Friday, 31 March 2017

CHARLOTTE POLLARD SERIES TWO

Its been a bit of a long old wait between Series One and Series Two and getting a resolution to the cliffhanger. And we do and if you were expecting a few more “jolly hockey sticks”  middle class adventures then I am sorry but you will be sorely disappointed as series two (for the most part) is a very un-Charlotte Pollard-esque experience, completely nothing at all like I was expecting. Series two is for want of a better description a contemporary urban thriller (for the most part) feeling more like a UNIT story and unlike the first Charlotte Pollard series this is one big story.
 For the uninitiated Charlotte (or Charley) Pollard (played by TV’s voce of Master Chef India Fisher) is a self styled Edwardian Adventuress, she was rescued from the airship the R101 by the 8th Doctor and travelled with him on many of his greatest adventures before finally leaving him and being rescued by the 6th Doctor before resolving the paradox and going on to work for the Viyrans – an alien race dedicated to wiping out all disease. Charley is now accompanied by her companion Robert Buchan (James Joyce) who she may or may not be having a relationship with (its complicated, it was near death) and now they are trapped on contemporary Earth and things are not going well. Not well at all. We are talking Russel T Davies series finale level of threat and that is only the first episode.
 Its as urban and as contemporary as it gets, and is very unnerving due to the familiarity for us if not for Charley & Robert, they are completely out of their time and out of their depth, and it all begins on Embankment Station….
 Part 1: Embankment Station
 So you are crashing, you are about to die and suddenly you appear in Embankment Station not knowing where or when you are, your arrival is noticed by a hacker called Rab (Ashely Kumar) and the strange non-explosion is investigated by TV journalist Naomi Davies (Deirdre Mullins) – can the day get any stranger? For Charley & Robert the answer is yes and this is only the beginning of the conspiracy….
 Part 2: Ruffling
 So if part one wasnt strange enough throw in a rogue Viyran whom Charley names Bertram (Dan Starkey of “hello Girl” fame) two identical assassins who’s touch is lethal and a spate of seemingly random deaths  -  there is something happening, the Government don’t know what it is , but it has to do with Embankment Station….
 Part 3: Seed of Chaos
 The situation deteriorates, the chaos seeded at Embankment station leads to a major state of emergency as a series of seemingly unconnected events leads to the breakdown of social order.
 Part 4: The Destructive Quality of Life
 An odd departure, a series of events and a lifetime of captivity, and a dawning realisation that everything may just be futile. That is all. It ends here.
 Three episodes of dark, depressing political conspiracy thriller and then a final left-field off the wall free for all – Nick Briggs knows how to keep his audience waiting and wanting more and this box set most certainly does that, the ending is for want of a better word ambiguous and the fate of several of the major players is left unresolved – it is a brave move and a brave change of emphasis and pace in the final episode, I really could not fathom where the story was going thinking I had got a handle on proceedings in the first three instalments, it went from Torchwood to David Cronenberg in a heartbeat – the joins are obvious, but the intrigue so piques the curiosity that the listener is compelled to go along with this new style that Mr Briggs has freewheeled our way. And it works, it hangs together with no small thanks to the Briggsmeister himself directing and the exemplary performances of the whole cast. Charlotte Pollard has come a long way from the R101, and I think that she has a long way to go yet – an intriguing and disturbing 8/10.

THE JAGO & LITEFOOT REVIVAL ACT ONE

As the old saying goes “you can never have too much of a good thing” and Big Finish seem to understand that because when the “good thing” in question are the adventures of Mr Henry Gordon Jago & Professor George Litefoot you can never ever have enough and this very special release in this new format for J & L is every bit as marvellous as I expected it to be.
 Having starred in a Companion Chronicle, guest starred with the Fourth Doctor and headlined 12 (soon to be 13) series of their own this is the first time they have appeared in a Short Trips – and its a first for the format, two leads narrating a story and told in two parts with a cliffhanger in the middle. Trevor Baxter as Litefoot & Christopher Benjamin as Jago are immediately engaging as they indulge in a bit of banter about what the story should be called. Ah the story – told as a lecture to the Club for Curious Scientific Men originally to be delivered by Professor Litefoot, the proceedings are soon gatecrashed by the verbidextrous vaudevillian volte-force Mr Henry Gordon Jago who decides to inject some colour to the proceedings as they tell a tale of how, in a bit of a slump and in need of reinvigoration Litefoot takes up an offer to go to the Greek Island of Minos where he finds a very strange harmonica and meets up with a tall young man with a cultured cockney accent and a long brown coat (guess WHO) whilst Jago left alone in London has problems of his own – his theatre is infested by spiders and constantly draped with cobwebs, so whilst auditioning new acts he engages a strange new pest exterminator on the scene known only as “Exterminating Johnny”…….
 This is only part one of the story and there is much set up that will be resolved in next months release, but there is so much to love about part one – the banter and camaraderie between Jago & Litefoot is the stuff of legend and with them being the only speaking parts they are given free reign to shine, in particular Professor Litefoot giving a speech when the penny drops as to who the tall brown coated man is really is a thing of beauty, one of those moments that make you go cold. Thats not to say Jago is overshadowed, how could he be, he is as verbose, pompous and buffoonish as he ever was and a joy to listen to.
 The lecture ends on a cliffhanger and in true sophisticated style Professor Litefoot calls for an interval where fruit cake and port are served as we eagerly await the daring denouement of hellenic happenings & arachnid aversion. A joy from beginning to end imbued with a warmth and a depth of character, wonderfully performed with exceptional sound design. A triumphant new addition to the Short Trips range, April cannot come quickly enough. 10/10.

223 - ZALTYS

Weren’t the junkings of the season 19 stories an act of cultural vandalism, yes we still have Kinda & Earthshock but we also have Time Flight whilst classics like Zaltys remain only in audio form. Whats he on about? you may be (quite rightly) thinking – but Zaltys feels like a lost story from 1981, the structure, the friction between team TARDIS, the guest cast (more on them later) everything screams 1981. Very loudly.
 Because Zaltys is a classic, its one of the best season 19 stories we will never see but can be glad it exists – but who or what is Zaltys? Well Zaltys is a planet where the bulk of the story takes place, a xenophobic planet where the majority of the population have gone into hibernation because of an impending extinction level event leaving only the narrow minded   Talia (Carol Sloman), the progressive Perrault (Sean Barnett) and the Vulpine alien Gevaudan (Philip Franks) to keep watch over the population. And in to this situation blunders the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison in full “breathless enthusiasm” mode) and Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) who are looking for their lost companions Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) & Tegan (Janet Fielding) who have been teleported from the TARDIS to who knows where. Adric seems to be somewhere on Zaltys but Tegan is in an altogether darker and more dangerous place, she finds herself in the dark (literally) and being taunted by the deliciously arch Clarimonde (Niamh Cusack) and this is the interesting thing – Clarimonde seems to think that Tegan is Jo Grant and has encountered the Doctor in his third incarnation over 700 years ago….
 And then if you think Tegan is in dire danger The Doctor and Nyssa encounter the mean, gun-toting and downright nasty scavenger Sable (Rebecca Root) on Zaltys who has come to the planet to recover the fabled “lost treasures”. And she is fabulous, completely amoral, selfish, greedy and slowly losing the plot as she finds herself in way over her head. But what a character and Rebecca Root walks a fine line between realism and scenery chewing, because it would be so easy to go the complete ‘Soldeed” with the character but Rebecca Root instills her with a grounded reality and depth – I think that behind Sable’s bluster, bravado and cruelty is a very frightened woman raging against a situation she is not prepared for.
 The story evolves over the four episodes, what started out as a rescue turns into a very clever invasion story and harks back to the oldest and most deadly opponents of the Time Lords and a previous adventure of the Doctor which we have not heard yet – I hope Big Finish tell us the tale of Clarimonde & the Third Doctor in a forthcoming box set.
 As I said at the beginning of this review, its a classic and it really is, from the TARDIS scenes at the beginning with Tegan wanting to get home to the foreshadowing of Clarimond through the book Adric is reading, to the performances from all the guest cast the production oozes class right the way to the melancholy final few words by Adric – I cannot recommend this release highly enough, best main range release this year so far and an essential purchase for anyone who is a fan of Season 19. 10/10.

4th Doctor 6.3 - The Silent Scream

Don’t be fooled by the morose face Tom has on the cover or the Season 18 theme music. Yes this may be dressed up as a season 18 story, but apart from the window dressing this is a pure season 17 romp of a story. No impending doom, no entropy, no 1980′s style incidental music – just a sense of joy and a lightweight runaround with plenty of laughs , corny gags and a scenery chewing villain with a madcap plan.
 A minimal cast, just the regulars along with Pamela Salem as silent screen actress Loretta Waldorf, Andrée Bernard as studio owner Lulu Hammerstein and Alec Newman as the dastardly Dr Julius and we are transported back to the golden age of Hollywood, but something is not quite right – silent actors are being coaxed out of obscurity to screen test for a new epic “talkie” but the film is cursed – every one that has tested has had their voice stolen and tonight is the turn of Loretta Waldorf – but Loretta has a visitor, a fan with mad eyes, curly hair and a ridiculous scarf and he is not going to stand by while Loretta has her voice stolen. But unfortunately thats just what he does and soon the trail leads him to Lulu Hammerstein and her strangely futuristic camera – and when the Doctor decides to screen test and his voice is stolen too who is going to save the day?
 This really has the feeling of a caper movie and rattles along at a fair old pace with everyone giving a “turn” rather than attempting realism (and why should they :-) ) I can just imagine Dr Julius twirling his moustache as he enacts his rather silly plan involving giving silent film stars a sort of immortality. Dr Julius is a rather interesting character a collector who has lost the joy of collecting and just collects for its own sake, he almost seems to  despise what his passion is and aims to critique just for its own sake……
 Tom Baker is wonderful in this one, playing up to the script and most definitely having a ball with the material he has been given – you can just see him all teeth, curls and boggle eyed hamming up every single line to gain the maximum joy for the audience and for himself – no this is not the Tom of season 18, but who wants Mr Morose when you can have this force of nature who is clearly having the time of his life.
 In the end this story is a failure, but only as a season 18 pastiche – as a jolly piece of Saturday teatime fun for all the family it succeeds. It may not be an earth shattering plot but it deserves a special place for the performances put in and the sheer unadulterated fun of the piece. This one cannot be silenced and really deserves 9/10.

TORCHWOOD - VISITING HOURS

Mum’s and their sons eh? An unbreakable bond, a fierce devotion, a force of nature that woe betide anyone tries to come between no matter who or what they are. And that is what this month’s Torchwood release – Visiting Hours is all about.
 Rhys Williams (Kai Owen) is an everyman p he is the “us” to Torchwood’s “them”, down to earth, working class – likes a pint and a night out and loves his Mum, and when his Mum is in Hospital after a hip operation it is his duty as a son to visit her, even if he does cut it a bit fine, well 12 minutes until the end of visiting time isn’t too bad is it??
 This story sees Rhys reunited with his Mum Brenda (Nerys Hughes) to give us another unique slant on what I have termed the “Cardiff buddy movie” (at least I assume the Hospital is in Cardiff) but you know what I mean.
Rhys & Brenda have that unwritten rule, that spark that only a Mum & a son have, I have it with my Mum a sort of exasperation mixed with love mixed with still feeling like you are ten and being told off. And Brenda does tell Rhys off, she is none too fond of his colourful language (which has an hilarious pay off) and like most mums Brenda NEVER STOPS TALKING!. I could have listened to Kai Owen & Nerys Hughes indulge in maternal banter for the whole 45 minutes of the production, they just work together (and as two of North Wales’ finest exports why wouldn’t they??) but on top of this new odd couple there is a plot – Big Finish, you are spoiling us :-)
 The hospital that Brenda finds herself in St Helens is state of the art, it also has a problem – patients keep dying and the bodies keep disappearing and guess who is on the list of patients to be disappeared? Yup, its Brenda, what the villains didn’t count on is that she would have her son with her. The action is frantic as Rhys wheels Brenda in her bed around the hospital trying to avoid his Mum becoming the next victim of, well I will let you listen for yourself, but its a bit grim – and all through this manic runaround we have the wonderful banter and Rhys constantly being told off by his Mum and Brenda chatting about  the inanities of her life, its so well observed and its so Welsh. The story feels as a hook to a bigger conspiracy as to who were carrying out the kidnappings and where exactly they came from and it may just pay off further down the line – if it doesn’t I don’t mind so much, I will be revisiting this one for the sheer joy of the Rhys & Brenda show, they are pretty much my favourite pairing so far in all the Torchwood range and I really do hope there are further forays developed – Sunday dinner with Auton chairs that Brenda has bought by mistake, Rhys taking Brenda shopping and… Actually just Rhys taking Brenda shopping would work fine for me. A great start to the new series and a fantastic 9/10.

DOOM COALITION 4

Lets start by stating what this is NOT. This is not for the faint hearted or indeed for those who have not heard Doom Coalition’s one through three as there is an awful lot of back story there and Doom Coalition 4 continues right from the epic cliffhanger that Doom Coalition 3 ended on, so I suggest you catch up before reading any more – Doom Coalition is available HERE and reviews for Parts onetwo and three are accessed from the links.
 Ok, so its twelve hours later and you are all caught up (with a slightly lighter wallet i grant you) but wow what a journey, and in a way it is sad that it has to end – there has been so much to enjoy  - a new companion in Helen Sinclair (Hattie Morahan) a new villain to go down in the canon of classics in The Eleven (Mark Bonnar) – the rather wonderful interaction, or maybe non interaction between Doctor number 8 (Paul McGann) and his future wife River Song (Alex Kingston) and a genuinely epic universe threatening plot that shows the Time Lords at their absolute worst, as completely amoral beings willing to sacrifice everything to survive – and when I say everything I mean everything – because the aim of the Doom Coalition is for all life in the Universe to end to save Gallifrey from the fate that has been predicted, utter destruction.
 Lets look at this “Doom Coalition” we have The Eleven, a Time Lord who still has all the voices of his past regenerations in his head and all are bad (apart from “The Eight”), then we have The Sonomancer (Emma Cunniffe) – a being who was once a Time Lord but has now transcended that state to become one with the Matrix, it is her job to create the resonance that will end everything and then there is Padrac (Robert Bathurst) Time Lord, old school friend of The Doctor and utterly convinced that the path he has chosen to follow is just and right and his plan has almost come to fruition but he hadn’t counted on the tenacity of The Doctor, Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker), Helen Sinclair & River Song. And the final act of this saga is played out over four stories:
 4.1 Ship in a Bottle by John Dorney
 After the grand finale of Doom Coalition three you might expect this set to hit the ground running, but no, Big Finish have done something rather different, they have given the predicament that The Doctor, Liv & Helen find themselves in time to breathe – as our heroes career forwards in time to a destroyed future where Padrac was successful we pull back from the frantic pace and slow right down to examine the predicament our heroes find themselves in and get to grips with their reactions to their fate. From denial to hope to despair to elation. But what would you do, trapped in an escape capsule, in a future that has been destroyed and slowly all the options for escape are dwindling away – would you despair? Or would you think that while there is life there is hope? Hattie Morahan really gets a chance to shine in this story, her tale of her Grandmother coming to terms with a terminal illness is moving and relevant to the situation – Liv on the other hand rages against the dying of the light, she will not give up even when all seems lost and then there is The Doctor who seems to have accepted that this is it and they will live out the remainder of their existence in an escape capsule. Not the beginning I was expecting, but definitely the beginning that the set needed.
 4.2 Songs of Love by Matt Fitton
 River Song is magnificent, just completely wonderful and left alone with Padrac and the Sonomancer on Gallifrey, what else can she do but play along and pretend she was on their side all along. The pace really picks up in this one, River is playing a very dangerous game and she is not the only one, it seems like Padrac’s plan has made him some enemies. A tense political thriller as Padrac manipulates the High Council of the Time Lords into agreeing with his insane plan by using patriotism, protectionism & fear of the unlike to make his points and gain support. River uses her position as newest member of the Coalition to try to aid The Doctor, Liv & Helen which leads to a rather wonderful scene which I cant tell you about due to the ever present “spoilers” but you will know it when you hear it. With everything turned up to 11 and the stakes genuinely never having been so high we head off to more familiar climes for part three…..
 4.3 The Side of the Angels by Matt Fitton
 Bit of continuity for those who listen to The War Doctor, but remember Cardinal Ollistra? well she is in this story but not as you expect her to be, she is not played by Jacqueline Pearce but by Carolyn Pickles for reasons that will become apparent.
The setting is New York in the early 1970’s – refugee Time Lords including Ollistra and The Monk (Rufus Hound) have been building a safe haven on earth to ride out the end of everything that will occur in about 500 years relative time. They have also done something very very foolish, they have done a deal with The Weeping Angels, and these are meant to be the “good guys” desperate times, desperate measures – the Angels are no one’s slaves and when The Eleven turns up things get a whole lot worse. Who would have thought that something as visual as the Weeping Angels work so well on audio – but the sound design is impeccable it give the whole episode an unnerving edge of seat feeling as things begin to inevitably deteriorate into chaos and death. Huge shout out to the amazing Beth Chalmers as Veklin in this episode too, really underplays it and nails the performance. And so on to the end.
 4.4 Stop the Clock by John Dorney
 How can it end? How will it end? The future is set in stone, every possible future leads to the destruction of Gallifrey. It ends like this – with cruelty and honour and hope and despair anything else would not do this box set justice. Of several stand out scenes there is one that sticks in my mind and you will know it when you hear it and you will be shouting at the character involved not to listen to The Eleven and to stand their ground. It stayed with me, it haunted me but that one scene more than anything gave an insight into the mind of The Eleven – the Second Doctor once said that there are some corners of the Universe that have bred the most terrible things, listening to The Eleven I can only assume he meant Gallifrey. Mark Bonnar was always incredible, genuinely incredible as The Eleven – but in that one scene he lifted the character to another level completely.
 Over finished gone done out – the end of an epic journey with the seeds sown for another epic journey for the 8th Doctor to embark upon. No one has come out of this unscathed, the repercussions will be felt for a very very long time and I will be there with 8 and his friends to experience it. A clock stopping 10/10.

CICERO

I do like a good whodunnit (not the Pertwee TV show from the mid 1970’s) but a bit of Agatha Christie or Midsomer Murders or Jonathan Creek or at the moment Death In Paradise.
I really enjoy trying to solve the mystery before the detective – one of my proudest moments was solving solving the Jonathan Creek episode “Jack In The Box” before Mr Creek, but writer David Renwick got his revenge by fooling me not once but twice with the episode “Satan’s Chimney”.
I love the structure of a good whodunnit, the rules that they all adhere to – the killer must have the means, the motive and the opportunity to commit the dastardly deed – and these rules are followed most excellently in this special reales from Big Finish entitled “Cicero”
 Set in the ancient Roman Republic, Cicero sees two brothers Marcus Tullius Cicero (Samuel Barnett) – serious, bookish introverted but a brilliant legal mind at the age of only 26, and his younger brother Quintus Tullius Cicero (George Naylor) avuncular, womaniser, dinkier, man about town aged 22 charged with defending one Sextus Roscius (Simon Ludders) who has been accused of murdering his father – a most heinous crime which carries an horrific punishment if the accused is found guilty – truth is no one else would take the case so it leaves the brothers Cicero to save an innocent man.
 And so follows a mere 56 minutes of intrigue, conspiracy and the three rules of the murder mystery being not only adhered to but used in a final and barnstorming speech to the forum by Marcus Tullius – if the build up wasnt worth the price of this release THAT speech most definitely is. Throughout the story we see Marcus Tullius’ inexperience but as he pieces the case together he grows in confidence and even has an inspiration moment  as per Death In Paradise where everything suddenly falls in to place and the perpetrator or perpetrators are completely obvious. But the speech is a thing of beauty, a masterclass in growing confidence and character development, Samuel Barnett takes a nervous, bookish man who knows the truth and allows the certainty that he is right to outshine his few years and his lack of experience – by the end of his speech he has the forum eating from his hands.
 56 minutes is a very short time to cram in a murder, an investigation, a resolution and character development but David Llewelyn and Scott Handcock have not wasted one line in this tightly written script, everything moves the plot along, every line is relevant and whilst listening you will have a fair few “penny finally dropped” moments, well I know I did :-)
 This release came out of the blue for me and it took me a while to get round to it, but I am so glad that I did – I really hope this is not a one off and serves as a pilot for a new range for Big Finish because the Roman Republic and the worlds of the brothers Cicero are a destination I would dearly like to visit again. An engaging 9/10.

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 fiancée, 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.

PATHFINDER LEGENDS 3.1 - CURSE OF THE CRIMSON THRONE: EDGE OF ANARCHY

This is a bit of a departure for me – its the first time I have listened to a Pathfinder Legends release and therefore it is the first time that I have reviewed one. And coming in at season three I was a little bit apprehensive about what I had missed before – would I understand the plot and the character? And what exactly IS Pathfinder Legends? Well after a bit of research I can tell you that Pathfinder Legends is based on the role playing game of the same name and is set in a fantasy world of magic and monsters much like Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones and it is right up my street. You see during the 1980’s I was a keen role player, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Warhammer, Rune Quest – all my sort of thing – and listening to this first release in series three gave me a warm nostalgic glow as I was transported back to long Saturdays , oddly shaped dice, painted lead figures and adventure!
Curse of the Crimson Throne: Edge of Anarchy does not hide its RPG roots, in fact it glories in them, it almost feels like you are listening to some players completely in character playing out a campaign – the structure is pure RPG, the story is pure RPG and boy does it feel like the beginning of an epic with lots of plot threads to tantalise the listener.
The story involves our heroes Valeros (Stewart Alexander), Ezren (Trevor Littledale), Harsk (Ian Brooker) & Merisiel (Kerry Skinner) waiting in a tavern in the city of Korvosa for Merisiel’s friend Kyra to show up, and just like Godot, she singularly fails to do so. This leads to a series of events that lets them in to a conspiracy regarding a murdered King, a machiavellian Queen, a city in ruin and riot and an awful miscarriage of justice in which our heroes may be culpable.
As I said, pure fantasy stuff, pure RPG but also edge of seat adventure – you may see the twists and turns coming a mile off, and they really do feel like chapters in an RPG campaign or “Fetch quests” but they are played out with such conviction that the band of heroes who I only joined in series three already feel like old friends – and it is this familiarity and genuine likability of the characters that drives the plot – I felt like shouting at them that they were being manipulated from the very beginning as they searched for a lost set of Harrow cards, were asked to return a lost brooch to the grieving Queen and the were charged by the Queen to hunt down her husbands alleged assassin – there is something going on and it does not bode well and only the nest five instalments will reveal the full answer.
I was hooked immediately, completely drawn in to the world of Pathfinder Legends – it may not be the best story ever, it may be predictable, but the ride you are taken on will transport you away from your normal everyday life to a world of magic, heroes and monsters and you will not want to leave. Pathfinder Legends feels like meeting old friends again for new adventures and I cannot wait for the next instalment. 8/10.

GRACELESS IV

I don’t even know where to begin, for once my (admittedly)  flowery and verbose style is at a loss because how do you begin to review a Graceless box set? Really how? Because Graceless is a rare and beautiful thing that defies categorisation and is completely unlike anything else you may have heard. In a word, Graceless is unique.
OK, thats a starting point I suppose –  Simon Guerrier has created something “unique” so I will take that and freewheel on with my usual flowery verbiage until I come to an end? Are we all sitting comfortably? then I will continue…
 Graceless follows the story of two sisters Abby (Ciara Janson) & Zara (Laura Doddington) and how you view them depends on your view of the magic vs science debate – are they hyper evolved created beings with powers derived from the physical universe or are they two witches with magical powers who happen to live in a Science Fiction universe? Being an old romantic I go for the latter, it fits in better with my universal view that not everything needs to be quantified and explained and sometimes a bit of magical power is good. SO Abby and Zara, created by a being called “The Grace” to aid in the search for the Key to Time (see here) and then when it cast them out into the universe to fend for themselves, beings of almost infinite power with hardly any moral compass, who can do anything, literally anything – its almost like giving a cat a machine gun because Abby & Zara are still really children in their understanding – they try to do what is right and good – but what they deem as right and good may not be the morality that you and I have – their concept of right and wrong has been moulded by their experiences and they are learning all the time, learning what they can do, what they wont do and what their powers can do.
 As I said earlier I can only describe this series as unique, the episodes as a whole do not have a defined structure, some are like streams of consciousness, a drifting in and out of half heard and half remembered conversations, whimsical, dream-like, fairy tale like – Abby and Zara are like a couple of cosmic Babes in the Wood doing what they can to make a difference. And they do make a difference, not always in the way they had intended but they do, they try, they have a universal view, they genuinely do see the threads that bind the universe together, and they are not scared to pluck at the ball of twine and everything unravelling is just another possibility.
 Graceless is something that has to be experienced, not read about but just imagine words and music were paint and canvass and Simon Guerrier has painted an audio experience that is many things to many people – well its not really like that at all (even though it sort of is) because no amount of rambling can prepare you for this.
 Now in its fourth series, and taking place a long long time after series three Abby and Zara are old, retied, have lost their powers are know by the names Amy & Joy and are played by Annie Firbank & Sian Phillips – but even in retirement there is always one more mission for them, they will always be Graceless….
 4.1 The Bomb
 Joy/Zara (Sian Phillips) is approached by the mysterious and rather charming stranger Pool (Adam Newington) to come out of retirement to help him deactivate a bomb which is going to devastate the planet that they live on, one last chance to make a difference, one last shot at glory, one last roll of the dice to do the right thing. A very different take on Graceless, Annie Firbank & Sian Phillips capture the essence of Abby & Zara perfectly, elderly, but with a twinkle undoubtedly the same ladies that we have known over the last three series, time has not dampened their curiosity or their spirit of adventure even if it means their death. Which it might…..
 4.2 The Room
 Getting involved, trying to do the right thing – but shifting the balance just a small amount can result in catastrophic consequences. This is an exercise in how to stop a war. Kidnap the generals of the opposing armies and give them a common enemy? Or just go for a pieman breakfast at Marcella’s cafe and hope it all blows over, or just do nothing, or give said Marcella (Victoria Alcock) her wish of ending hunger, or ending war or get the Generals Cormorant (Nichola McAuliffe) & Slink (Carol Starks) to be captured by the neutral denizens of the orbiting moon and work as slaves. Or all of this, or none.
 4.3 The Ward
 If you are an immortal being of infinite power and want to do some good why not work in a hospital? Why not put your powers to good use saving lives, why not work in the frontline and get your hands dirty. And this is what Abby & Zara do – but as always there is a deeper and darker reason for their time spent at Space Dock Hospital – their relationships with Gutierrez (Carolyn Pickles) & Chaff (Dan Starkey) are the seeds in a very long game that whilst may benefit the greater good will leave pain and agony in its wake and on the flip-side a much much greater good – but was it a price worth paying?
 4.4 The Dance
 Nothing to see here. Its over, the end, the final song has been sung and a choice has been made. Move along, nothing to see….
 If Graceless were a TV show it would be on BBC 4 not BBC1 – it really is an acquired taste and a challenging listen in almost equal measures childlike, intense, surreal, cruel & joyful – its a fairy tale, its a tale of cosmic angst, its a tale of good intentions and bad decisions but most of all it is the story of Abby & Zara and their struggle to find their place in the Universe. And it is magnificent.