love, relationships, loss and longing that has permeated the set we end on a touch of melancholy - but it wouldn't be Dark Shadows without a bit of melancholy would it?

Its fair to say that this is my favourite of the Dark Shadows anthologies released so far, I like the thematic continuity between the stories even though the content are miles apart - the autumnal ambiance that is usually present in Dark Shadows has given way to a late summer feeling a feeling of darkness approaching but also of looking backwards towards the light that may one day return, sentimental old softy that I am I award this 9/10.

Written by Ed Watkinson

Synopsis

This title was released in July 2017. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until August 31st 2017, and on general sale after this date.
Four tales of horror, romance and intrigue…
Tuesdays and Thursdays by Cody Schell
Professor Timothy Eliot Stokes lives a quiet, ordered life. But that order is about to be shattered as he finds himself encountering psychic medium Janet Findley over and over and over again...
The Velvet Room by Antonio Rastelli
Gerard Stiles has returned from the dead and, together with Hallie Stokes, is travelling the world attempting to defeat all manner of supernatural forces. But on a night in New Orleans they are about to receive an invitation to gain their hearts’ desires…
Behind Closed Doors by Paul Phipps
Jessica Griffin buried her past a long time ago. But in Collinsport, secrets don’t stay buried for long. On the longest night of her life, Jessica will discover the cruel truth behind the lie that is “’til death do us part…”
The Suitcase by Alan Flanagan
Sabrina and Cyrus Longworth seem to have everything they could wish for - happily married, running the Collinsport Inn, and about to start a family. But when a mysterious woman checks in they'll discover that not all guests should be welcomed, and not all wishes should come true...
Written By: Cody Schell, Antoni Rastelli, Paul Phipps, Alan Flanagan
Directed By: Darren Gross, Joseph Lidster, Jim Pierson

Cast

Matthew Waterhouse, James Storm, Marie Wallace, Lisa Richards


Thursday, 29 June 2017

SHORT TRIPS - HOW TO WIN PLANETS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE

“memo: to the board of the Darkon Corporation
re; recent events regarding “The Monk” and his suitability as our strategic invasion planner
 Its not gone very well has it? foiled at every turn by that mysterious traveller in time and space known only as “The Doctor” this lecture he is about to give is his final chance to show us just what he is made of and that he is definitely and undoubtedly THE man for the job of ensuring our galactic domination and we were right to pick him and not that mad woman dressed like a Nanny for the job….
 Memo ends.”
 Ah Rufus Hound, what a performance – he now IS the Monk having squared off on audio against Doctors 2,3,4 and 8 but in this particular Short Trip Mr Hound takes centre stage (Literally) as he delivers his presentation to the Darkon Corporation. The whole story is set as a corporate lecture full of awful business speak, peppy and banal and just flipping marvellous as the Monk regales us with tales of his failures at the hands of the Fourth Doctor, Harry and Sarah Jane – marvel as his plans to own all property on earth fall over, revel in his plan to change the outcome of the Russian Revolution becoming an away day on a beach and prepare to be amazed as his turn as a professional foreteller of all things leads to a surprising win on Strictly Come Dancing. Sounds crazy, well it is and it is all the better for it because basically, deep down, I think the Monk isn’t really that bad a guy – no one who is that bad at being bad can really be that dedicated can they. Of all the Doctor Who “villains” he was almost the most loveable in his Peter Butterworth incarnation, not evil, just a bit mischievous and constantly out of his depth, and Rufus Hound channels  this beautifully – he almost seems to see being evil as a game he is playing and is almost pleased when he fails – a bit like the baddies in “The Web of Caves” (not seen it? what sort of fan are you? check it out HERE).
 Thirty five minutes is almost too short for a story of this quality, it feels just like the “Doctor-Lite” stories we used to get on TV back in the day, a completely different approach and a chance to do something very different with the structure of the Short Trip – and by jingo is it a success (unlike The Monk’s plans) If I were appraising I would say something along the lines of “full of blue sky thinking, with out of box aspirations and all boxes ticked” and I would award a big bonus and 10/10.

PATHFINDER LEGENDS - CURSE OF THE CRIMSON THRONE - 3.6 CROWN OF FANGS

So here we are, six months and approximately twelve hours of drama later and the end is upon us. We have followed our heroes from the court of Korvosa through desert to haunted fortresses in their quest – and now, the final chapter beckons and we are back to where we all began its the final showdown between heroes  Ezren (Trevor Littledale), Harsk (Ian Brooker), Merisiel (Kerry Skinner) and Valeros (Stewart Alexander) and the evil Queen Ileosa of Korvosa (Kate Brown).  The Queen has grown in power, her body now harbours the soul of an undead Dragon making her virtually indestructible – luckily Valeros wields the magic sword which is the only thing capable of defeating her – surely it cant be that easy though?
A suitably pumped up epic finale to the season with the kitchen sink thrown in – Pathfinders couldn’t do subtle if it tried and literally everything from the series is thrown in – there is treachery, battles, deception, magic, double dealing and several punch the air moments – and characters from the last six instalments all turn up to help make sure that good wins out. Which it does, its that sort of story, we know the good guys are going to win, but it is just so much fun going along for the ride.
This is very much what I expected the finale to be and I was not disappointed. Pathfinders isn’t the range to seek out for deep meaningful life changing stories, if you want that check out Dorian Gray or Graceless – but what Pathfinders is is good old fashioned swashbuckling good versus evil blockbuster action – and as that it does not disappoint. The story is almost told in flashback as Valeros states in the pre credits that the Queen has won, we know she wont have done, but the journey to get to that point is exhilarating and fun and does not take the path that the listener might expect.
With thrills and spills aplenty this is a fitting ending to a very entertaining series, it wont change your life, it won’t make anyones story of the year but it WILL entertain, and after all that is the purpose of listening. 8/10.