Thursday, 20 July 2017


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


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


Matthew Waterhouse, James Storm, Marie Wallace, Lisa Richards

Thursday, 29 June 2017


“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.


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.

Survivors Series 6

Things move on, people rebuild, the world starts again. This is where we find ourselves at the beginning of Survivors Series 6. It sees the world two years on from the pandemic that killed 99% of the population – links are being formed between communities, a fledgling society is incubating – tenuous links are being formed with the Norwegian Federation, Norway even has a rudimentary postal system and some industry, but everything is very very tenuous and could all come falling down. And in Britain things are pretty much like they are now (apart from a decimated population) but the British attitude seems to have survived the pandemic and a lot of communities want to remain isolated. Yes indeed the plague may have destroyed the world as we know it but the UKIP gene seems to have survived intact and as Abby Grant (Carolyn Seymour) finds out some communities are not as welcoming and outward looking as the world needs them to be to thrive.
 This set takes a slightly different approach to the other sets, rather than one big story told over four chapters these are four separate stories about different characters, but they share a thematic and tonal link – the theme of isolation versus engagement runs through the stories like the words in a particularly bleak stick of rock bought just out of season and as always there are four stories:
 6.1 Beating the Bounds by Ian Potter
 Continuing her search for her son Abby Grant comes across an isolated community where feudalism has become the normal way of life. Its a big community with over 200 people, they have a Countess in charge (Sheila Reid) who is a focal point for the community – but this community has long been hidden away from the world and was not at all affected by the pandemic – and Abby Grant may be a carrier. A tense opener and a microcosm of the problems facing the world, fear of contact with outsiders may be a way to keep yourselves safe, but for how long? How long can a small community with diminishing resources and a small gene pool survive? How long can a community that relies on an elderly matriarchal figurehead to unite the people survive? what happens when she dies? This is a tense opener – the community is on borrowed time but only Abby can see it the residents are just too close to their lives to see any different. Bleak and cautionary.
 6.2 The Trapping Pit by Christopher Hatherall
 As Jenny (Lucy Fleming) and Ruth (Helen Goldwyn) pay a trade visit to Evelyn Piper’s Foundation – they are attacked by bandits, two young scared starving survivors Craig (George Watkins) and Spike (Hannah Genesius) – and soon the tables are turned, Spike has fled and Craig has fallen down a trapping pit and is impaled on a tree root and it is up to Ruth to save his life. And she is determined not to let him slip away. Relentlessly grim with some incredible performances especially from Helen Goldwyn as Ruth and George Watkins as Craig as Ruth tries with rudimentary equipment to keep Craig alive until help arrives, Craig tells Ruth stories about his childhood as he loses more and more blood an his body goes in to shock from the pain this is the most human episode of Survivors and is the ethos of the series personified in one episode.
 6.3 Revenge of Heaven by Simon Clark
 Greg Preston (Ian McCulloch) has made it to Norway and is in discussions with the Norwegian Federation to form trade links with like minded communities in the UK and there are rumours of a cure for the plague discovered by a Russian scientist Professor Raskova (Tracy Wiles), but she has been kidnapped and is about to be shipped to Poland – so it is up to Greg and his new friend the mysterious Katherine Tanner (Julie Graham – who was also Abby Grant in the 2009 remake!) to undertake a life or death race against time to rescue the professor. The most action based episode of Survivors I have heard, almost a blockbuster in its production and tone – this has a similar theme of selfish isolation versus the good of all but on a much larger scale – the future of the human race is at stake and Greg Preston is on the case.
 6.4 Lockup by Andrew Smith
 Abby Grant discovers the community of Peacetown and is surprised to find out that it is based at an old Prison, converted to house a community and keep it safe. Peacetown claims to be self sufficient and will not trade with neighbouring communities, but comes down hard on those that break their rules, and one of the people who has allegedly broken the rules is one Greg Preston…
Presided over by the tyrannical Brendon Glover (James Wilby) an ex Prison warden who has his own ideas about crime and punishment. A brutal end to a pretty brutal set. Abby Grant has never been better with her disdain for Glover and all he stands for and Greg plays the hero with authority but not with arrogance, a born leader who us reluctant to be cast in that role but a role circumstances have forced him to take on.
 A very different take on Survivors, much more stand alone but much more desperate for it, having the main players split up and having to try to be, if not heroes, then the best that they can possibly be in awful circumstances is refreshing to hear, there is hope for the future, there s a way forward but it will be slow and it will be hard and the most difficult thing is convincing others to look outwards and embrace a brave new world and not inwards to self destruction. A million miles away from easy listening but a well deserved 10/10.

The Companion Chronicles - The First Doctor Volume 2

This is a fairly downbeat set – I will admit that from the beginning. Four stories all dealing with the worst of humanity and alien-kind, of the cruelty that we can impose on each other for wearing a different coloured uniform or speaking a different language – fear bred by ignorance, superstition and design from those with a vested interest and the effects that it has on those caught up in the mania and the violence that inevitably follows. A horrible mirror held up to the times that we live in now, a set of cautionary tales, a wakeup call that we are better than this, yes we ARE better than this. And then there is the final act of the final story and a beautiful use of some of the most beautiful words ever strung together and do you know – the ordeal of the first three and a half stories seem almost wth it, the dark places seem worth visiting, the ending seems earned the lesson given and hopefully learned.
 Its bleak isn’t it? A bit too downbeat. I do these stories an injustice because in each and every one of these stories there is a very special ingredient – the perfect antidote to all the awful things happening and that ingredient is hope – from revolutionary France to the planet Shade to Lewes to Renaissance England and beyond far in to the future there is always hope.
 Four stories make up this set and they are:
 1 Fields of Terror by John Pritchard
 Landing in revolutionary France at the height of the Reign of Terror, The Doctor, Vicki and Steven are caught up in the middle of an awful situation. Revolutionary soldiers are killing all whether they be revolutionaries or royalists, the bloodshed and human suffering is appalling, and then trapped in an inn with these butchers something begins to terrorise them a strange hooded figure that scratches and beats at the windows, a figure who is immune to bullets and soon the terrorisers become the terrified. So we have a base under siege story set about two years before they became fashionable – Maureen O’Brien gives a great performance as the petrified Vicki and several of the other characters whilst Robert Hands sneers and bullies his way through as the leader of the French Soldiers “Lagrange” in a story light on laughs but heavy on seat edge drama.
 2. Across the Darkened City by David Bartlett
 Steven Taylor has lost. he has been captured by The Daleks and is on the Planet Shade, separated from The Doctor and Vicki – things look desperate. And then he forms an alliance, an alliance born from mutual need, an alliance no one would have thought possible – Steven forms an alliance with a very special Dalek, a genetic variant who thinks differently from other Daleks – an injured Dalek who needs Steven’s help to get it to a transmit through a city in perpetual darkness – a city teeming with the Chaons, unspeakable monsters who have even forces the Daleks to retreat. Desperate times, desperate measures – but can a Dalek, even a very special Dalek be trusted or is a Dalek always a Dalek? Edge of seat stuff, knowing that death can be at any turn (forget that you know Steven survived this and it is even better) – we see a side to a Dalek we have not seen before, this one seems more “human” and in fact this story can be seen as a prequel to a Dalek epic…..
Peter Purves really delivers the goods as a desperate Steven, and a “punch the air” moment when he gives his wonderful Hartnell impersonation is a lovely reward for the listener. In a word “intense”
 3. The Bonfires of the Vanities by Una McCormack
 I always found the news stories of the Lewes Bonfire parades and effigy burnings rather distasteful – something of the unthinking mob mentality and making a bogey man and scapegoat rather than actually taking the time to find out about that person. In this story the First Doctor, Ben & Polly arrive in Lewes in the late 1950’s and the Bonfire revelries seem to be a lot more out of hand than they usually are. Again the intensity is there, at the Doctor is ill, near death, his regeneration being held back by sheer force of will meaning that it is left to Ben and Polly and librarian Mary to tackle the immediate problem of the gangs of “Bonfire Boys” and the alien Guys that have come to life. A story of hate breeding hate and this being perpetuated by tradition and a cautionary tale for the uncertain era we live in.
 4. The Plague of Dreams by Guy Adams
 And then there is this. Possibly the best Companion Chronicle I have ever had the honour to listen to, beautifully written, beautifully framed and set, perfectly pitched by Anneke Wills & Elliot Chapman this is a story unlike any other told in the vast pantheon of Doctor Who, and proof positive that the “infinitely variable format” is as alive and well today as it was back in the 1960’s – this adds layers of mystery and clarity the first Doctor’s regeneration and his part in the great scheme of things that leads to….. Well, I will let you find that out. Utterly compelling, magical and wonderful.
 So there is always light, there is always hope – even in the darkest places, there has to be and this set proves that there is, but sometimes it really does need to be looked for. Beginning with the cruelty of revolutionary murder and ending with a bow – as varied a tapestry as the first Doctor era ever was condensed into four stories – a well deserved 9/10.

226 - Shadow Planet/World Apart

Question – what has been my most anticipated TV show return of the last 20 years or so?
Minus several million if you said Doctor Who, it was ticking along quite nicely under the benevolent leadership of Big Finish until those upstarts in Cardiff decided to bring it back to TV where I am told it has done rather well….
No, my most anticipated, genuinely COULD NOT WAIT returning TV show was Twin Peaks – and it could have been a retread of past glories, but it isn’t, it is something altogether darker and altogether more beautiful and horrifying. Anyhow the reason I bring up Twin Peaks is related to this months release “Shadow Planet/World Apart”, well the first part of it anyhow – you see in Twin Peaks Deputy Hawk says this to Agent Cooper “My people believe that the White Lodge is a place where the spirits that rule man and nature reside. There is also a legend of a place called the Black Lodge. The shadow self of the White Lodge. Legend says that every spirit must pass through there on the way to perfection. There, you will meet your own shadow self.”  And this was the first thing that came in to my head when I read the synopsis for Shadow Planet a story of the hidden part of you that is always with you, albeit in a Sci-Fi setting rather than in a red curtained room with dancing dwarves and screaming dopplegangers…..
 Shadow Planet by AK Benedict
 The planet Unity is a very special place, a psychic planet, a place of peace and healing, a place where you can come face to face with your shadow self (without the need for a backwards talking dwarf or a one armed man) and work through any issues you may have in the safety and seclusion of the Unity corporation compound. Idyllic and therapeutic we are led to believe. As you may have guessed that is about as true as a certain Mrs May being leader of a “Strong and Stable” government. It is wonderful to hear Philip Olivier as Hex again especially in two roles as our Hex and the shadow Hex – yes the shadow selves – amalgamations of the negativity in the person, Ace’s comes across as mean spirited and arrogant and then there is the shadow self of the Doctor….
A great guest cast consisting of a very arch Belinda Lang as Unity Corporation head Mrs Wheeler and her assistant Professor Grove (Nikolas Grace) keep the story moving along and the revelations about the true nature of Unity coming thick and fast. But underneath it all this is a story about the repressed rebelling and trying to exist when they really shouldn’t exist at all.
 World Apart by Scott Handcock
 The words “written by Scott Handcock” give me as much pleasure the the words “directed by David Lynch” – both are visionaries and constantly push the boundaries of the medium in which they work, both give their lead characters a really hard time and boy do Ace and Hex go through the wringer in this one.
Carrying directly on from Shadow Planet, linked by a cliffhanger of a planet appearing in the Vortex Ace and Hex are soon marooned as The Doctor realises that he really shouldn’t be on the planet at all and leaves. Hex and Ace are left to fend for themselves on the planet Nirvana, an anomaly in space and time, a planet where there are piles of dead bodies from the previous marooned travellers, where food is scarce, where they are being hunted and where there really is no hope of rescue. Remember the “Doctor lite” episodes on TV where the absence of the Doctor made you realise how much he is needed – well this is almost the opposite as his actions have led to the situation that Ace & Hex find themselves in. Sylvester McCoy always was the most amoral and alien of all the Doctor’s but here his aloofness and detachment for the situation – his almost universal view of things and his companions place in the great scheme of things is cold and analytical and we are reminded that though he may look like us he is very very alien.
 Two very different stories both dealing with identity and how we define ourselves by our experiences and our friendships with Handcock again supplying a very different take on what a Doctor Who story can be as a contrast to the more traditional Shadow Planet – neither story contain red rooms, coffee, dwarves or giants – but I wont hold that against them and award this release a none too shadowy 8/10.

4th Doctor 6.6 - Subterranea

Now dear readers, I know what you are all thinking – “Ed, you haven’t provided us with a musical interlude for a while, isn’t it about time for another?” And do you know I think you are right, not since last November or so have I delved into the old musical interlude – but for this months Fourth Doctor release I think a musical interlude sets the tone, so sit back, relax and enjoy Underground by Tom Waits
There you go, that was fun want it? and it ties in very nicely with Subterranea – a story of a world going on underground, a story of mole people and sort of Cybermen-like monsters called Silex all driving around in giant mining machines called drill towns – and it is rather fun. Again it may look like a Season 18 story, it may have the theme tune from season 18 and Tom may be in burgundy but this story is pure season 17 in its ethos. The supporting cast of Maxwell Wilberforce Bell (Matthew Cottle), his wife Lucretia Bell (Abigail McKern) and Mr Jelicho Wigg (Robbie Stevens) are pure panto and chew the scenery almost as well as their mining vehicles chew the earth that they travel through.
Tom and Lalla seem to be having a ball with the script and you can just see them on screen with “Underworld” level of production values mugging to the camera for all they are worth and playing the script for laughs, because believe me this is a script in which all the players get to “give a turn”and it is all the bette for it. Maxwell bell COULD have been played completely straight, but as a slightly camp Captain who insists on wearing his hat all the time he is a memorable addition to the story rather than a forgettable bit part, and his wife Lucretia may not have written the book on arch but she has certainly bottled the ink.
The weak link in the story is in fact the monster o the month – as a steam powered derivative of the Cybermen the Silex are meant to be a terrifying threat but come across as a distraction – I wanted to hear more of Maxwell Wilberforce Bell and his drill town not a rampaging converted monster (maybe its just me, but think of it like The Stones of Blood, wouldn’t you have fathered Tom & Amelia Rumford waxing lyrical rather that the actual plot? well its like that)
But overall its a fun romp, not earth shattering (no pun intended) but a fun little runaround with some peril, some thrills, some spills, some explosions and some very funny lines.
The story fails as a season 18 pastiche, but rewind a year to the glory years of Graham Williams and this would fit rather nicely alongside The Creature From the Pit and is all ht better for it. A steam powered, slightly silly 7/10.

The Lives of Captain Jack

Ok, so Doctor Who post 2005 – whats the first thing that comes in to your head? Well obviously David Tennant, thats a given and Bille Piper too – they are the poster boy and girl for the glory days of the RTD era, but coming not too close behind and definitely not a Pointless answer (Jimmy Vee would be a pointless answer) is one Captain Jack Harkness played by the irreplaceable John Barrowman. From his debut in The Empty Child, Captain Jack has firmly cemented himself as a fan favourite, so popular that he even got his own spin off series in Torchwood (but thats another story) this story, or more accurately set of four stories are about Captain Jack post Parting of the Ways, pre Empty Ccild and post Children of Earth. Confused? then please read on.
If this were Trial of a Timelord I would describe these four stories as four “epistopic interfaces of the spectrum” but its not so I won’t :-) – what we have here are four stories about Captain Jack when he is at his most vulnerable, friendless, alone almost crushed and how he copes with the situations he finds himself in from a devastated Earth following the events of Parting of the Ways we follow Jack on a personal journey seeking acceptance above all else and trying to be the bet man he can, we even go back to his origins as a time agent and discover many things about his past – but I am getting ahead of myself. We begin not at the beginning of Jack’s life but the beginning of his time after the events on the Gamestation….
1. The Year After I Died by Guy Adams
A very good place to start. Jack is seeking solitude but a young journalist Silo Crook (Shvorne Marks) is determined to tell his story and elevate him to the position of hero. Jack wants nothing to do with this. But as the story progresses we see Jack as the good person we know he can be as the very worst in humanity prey on the weak and forlorn personified by Sarah Douglas in a scenery chewing performance as the very Theresa May like Vortis Trear. This is a story of the rich doing whatever they like to survive, of the desperation of the survivors of the Dalek attack and of Captain Jack coming to know himself a little bit better.
2. Wednesdays For Beginners by James Goss
You cant beat a bit of Jackie Tyler can you? Camille Coduri take a bow, its like you have never been away and boy have we missed you. Playing almost like a Companion Chronicle this two hander sees Jackie just a little bit enamoured of the handsome new American resident of the Powell Estate, and when they meet its, if not exactly “moider” then its actually the end of the world. Jackie & Jack are a double act made in heaven, a comic pairing that just writes itself no matter what the peril Jackie seems to think the resolution is a nice cup of tea or a bit of a knees up. The laughs keep coming as Jack tells Jackie the name of the threat (sorry, too spoilery) and the only music for the knees up is pan pipe east end classics. Sounds camp and cheesy? Well the execution is but the threat is actually huge but it is Jackie’s response to it that grounds this story in reality and in pure RTD pastiche.
3. One Enchanted Evening by James Goss
On his final lap of honour The Tenth Doctor introduces Captain jack to one Alonso Frame (Russell Tovey) – a hot date being set up we all thought? But there is a lot more to it than this because the station that they are on is about to be invaded by the evil Mother Nothing (an unrecognisable and decidedly menacing Katy Manning) and forms a basis for a will they/wont they? escapade involving some excellent action set pieces. It feels like a bit of a blockbuster with Russell Tovey stealing the show coming across as a cross between his character in Being Human and Michael Baker from Count Arthur Strong. High on humour, high on peril and escapade this is the heart and soul of the set.
4. Month 25 by Guy Adams
Ever wanted to know Captain Jack Harkness’s real name? Intrigued? You will be. This goes back to the beginning, before The Empty Child when Jack was a time agent and lost two years of his life. And Thats all I am saying about that. Suitably intriguing isn’t it and well worth a listen.
So there you have it Jack sans Torchwood. Its very RTD era which is to be expected and there are some wonderful pieces of character in the quieter moments, the ending of One Enchanted Evening will bring a tear to the eye of even the most cynical of fanboys. It felt frothy and perhaps a little bit shallow in places – a bit like the man himself, but it is a beautifully polished box set that adds to what we already know about the man known as Captain Jack Harkness and leaves the audience wanting to know a bit more. I salute this set at 8/10.


Oddball or experimental or brave or edgy or creative or just plain different are just some of the adjectives that could be used to describe torchwood_cascade_cdrip.tor. And they would all be right, because this is a very very different release in the Torchwood canon playing with expectations, playing with the audio medium and pushing it just as far as it can be pushed without quite irreparably damaging it. Part story of unrequited love from two lonely people, part urban techno thriller, part cautionary tale on the consequences of acquiring media from non standard (read illegal) sources this is as different a story as Big Finish have released in any of their ranges – and coming from the pen of the creative genius behind the sublime Dorian Gray series Scott Handcock – could we really expect anything mundane and straightforward? Of course we couldn’t.
So what is it actually about? Well, that would be telling, but the about is not really as important as the “how” – and it is the structure and the storytelling method of this release that makes it truly striking and unique, this is pieced together found footage of a corrupted media file illegally downloaded, it skips, it jumps about from perspective to perspective, it is non linear, it is a difficult listen but it is a rewarding listen to those who give it their full attention – and after two listens I got two distinctly different interpretations of what I had actually listened to and experienced – its that sort of story, the more engaged the listener is the more rewarding the story is.
Naoko Mori takes top billing in this story as Toshiko Sato, invited to London by an old colleague from Torchwood One called Stephen (Robbie Jarvis) who has been investigating the disappearances of people of the same age at the same time in different parts of the world – what is the link and why are they being hunted and why does Stephen think he is newt on the list and why did he ask Toshiko to help? these questions and many more will be posed and as with all good fiction the answers are there but are open to interpretation.
Scott Handcock brings in some of his trademark macabre, claustrophobic style of story telling that he is rightly praised for in Dorian Gray – the story is horror dressed up as a techno thriller and an ethical conundrum  on the evils of illegal downloading and has that dreamlike ambiguousness that makes the listener doubt what they have just heard and give it a second third and fourth listen to get the most out of the story.
Naoko Mori slips back in to the character of Tosh effortlessly, a conflicted character at once brilliant but wracked with social awkwardness and self doubt and this is an exceptional “Show don’t tell” performance, it really is a privilege to have Toshiko back in Torchwood again.
There is no way that this release could be called “easy listening” its probably as far away from easy listening as you can get, what it is in almost equal measure is disturbing, upsetting, challenging, intelligent and quite quite brilliant. Hats off to Scott Handcock, Naoko Mori and all at Big Finish for pushing the boundaries on what a Torchwood tale can be. 10/10.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017


Change is the essence of life, we never stay the same, we move on, fast friends become ghosts of memories, new friends are made and can any of us truly say we are the person we were 20 years ago?
Polly Jackson (Anneke Wills) that one time companion of The Doctor is going trough a change – she is moving house with all the apprehension and uncertainty that brings and as she sifts through her old forgotten belongings on the morning of the move she uncovers a keepsake from her time with The Doctor, she finds a green feather and this unlocks a plethora of hitherto forgotten memories about the time just before the antarctic and Cybermen and regeneration – she remembers a time when she met an Angel.
The ending of this story is described by Polly as an interlude – and that is exactly what it is, not a great adventure but a small amount of time that foreshadows a great change to come – in a way this is The First Doctor’s Watcher or her will knock your times moment because the Angel foretells the Doctor’s regeneration…..
Anneke Wills brings a world weariness to Polly, a woman uncertain about where her new phase in life will take her perfectly mirroring the events that happened to the Doctor on that unnamed planet. The Angel obviously isn’t an Angel in the religious sense, but is a being almost as old as the universe itself, a being who can see beyond the dimensions that bind us calling the young Polly by her married surname years before she married Ben, but it is the effect that this encounter has on the Doctor that defines the encounter, her seems to visibly age and become more frail as the Angel describes his fate and the inevitability of what must happen to him.
A rather poetic lesson in balance and symmetry given  life and context by Polly’s apprehension at something as everyday as moving home told beautifully and lyrically by Anneke Wills  as she draws you in to Polly’s world and makes the listener hang on her every word. A rather poetic 9/10.


Oh now this one is rather good, I may go so far as to say that it is the jewel in the crown of this particular series of Pathfinder Legends. I don’t know what it is but this one sort of “flows” wheras the other entries in to the series so far have really betrayed their roots and felt like a series of set pieces, this one feels like an organic developing story where the outcome has not been pre-decided, there is a sense of real as opposed to staged danger and the characters really are allowed to breathe and develop.
So whats happening in The Skeletons of Scarwall? Well our heroes Harsk (Ian Brooker), Valeros (Stewart Alexander), Ezren (Trevor Littledale) and Merisiel (Kerry Skinner) are continuing their quest to find a weapon capable of defeating the evil Queen Illeosa and have been directed to Scarwall Fortress, home of Undead Lord Kazavon and his horde – this dread fortress is said to hold a magical sword that may just have the power to defeat the Queen. So far so generic RPG? Well you would be right in thinking that, it sounds just like an RPG romp that folks like me used to play in the 1980’s – but it is the presentation that makes this stand head and shoulders above its peers. The danger seems real, the characters feel truly out of their depth and then things step up a gear when possibly my favourite character in Pathfinder Legends Laori Vaus (Ashleigh Loeb) shows up.
Laori is a complex multi layered dangerous and rather sad character. A Forlorn Elf, that is an Elf brought up by humans and spent her life watching them die of old age as she lived – she became obsessed with pain and death and fell in with the worshippers of the “Midnight Lord” – Zon Kuthon, God of evil, suffering and pain. Laori delights in the suffering of others and of herself and has a disturbing sing song innocence to her voice, she and her companion Siel (Fanos Xenofos) are also on their way to Scarwall to take out the “heathen” who have defected from their fealty to Zon Kuthon. Can an alliance between Laori and our heroes work for mutual benefit? The answer is to be found by listening and it really is one shock revelation after another. The story really feels it is building to a climax and that the victory over Queen Illeosa (if it happens) will be earned by adventures like this one where no one is quite the same again, characters act out of character and the rules are constantly changed.
Ending on a cliffhanger which will lead us into next months finale, this episode feels like the dark before the dawn – tonally very different from what has come before and all the better for it. 9/10.


Nostalgia can be a wonderful thing. That wonderful warm glow you get whilst remembering “better times” that were probably no better or worse than now, but have become the stuff of legends because of the time that they happened, the person you were then and the people that were around you at the time. Ah the stuff of legends. The UNIT “family” are undoubtedly the stuff of legends holding sway over one of the most fondly remembered eras of “Classic” Doctor Who – The Third Doctor, The Brigadier, Jo Grant, Captain Yates & Sergeant Benton defending the world (or at least the home counties) from weekly invasions from Autons, Axons, Daleks, Chronovores and Giant Maggots. Just those words conjure up images of simpler, happier times, of Saturday evenings sound the TV with the family, of the three day week and power cuts and strikes….
But times change and so does UNIT, no longer the make do and mend outfit from the 1970’s (or was it the 1980’s….) UNIT are now an ultra modern, ultra efficient force headed by Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) ally assisted by scientist Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) – but sometimes, just sometimes it is time to call the old guard out of retirement and this box set UNIT: Assembled is just one of those times.
Time has not been kind to the original UNIT family, we have lost Jon Pertwee and Nicholas Courtney, but this box set honours their memory in style and hearing Sergeant Benton (John Levene), Captain Yates (Richard Franklin) and Jo Jones (Grant) (Katy Manning) team up with the new boys and girls of UNIT should warm the cockles of even the most cynical “New Who” critic as UNIT old and new team up to battle a new threat from a particularly vicious and single minded bunch of Earth Reptile (Silurians in old money) with call backs a-plenty to their glory days in the 1970’s (or was it 1980’s :-) ) the old guard fit right in with NU-UNIT and their story is told over four separate but connected episodes:
4.1 Call to Arms by Matt Fitton
“A roister-doister of a barnstormer of a beginning” is how I would describe this one, though it begins with an ending as Mr John Benton is retiring from the pub game, this is his last night as Landlord of his pub, he and his wife Marjorie are about to give it all up for a world cruise, friends have gathered, beer has flowed and tensions rise as old wounds are opened and THEN – Kate and OSgood turn up and the whole thing loses its rosy glow and becomes a tense base (or Pub) under siege that not everyone is going to get out alive from.  Featuring militant Silurians in the form of Jastrok (Richard Hope) and Kalana (Neve McIntosh) rousing the more right wing factions of their species against us uppity apes – UNIT old and new make their stand in Benton’s Pub. There is a genuine warmth to the performances from UNIT regulars John Levene & Richard Franklin as their characters go back to what they did best in the 1970’s (Or 1980’s – sorry its getting boring now :-) ) make do and mend against an overwhelming force, but this time they have Kate and Osgood to help out. A fabulous beginning, completely visual and has the tension ramped all the way up to eleven – its great to see the old gang back together, well not quite as Jo is absent, but the next story makes up for that.
4.2 Tidal Wave by Guy Adams
What is there not to love about Katy Manning and her character Jo Jones? She is just fab, utterly fab and when Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) meets up with her Jo is dong what she has dedicated the most of her life to, she is protesting against animal testing and use of chemicals by a faceless corporation – but Kate has a mission for her….
Jo and Osgood are a pairing made in heaven, Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) is a Jo Jones fangirl asking her all sorts of questions about her time with UNIT and the Doctor and their adventures almost like a fan at a convention, so it is fortunate for Osgood that she and Jo are charged by Kate to check out an environmentally friendly tidal power generator codenamed “Project Charybdis” and are bound for the sea bed – can you see where this is going yet….
Yes indeed we are about to meet up with our old friends The Sea Devils and find out that the Earth Reptiles are not a mono culture monster but a genuine species with different views and values as we humans have. Unfortunately with Jastrok on the march, he wants the Sea Devils biological weapons, hybrid monsters which he is going to unleash on the humans, but Jo sees that there is a peaceful solution to be had. Katy Manning shines in this one and is wonderful as Jo trying to be like The Doctor and achieve peace between the species. A steady episode that forward the plot and gives Jo a lot of character development.
4.3 Retrieval by Guy Adams
With Jo, Yates and Benton back at UNIT HQ in the Tower of London it falls to Kate and Osgood to follow up on leads to control the impending doom that the Silurians have unleashed, and they are lead to a Silurian nest in the Mediterranean, unfortunately they are not alone and the fanatical Silurian Tryska has other ideas for apes that do not know their place. After two almost euphoric episodes in which UNIT old and new team up, this is a different beast altogether. Darker and more dangerous with Kate And Osgood being pushed to their limits by the sadistic Tryska and her fear inducing device. A tense thriller that plays with the listeners expectations as Tryska torments our heroes. Slower paced but no less of a scale than episodes one and two – a slow burner.
4.4 United by Matt Fitton
And finally the gangs all here – London has fallen to Jastrok and his hordes, the UK is cut off by air and sea by prehistoric monsters (no not UKIP :-) ) and UNIT are told the terms of surrender by Jastrok. The Silurians have won, the human race will be slaves or have their minds destroyed be fear. We have lost. Until UNIT say NO – united they stand, maybe for the last time. An epic end to an epic box set – high on adventure, high on action, high on scientific impossibility, as Alan Partridge might say “lovely stuff”.
That was immense fun, it felt in parts like UNIT’s greatest hits but as a nostalgia piece it ticked all the right boxes and had some genuine “punch the air” moments – fast paced like an action movie with very few small character moments, but when they do come the light and shade they add to the proceedings are all the more pronounced. Katy Manning is as superb as ever and totally adorable as Jo, Yates’ keeps his head and John Levene as Benton gets all the best comedy lines – just as it should be while the new guys are duly reverent to those that have seen it all before, the old guard don’t feel like token nostalgia, they feel like the victory would have been impossible without them. A lovely box set and a well deserved 9/10.


Question: what looks like 1980 but feels like 1975?
Answer: The Haunting of Malkin Place.
Put simply – the cover tells us this is a 1980 story – Burgundy coat for Tom, star field round his face, Romana the second by his side, but absolutely EVERYTHING else screams HINCHCLIFFE. The setting, the sound design, the plotting. There isn’t a Bidmeadian innovation apparent, not charged vacuum emboitmments, no creeping entropy, no chronic hysteresis, just a darned good spooky yarn.
We catch up with the Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana (Lalla Ward) relaxing at the Doctor’s house on Baker Street and an ensuing discussion regarding the novel The Turn of the Screw coupled with a noise in the attic which the Doctor has been warned NOT to investigate at any cost leads them to try and track down the author M R James and discuss his character motivation in The Turn of the Screw. “Another celebrity historical” was my first thought, but The Haunting of Malkin Place is nothing of the sort, The Doctor and Romana don’t get to meet M R James at all but are drawn in to a real life haunting.
Set in 1922 with Britain still in shock from the human tragedy that was World War One Maurice (Gunnar Cauthery) and his sister Beatrice (Fiona Sheehan) have inherited Malkin Place from their recently departed father and are suffering hauntings – children cry doors slam, crockery breaks and on top of all of this Maurice is riddled with survivors guilt from his time in the trenches of France in the war. The Doctor and Romana meet with Spiritualist Talbot (Simon Jones) and his young ward Tom (Rikki Lawton) who has been called in by Beatrice to try to exorcise the ghosts of Malkin Place and decide that that is a much more interesting prospect than meeting M R James and decide to accompany them.
What follows is text book ghost story – seances, unexplained noises, people disappearing, flying objects and a secret that is revealed to be the key to the goings on in Malkin Place.
Lalla Ward as Romana is deliciously offhand and haughty at the mere prospect of the though of ghosts being real whilst Simon Jones as Talbot is genuine in his calling as a spiritualist, but it is the scenes between The Doctor and Maurice that really steal the show adding an emotional depth and maturity to the story, giving the setting the respect and gravitas it deserves whilst simultaneously adding to and resolving the plot. If this story is about anything then it is about letting go and grief and being allowed to grieve – a deep story dressed up as a ghost story with all the actors taking their roles seriously and nobody (not even Tom) “giving a turn” (although having said that the fourth Doctor with a moustache would be a sight to behold :-) )
It is fitting in many ways that the main resolution of the story reflects the story itself – something not quite of its time but something rather special, an excellent addition to the Fourth Doctor range and a well deserved 9/10.


OK, so you have the “double bills” trilogy, one double bill featuring Doctor’s Five, Six and Seven respectively. You begin the trilogy with a Fifth Doctor pairing an old fashioned very trad story and a more experimental story. How then do you approach Old Sixie? How do you do something new and exciting and take him into new frontiers with this new format? Big Finish have not taken the easy route and here they have gone very “cinematic” if that is the correct word, two relatively short stories with huge imagination, huge ambition and huge scope, by that I mean these are stories have impact on the Doctor (Colin Baker) and Flip (Lisa Greenwood).
Everything oozes class and polish, the sound design is perfect, the sense of urgency and the impact that the characters have on the events is has an importance brought to the fore that is sometimes lacking and unlike last months releases these two stories do not have an obvious link but share certain thematic similarities regarding fatalism and time. Yes our old friend time. Regular readers of my ramblings will know I am not a fan at all of the “timey-wimey” style of storytelling, if there is one thing I don’t like it is a “cheat” ending. The first of these stories “Vortex Ice” is a time travel based story, but not an obvious one and not an obvious story to blow me away. But it did….
Vortex Ice by Jonathan Morris
What starts and ends in a cave in Mexico? Short answer is Vortex Ice does. The route it takes to get there however is a very very long one involving lots of death, explosions, A cybernetic octopus and a rather fatalistic and real approach to the hazards of time travel. If I say too much I will spoil the story but suffice to say that Vortex Ice requires multiple listens to appreciate the complexities of the story telling – not in the “look how clever I am “ style the TV series sometimes has but a to notice how all the pieces of this aural jigsaw fit together so perfectly. The nearest big screen comparison I can think of is the film “Memento” ( if you have not seen it it is well worth a few hours of your time) as it has the same puzzle mentality with layers being peeled away as the listener (in the case of Vortex Ice) gets drawn deeper in to the proceedings. It is (On first listen) a very confusing story, things seem to happen for no apparent reason (they don’t there is a reason) and when you get to that critical mass of information point and penny drops as to what you have just been listening to you will feel rewarded. The star of this story is undoubtedly Lisa Greenwood as Flip Jackson who has really come in to her own as Old Sixie’s companion and the only little hint I will give you is “follow Flip”. This is a wonderful way to spend an hour of your time, the story falls fully formed and does not need to be longer than two parts it just works as it is. It needs active listening and demands a lot from the listener but is an immensely rewarding listen.
Cortex Fire by Ian Potter
Thematically if not literally following Vortex Ice is the second of the double bill – Cortex Fire. On the surface a far more traditional Doctor Who story. Under the surface it is nothing of the sort. Arriving on the planet Festin the Doctor has brought Flip to see the Opera and a cosmic light show that will put the Aurora Borealis to shame but are soon caught up in a race to save every man woman and child on Festin from a collective “Urge” to die facilitated by the all powerful computer The Cortex. Fatalism again counterpointed by the enthusiasm and urge to live that the Doctor and Flip bring to the party. So dressed up as a traditional Who story we are shown a Blade Runner-esque world (complete with corresponding Vangelis-like soundtrack) in which the populace are living in fear of terrorists known as “nihilists” who are being blamed for the wave of spontaneous combustion. But the truth is far more terrible and the culture of the planet has a lot to answer for….
It ought to be a very depressing listen but it really isn’t and this is down to the way that the story is presented – a society who’s culture and heritage leads the population to unconsciously want to die is a huge concept and is handled very well in the short running time of the story – and then there is the way that The Doctor (inevitably) saves the day and the sacrifice that he makes – the final scene between Old Sixie and Flip as they discuss how long he has really been away is genuinely moving.
An excellent double bill that will have something for everyone and a lot more if you want to delve a bit deeper under the skin of the story. I like a story that makes me think and these two have given me ample food for thought and a lot of enjoyment. I think these are stories I will be revisiting again in the near future and I think I will hear something fresh and new on my relisten. Fatalism, Frost & Fire all add up to a well deserved 10/10.